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Thursday, April 28, 2005 06:27 am

flicks 4-28-05

If your house told you to leave, wouldn’t you listen? Of course you would — unless you were a Lutz. The Amityville Horror, based on what was claimed to be a true story by George and Kathy Lutz, was a huge bestseller and the second most successful horror film of the 1970s. But the only thing the dull original movie had going for it was the “fact” that the ghostly events “actually” happened. Apparently greed and a lot of wine can cause some people to concoct a hoax of grand proportions. Why remake a movie and sell it with the same dubious claim if its credibility has gone out the window? I don’t know whether quality was the goal, but the remake is far superior to the original. This one digs deeper into the story and fleshes out the mental deterioration of George Lutz in more detail. Ryan Reynolds, the sitcom star of Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, surprisingly handles the psychotic breakdown with great intensity. Some horror films are lucky to have one moment that jolts an audience, but this one offers at least a half-dozen. The Amityville Horror tosses a brick into a tired genre that has been lumbering through the same old clichés for far too long. TheHaunting (1999) may be a classic haunted-house flick, but is it really scarier than The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)? If you want anything innovative, you need to move out of the house and stake out new locales. The best haunted-house movies aren’t even set in houses. The Shining (1980) may not be Stanley Kubrick’s greatest achievement, but his epic vision transforms the Stephen King novel into a more personal statement about isolationism and dementia. Many things go bump in the night in the opulent Overlook Hotel, but the ultimate horror is grounded in reality. Jack Nicholson’s descent into madness, which was nicely duplicated by Reynolds in the Amityville remake, has become cinematic legend.
Getting out isn’t quite as simple if you are hurtling through deep space on a freighter, and this dose of logic enhances the horror of Alien (1979). Its genre is technically science fiction, but Alien uses all the essential ingredients of a haunted-house flick. It pits seven average human beings against a shape-shifting creature that eliminates them, one by one, in dark, dank corridors. Familiarity with the story and characters has reduced Alien’s effectiveness, to some extent, but director Ridley Scott apparently has the necessary sadistic streak to send chills down your spine. Director Andrew Douglas, who makes his fiction-feature debut with The Amityville Horror, demonstrates the same penchant for sadism, and his film is likely to leave your nerves frayed. What more would you want from a horror film?

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (May 3): National Treasure, The Phantom of the Opera, Enduring Love, Fade to Black, and Go Further.

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