Case Number 19804: Small Claims Court


MGM // 2005 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 1st, 2010

The Charge

Based on the True Story

The Case

I have a real problem with the word "supernatural." It means above or outside the natural, which implies that we have total, absolute knowledge of what is natural. If there's one thing that the history of science has taught us, it's that we live in a near-constant state of ignorance. Sure, we're learning more about the world every day thanks to science, but our knowledge of how little we know expands faster still. So, to think that we have a handle on the natural, and therefore know when something is super-natural, is pretty funny to me. Which brings me to "true stories" of hauntings and the like. I'm absolutely open to the possibility that weird stuff happens all the time, maybe even weird stuff that has no explanation by current scientific knowledge. My defenses go up, however, any time that money changes hands. The more someone is trying to profit from a story of the weird, the more I think about cheap carny tricks. The story of The Amityville Horror had therefore long lost its teeth with me, even before this 2005 Michael Bay-produced remake. But, with my expectations low and my guard down, I found the film to be a decent exercise in atmosphere and acting, with the Blu-ray upgrade providing some punch to the presentation.

Based on true events, The Amityville Horror (Blu-ray) finds the Lutzes (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George) moving into a fixer-upper with their three children. Over the next twenty-eight days, they will be terrorized by the spirits of the previous owners: the murdered Defeo family.

Although The Amityville Horror failed to generate any scares for me, I was surprised by the fact that it was still consistently interesting. A large part of that is down to the engaging manner in which the film's otherwise un-scary haunted house is presented. Much like the similarly-produced Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, this film isn't afraid to bring the big-budget camera techniques to bear on the film. Consequently we get some interesting shots, lots of digital trickery in presenting the past inhabitants, and lots of attention paid to generating the film's atmosphere through color and location. Combine that with a nice mix of jump scares and more suspenseful moments, and you've got a film that maintains interest even in the premise itself is a little tired.

The film's other smart move was in casting. Melissa George has proven herself a bit of chameleon with her extensive runs on shows as diverse as Alias, Grey's Anatomy, and Lie to Me, not to mention films like Mulholland Dr. and 30 Days of Night. She's charming as Kathy Lutz and does a really effective job of conveying her growing dis-ease with the house she convinced her husband was perfect. Similarly, Ryan Reynolds was not an obvious choice as George considering he was primarily known for comedic roles like Berg on Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Like Melissa George, Reynolds has a winning smile that makes the film's earlier moments shine, but when things turn dark he's right there in conveying the horror of what's happening in the house. Phillip Baker Hall is also worth mentioning as Father Callaway. He's no Rod Steiger, but he gives the role an honest try.

To be fair, though, there's nothing really new about The Amityville Horror. It's a little slicker than most haunted house films, but most horror fans are going to find its charms to be few.

At first I didn't know what to make of this Blu-ray release. Most Blu-ray + DVD releases just give the consumer a Blu-ray and DVD that are duplicates in terms of features. Not so with The Amityville Horror. The first disc is a Blu-ray that only includes the film, while the second disc is the previous DVD edition complete with all the extras. It's actually a really solid move, as we now have a 50GB Blu-ray disc devoted entirely to the film. All that room really shows through in the AVC encoded transfer. While the film isn't intended as a reference-quality visual-fest, the transfer still shows what hi-def can do. Detail is high throughout, grain is appropriate and pleasing, and the film's darker scenes feature no noise and deep blacks. The DTS-HD soundtrack offers plenty of surround use and directionality while keeping dialogue balanced.

Extras on the DVD include the previously available commentary with Ryan Reynolds and producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form that mostly focuses on the film's production. There are several deleted scenes with optional commentary, as well as two featurettes. One covers the real-life Defeo murders, and the other is a typical making-of. We also get a photo gallery and an "on-set-peek" mode that uses seamless branching to show behind the scenes footage after certain scenes in the film.

The Amityville Horror is a decent, though not spectacular modern horror remake. If you're going to watch the film, this Blu-ray is the way to go. The original DVD release looks pretty good, so fans are going to be hard-pressed to upgrade, even for the impressive increase in fidelity.

The Verdict

Because of the strong performances from the central cast, The Amityville Horror is not guilty.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)

* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Photo Gallery
* DVD Copy

* IMDb