Let's t with the good news: The house looks great, especially at night with a storm rattling its windows. Or is that noise coming from ghosts moaning inside? Everyone loves a haunted-house movie. That's why the first Amityville Horror, in 1979, was a hit despite being boring, stupid and excruciatingly overacted (the scariest element was Rod Steiger hamming it up as a priest). The remake, also called The Amityville Horror, as if the earlier movie never existed, isn't much better. Except for jacked-up special effects, it's the same old story based on Jay Anson's allegedly factual best seller about a Long Island family who move into a Dutch colonial in Amityville, only to learn their dream house has a history. Just a year earlier, in 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot his parents and four siblings in their beds, claiming the house made him do it. No wonder George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds) got a deal on the place. Undeterred, George, his wife, Kathy (Melissa George), and her three kids by a previous marriage (hubby died) move in. "There are no bad houses, just bad people," says George. Has this dude never seen a horror flick? Then he ts seeing things. Feeling cold, he chops wood, which requires an ax, which is not a good tool to have handy if your stepkids really irritate you. First-time director Andrew Douglas crams in every ghost cliche, from demonic faces to dripping blood. This house springs so many FX shocks it plays like a theme-park ride. Result? It's not scary, just busy. For the real thing, watch Psycho to see where Norman Bates shacks up with his mom. Or The Shining, which shows how a deserted hotel can freak out Jack Nicholson. Or The Haunting, the 1963 film of Shirley Jackson's story about a house you can feel in your bones. Or The Innocents, the 1961 screen take on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, with a mansion that gives off menacing erotic vibes. What all those films have in common is precisely what the new Amityville Horror lacks: They know it's what you don't see in a haunted house that fries your nerves to a frazzle.
From The Archives Issue 104: March 16, 1972