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The Averageville horror

By Jenni Koehler

“The Amityville Horror”

MGM Pictures, 2005

Directed by Andrew Douglas

Written by Scott Kosar

Based upon the screenplay by Sandor Stern

Based upon the book by Jay Anson

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, and Jimmy Bennett

Opens April 15, 2005

Rated R, 89 minutes

Two out of four stars

Films like “The Amityville Horror” beg the question, “Do the words ‘based on a true story’ actually convince people that everything in a film really happened?”

Does that one preemption honestly fool people into thinking that completely ridiculous phenomena-haunted houses that tell their inhabitants to kill their families, for example-are truthful and realistic?

Andrew Douglas, director of the remake of the 1979 horror film “The Amityville Horror,” sure better hope so.

Based on the “true” story of an ill-fated family in Long Island, New York, Douglas’ film opens with a mother attempting to help her three children get over the loss of their father and make room in their lives for their new stepfather.

Like all parents in search of the American dream, Kathy (Melissa George) and George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds) don’t have much money, but desperately want a nice, big house in which to raise the kids.

When they conveniently stumble upon a beautiful Victorian mansion “with a lot of history,” in the lovely town of Amityville, the pair is overjoyed- somehow this gorgeous estate, complete with a lakefront and boathouse, has managed to stay on the market. Go figure.

The house’s realtor urges the couple to sign the necessary papers, and they go willingly. Then, the realtor divulges some interesting news: The house the happy couple just bought doesn’t just “have history,” it has a body count, too. See, the quaint little house was the scene of several brutal and unexplained murders a year or so ago. Weird how these things slip the property’s amenities list.

One year before, in 1974, Ronald DeFeo systematically shot his parents and four siblings with a rifle while they slept. He claimed that “voices” in the house had driven him to commit the horrific murders.

Kathy becomes uneasy, but George astutely assures her that the house is fine-as he explains, “Houses don’t kill people-people kill people.”

If only that were “the true story.”

The family of five moves into their dream home, and life is bliss-for a while. Bizarre and inexplicable events begin to occur, ranging from nightmares and visions to objects moving around on their own and strange voices drifting from the air vents.

George suffers the brunt of these phenomena, and soon starts to act a little crazy-the patriarch takes to wandering around ominously, often without his shirt on, sporting a ratty-ass beard and getting more angry and red-eyed.

The thing is, something keeps urging George to kill his family…but what could it be? Perhaps there’s some evil presence lurking in the house itself. Maybe houses really can kill people.

It all comes down to a terrifying final 15 minutes, in which Kathy must morph from docile and domestic housewife to strong, protective mother willing to do whatever it takes to save her children.

As a remarkably well-preserved mother of three, Melissa George is believable yet wholly unremarkable in her turn as a desperate housewife-we know she’s there, we know she’s scared, we just don’t really care.

Ryan Reynolds, though known primarily for his “Van Wilder” brand of comedy, simultaneously serves as the film’s scariest character-and incidentally the most hilarious one.

He’s funny in a different way than one might have expected. Going from loving father figure to deranged killer requires that Reynolds have some intermediate scenes in which he’s, well, borderline insane. His hairy face jiggling with rage, an apoplectic Reynolds screams orders at little kids (“Make me a sandwich!”), while grabbing their faces and spitting into their eyes. One cannot help but find this hilarious, despite indications that these displays are supposed to be taken seriously.

The three younger child actors in the film (two alive and one ghost) oscillate between vibrancy and hollowness in their roles. Only Jesse James’ Billy, the oldest child, is consistent. When dealing with the overbearing George, he is surprisingly funny.

“Amityville” is a perfect cross between “Poltergeist” and “The Shining,” with elements of “The Haunting,” “The Ring” and “The Exorcist” thrown in for flavor. After Reynolds gets in touch with his inner murderer, “Amityville” manages to deliver some jolts, chills and frights. Ultimately, it emerges as a merely mediocre horror film, however.

Whether he’s toting a rifle or an axe, Reynolds just doesn’t have that intangible quality necessary for scariness. His glistening muscles and grisly beard simply can’t compare to Jack Nicholson’s creepy facial contortions. Ryan, do yourself a favor: Shave and go back to comedy.

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