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This Old House of 'Horror'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page WE39

"THERE'S NO BAD houses, just bad people," says Ryan Reynolds's character in the dumb but fun remake of "The Amityville Horror," that classic of the cheeseball thriller genre about a very, very bad house.

How about bad actors?

Kathy (Melissa George) flees upstairs with her children Chris (Jimmy Bennett) and Billy (Jesse James) in "The Amityville Horror," a cheap-thrill remake of the 1979 original. (Photos Peter Iovino -- Mgm)

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As George Lutz, the hopelessly naive but soon to be demonically possessed man who has just moved his young family into a creaking, cobwebbed "Munsters"-style home that shows signs of possibly being haunted -- during the real estate walk-through -- Reynolds comes across as a low-rent Jack Nicholson in "The Shining," complete with bloodshot eyes and ax suitable for turning the family dog into steak tartare and bashing in doors behind which his terrified family cowers. No, he doesn't shove his leering face through a splintered hole, shouting "Heeere's Johnny!," but he might as well, for all the grimacing, eye rolling and hissing he does. (By the way, look for that deleted scene when the DVD comes out. I'm sure it's sitting on a cutting room floor somewhere.)

Despite, or perhaps because of, the histrionics, "Amityville" is a gory lark, a cheap-thrill-packed love poem to the history of the contemporary horror film that borrows as liberally from the 1979 "fact-based" original about a house harboring the spirits of a family that was murdered there as it does from "The Exorcist," "Poltergeist," "Stir of Echoes," "The Sixth Sense," "Hide and Seek," "The Grudge," the entire "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise and a thousand other latter-day fright fests. It hits all the marks: windows and doors that open and close by themselves; a creepy kid (Chloe Grace Moretz) who "sees" and talks to dead people; a nonfatal fall from the roof (watch out, he's still alive!); and angry Native American ghosts. The scariest room in the house? Take your pick: the basement, plagued by voices and mildew; the closet, portal to another dimension; or the bathroom, where bogeymen wait for you in the claw-foot tub.

Yes, people were laughing during a recent screening, but it wasn't immediately clear if it was because the movie was so awful or because it was actually spooky, and they were trying to relieve the grip of terror. I'm going with awful and spooky.

"But all the scary parts didn't make any sense," whined one amateur critic on the way out of the theater, apparently upset at not being able to distinguish between hallucinatory scenes of a subterranean human abattoir and, you know, realistic stuff like blood dripping out of electrical and plumbing fixtures. He's right, of course, but let's keep focused on that phrase "scary parts."

I mean, really, people. What do you want from a movie where the babysitter (Rachel Nichols), a pot-smoking tramp in hip-huggers and blue eye shadow (hey, it's the '70s), offers to French kiss the 12-year-old son (Jesse James)? "Masterpiece Theatre"? Don't worry, she gets hers.

As for me, I got exactly what I expected: Scared and tickled, within an inch of my life.

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (R, 89 minutes) -- Contains blood and gore, obscenity, violence, drug use and a sex scene. Area theaters.

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