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'Amityville': What Matters Is Location, Location, Location

By Sean Daly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page C01

When it comes to famously creepy real estate, the old Bates place up on the hill is a warm 'n' cozy B&B compared with that doomed Dutch Colonial in Amityville, N.Y. Talk about a fixer-upper: blood flowing from faucets, demonic chitchat hissing from vents, more fat flies than in a port-a-potty at the Preakness.

And those attic windows. Oh, those windows. Like Beelzebub's arched eyebrows.

Repossessed: Ryan Reynolds in "The Amityville Horror" remake. (Peter Iovino -- AP)

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In the new "Amityville Horror," a mean, bloody and entirely unnecessary remake of 1979's pop-culture phenomenon, Long Island's notorious paranormal playpen can still generate a wicked case of the heebie-jeebies on its own. "Houses don't kill people. People kill people," quips one character early on. Yeah, whatever you say, bub. Tell that to the real-life DeFeo family, six of whom were shot to death at 412 Ocean Ave. in 1974 by 23-year-old son Ron, who initially claimed that evil voices in the house urged him to load the rifle and start hunting.

One year after the DeFeo murders, the Lutz family moved in. Like the original movie -- but not the countless budget-bin sequels that followed -- the new flick focuses on the 28 days in 1975 that the Lutzes called Amityville home. "Based on the true story," we're emphatically reminded early in the film.

Blame it on the awful architecture. If this unimaginative remake manages to induce nightmares, they'll be caused by that house -- not the digitized dead girl with the greasy hair stutter-stepping through the house's halls. (Supposedly she's the ghost of Ron DeFeo's sister Jodie, but she looks a lot like that well-dwelling lass in "The Ring." Hey, Hollywood, enough with the Little Miss Mortuaries. They're now officially less scary than living girls. And a lot cleaner, too.)

The original Amityville house -- the subject of years of rumors ever since author Jay Anson's 1977 fact-or-fiction book became an international best-seller -- has since been remodeled, godforsaken windows included. But the filmmakers (including producer Michael "Armageddon" Bay, who was behind "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" redo in 2003) found one heck of a facsimile in Wisconsin. (The 1979 movie was filmed in Toms River, N.J.) In fact, the new joint looks good enough to get the rumors and the accompanying gooseflesh rippling:

Did George and Kathy Lutz and her three children from a previous marriage really experience the ultimate buyer's remorse? Did Jodie -- who, as movie buffs will remember, was originally represented as a demonic pig -- really befriend the youngest Lutz girl? Did a possessed George really try to kill his family?

Did they really not see the "For Sale By Devil" sign in the front yard?

(For the record: The real George Lutz, 58, lives in Las Vegas and is suing MGM over the new movie. Kathy Lutz died last year at 57, just before filming began -- a coincidence the film's promotional team is playing up, hoping to give the movie an extra-eerie aura.)

Before turning his "Amityville" into a nasty exercise in gore, torture and strobelike MTV-style cuts, director Andrew Douglas generates some early chills and chuckles from the legend of it all. As George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds, of "Van Wilder") and his new bride, Kathy (Australian actress Melissa George), are getting a tour from a real estate agent, they're tickled that such a handsome house could be had so cheaply. Gee, what could possibly be the catch? George, a contractor, wants to turn the basement into an office and can't wait to check it out.

"Aren't you coming down?" he asks the oddly nervous agent.

"I'll just wait up here," she says.

There's also a terrific set piece involving a pot-smoking babysitter, barely dressed and very come-hither, who isn't sure whether she wants to seduce the three Lutz children or scare the heck out of them. She chooses the latter, of course, and reveals just what happened to the DeFeos. Of course, the sitter's night goes significantly awry soon after spilling the beans, and whatever she was getting per hour, it wasn't nearly enough.

Homage to the original movie is paid with several computer-enhanced re-creations of classic scenes, most notably the visiting priest (Philip Baker Hall) who finds himself desperately in need of a flyswatter. But when it comes time to put a fresh spin on things, the filmmakers have zero ideas and instead blatantly borrow from "The Ring," "The Sixth Sense" and Nine Inch Nails videos. The ending is cruel and hard to watch -- a nasty variation of "Poltergeist's" Indian burial-plot twist -- with the movie's playful beginning a distant memory.

Melissa George is a competent shrieker and a welcome improvement on the original movie's Margot Kidder, who looked like she was on her way to Studio 54. And Reynolds is a veritable Oscar winner compared with James Brolin, who played the first loony Lutz. In fact, as those demons start waking George at 3:15 a.m., whispering "Catch them, kill them," a smirky Reynolds seems ready to Jack things up and winkingly turn it all into "The Amityville Shining." But his morbid zingers are soon replaced by an ax and a cold serial killer stare. Buckets of blood are summoned. Jodie does her undead thing with the help of a fleet of computer nerds.

And you'll want to get out of Amityville long before the Lutzes do.

The Amityville Horror (89 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use.

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