October is Horror Movie month, where we let down our hair and celebrate all things macabre and scary! Not that we don’t during the rest of the year, but still… HORROR MOVIES! People who don’t like horror are encouraged to check back November 1st for less bloody and/or disturbing films. For everyone else, let’s put on our galoshes and WADE INTO THE MIRE!
Hello and welcome to Hell Is Other People* week here at Late to the Theater!This week’s selections are all about the biggest threat facing modern mankind –other people. All this week’s selections take place in Suburbia, and while they might feature supernatural flourishes, people tend to be the at the root of the problem. So throw some plastic flamingos on your lawn and turn up the music; we’re going to get a visit from the concerned people at our HOA**!
Note: Due to lack of planning on the author’s part, the role of Poltergeist will be played by the 2005 version of The Amityville Horror, for the following reasons:
- Poltergeist isn’t on Netflix and I can’t afford to buy it/am too afraid to illegally download it
- I watched TAH the other day and had Opinions
- It fits into this week’s theme of Hell Is Other People
So here we go!
The remake opens with Ronald “Butch” (because every man in the 70s was nicknamed Butch for reasons lost to the Old Spice-scented mists of time) DeFeo, Jr., hanging out in his family’s giant basement and being creepy. The time is 3:15 AM, and because I was so busy studiously taking notes for this review, I somehow missed the fact that the remake was set in 1975. With his shaggy hair, scruffy beard, and clothes, I misidentified DeFeo as a 2005-era hipster. Anyway, he loads a gun and makes his way up the stairs of his family’s gigantic house, blowing away a sports team worth of siblings (all of whom I also misidentified as hipsters, impressed at the family’s dedication to group aesthetic), and finishing up by killing little sister Jodie, who cowers in the closet before he blows her head off. Gruesome, gratuitous, and disturbing, but so far, not super scary. I did laugh at the name of the house: High Hopes.
Enter the Lutzes. George Lutz married Kathy and became stepfather to her three beautiful, flaxen-haired children, and the kids are struggling with it. They lost their dad to an illness, and their Mom is trying to move on and start fresh. The couple decide buying a house sounds great, so off they go, and everything goes downhill from there.
I wish I could say that the ride was original, but it’s really not; 2005’s version seems entirely unaware that the original is so well-known that it not only became cliche, but launched a thousand retreads. It’s sort of like a filmmaker who’s only just seen Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time, and is unaware of any other vampire films from the past 100 years. There’s really just nothing original here but effects.
As I mentioned, the Lutzes go through the usual ‘We can’t afford it, it’s too good to be true, what’s the catch, all right we can make it work,’ discussion before agreeing to buy the house. In hindsight I guess it’s not like the filmmakers could do anything else – if the Lutzes buy it outright without any reservations about the previous family’s death, they are ghoulish, and there’s no question about their buying it, because the movie has to happen. It isn’t called ‘The Amityville Unremarkable Family Story.’
I never used to get annoyed by the common trope in horror movies where ghosts do stuff in the background undetected by the main characters, but this time I did. I like a good oblique haunting as much as the next person, but there’s a line to how much disbelief I can suspend.
Fun fact: I mentioned I was watching this to a friend, and she informed me this movie was from the time ‘before Ryan Reynolds got really cut.’ I wondered if we were talking about the same movie, because that guy has ALWAYS been ridiculously shredded. Or maybe she has a thing for watching the veins at his temples and throat bulge when he raises his voice, I don’t know. She’s living her best life and who am I to judge? Anyway, Reynolds puts in a great performance as the swiftly unraveling George Lutz. Apparently during filming, he never interacted with the actors playing the Lutz children, so that he wouldn’t be conflicted about scaring them.
Once in the house, stuff goes even further downhill. The babysitter becomes mysteriously trapped in a closet and leaves the house a basket case. George becomes short-tempered and emotionally abusive to the children, and seems obsessed with fixing up the house. The children are endangered and menaced, Kathy wonders what’s wrong and is generally useless. I need to make or do an examination into the ‘Parent loses his or her or their marbles’ sub-sub-genre of the haunted house sub-genre; I think there’s some rich mining to do there.
Anyhoodle, here’s what happens next, in summary: blood streaming from the walls, priest, flies, dead dog, mysterious boathouse happenings, creepy little girl, creepy dead Pilgrim, and (sigh) Native Americans tortured and/or forcibly converted to Christianity, murdered, and dumped in the lake. What that angle added to the 2005 update I can’t even tell, other than some of the ghosts George encounters toward the end have long dark hair and one appears to be wearing a loincloth.
I will say that there’s one scene that really struck me, and it had little to nothing to do with ghosts or bloody walls or sexy stoned babysitters: George is having a meltdown out on the dock, staring at the boathouse doors banging in the breeze. He knows that he’s locked the doors, and what’s worse, he can hear barking coming from inside. Barking coming from the family dog that he himself has killed. He crumbles down to the dock boards and lies weeping, miserable and trapped by his own encroaching madness. From inside the house, Kathy impassively watches this display. She seems neither disturbed nor saddened, and considering she’s chosen to share her life, family, and future with this man, you’d think she’d have some kind of reaction. If she cares so little for him by this point, why doesn’t she pack up the kids and go?
I’m pleased to say that although the family dog dies, and all the DeFeos, the Lutzes survive, although that part was annoying as well: Kathy has knocked a maniacal George unconscious with the very shotgun he was threatening her with, loads he and her kids into the boat, and drives them to the center of the lake where she– cuts off the engine and turns to look at George. In the middle of the lake. FAR FROM SHORE AND SAFETY. I can’t help but Monday-morning-Quarterback her life just a little bit and wonder if, just perhaps, you make sure you have an exit strategy before confronting someone who just threatened you and your children. MAYBE I’M JUDGMENTAL.
Anyway, I can’t help but writhe in frustration at the squandered opportunity here. I can’t help it! There was a fascinating movie in there someplace, and it got caught between the wheels of marketable, facile horror movie and slavish recreation of original. What if Kathy had gone bonkers? What if one of the kids had? What if the house was just a Maguffin for George’s pathological need to fill the role of patriarchal figure and it was never really haunted at all? There are hints toward this last, but naturally the canon of Amityville is so established that it’s all but impossible to rewrite it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s entry in Horror Movie Month! Stick around, because on Friday we’ll be having some fun with vintage Tom Hanks in The Burbs. Let’s twitch our curtains and whisper behind closed doors about our possibly Satan-worshipping neighbors, eh?
Have a great day!
NOTE: There is another hurricane threatening Central Florida. As before, my hatches are battened and I have an exit strategy. Here’s to hoping for a minimum of destruction! I’ll be sure to let you know what, if anything, happens here in Orlando!
*Fun fact: This quote comes from Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, which I haven’t read but should.
** Just kidding. I don’t belong to an HOA. Pretty sure HOAs were created to keep people like me out. I am fine with that.