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Horror Movie Marathon: Day 16 – The Amityville Horrors

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[SPOILER ALERT]    The Amityville Horror      [SPOILER ALERT]

“Newlyweds are terrorized by demonic forces after moving into a large house that was the site of a grisly mass murder a year before.” IMDB

It’s day sixteen of the Horror Movie Marathon! This is not our first choice of movie. The one we wanted to watch wouldn’t stream properly, so we ended up here.

The Amityville Horror is rated R and is available on Hulu. At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:

IMDB 6.0/10

Metacritic 33/100

Rotten Tomatoes 23% critics, 52% audience

It’s late afternoon on a gray, not-quite-rainy day. The house is chilly enough to inspire Mikey to turn the heat while we watch, curled up in blankets. We both take notes throughout the movie. Afterward, we conduct a simultaneous interview/discussion via Google Docs.


Mikey: So I noticed it’s possible to show the 70’s without it being all in sepiatone. It seems No Tell Motel has lied to me again.

Solee: You just can’t trust horror movies anymore. This was a remake of a 1979 movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. Have you seen the original?

Mikey: Um, I think I may have. There’s kind of a whole series of these, and I know last year I saw an Asylum-made rip-off of it, The Amityville Haunting (a found-footage funfest, of course! I gave it 1/5).  And of course it is based on a “true” story, which gets quotes because it’s an entirely different situation than Emily Rose. This story is a yarn spun by the guy who lived in the house, which, while I don’t have all the details, basically turns out to be an elaborate hoax (got him a book deal and all these movies and lots of fame!). Pardon me if that’s not certain, but it seems to be from a cursory examination.

Solee: So it’s more like The Witch – based on something that happened in real life, but mostly fictionalized?

Mikey: Well, it’s based on a fiction that was told to people in real life? The DeFeo murders, which start the movie, are true.  Then the Lutz family moved into the house, moved out shortly after, and made up this story about ghosts almost making them kill each other in the same fashion as the DeFeos (which itself is interesting: Ronnie did kill the family, and did claim voices made him do it, but later admitted he was just seriously high, and never had heard voices).

Solee: Dang. People are terrifying. This is one of those horror movies that really chills me. I’m not really afraid of zombies or witches or aliens…

Mikey: You ain’t afraid of no ghost?

Solee: Exactly! But I think human beings at their worst are absolutely horrifying. So it’s movies like this – with completely human monsters, based on completely human monsters – that make me turn on all the lights as I walk through the house at dusk and double check the locks on the doors before I go to bed at night. This crap really happens!

Mikey: It is definitely the one real monster we can find! It doesn’t really get me in horror movies though, usually. It’s kind of like “I could see that in real life. Show me a ghost!” I guess I don’t really double-check doors or anything anyway. White male privilege.

Solee: You’re statistically more likely to pick up the ax than to have to climb to the top of the steepest roof in the world to escape from someone with an ax.

Mikey: True, Ryan Reynolds and I are almost identical twins! Mostly in the abs department.  

Solee: Mmmmm….

Mikey: But man, that was one steep roof. I mean, I guess that’s real, but whoa. That was probably the scariest part for me. I don’t like heights!

Solee: There were some pretty amazing wide shots while they were climbing around up there. If not for the imminent death coming from all directions, it would be pretty awesome to have a view like that.

Mikey: I’ll pass on that. Or maybe install a nice balcony or something? I even get twitchy on balconies.  Okay, so this is the polar opposite of #Horror – every second of this movie, something is happening. Non-stop, rapid-fire action (too rapid-fire during the initial flashback – this movie needs an epilepsy warning). Did it seem crazy fast-paced to you?

Solee: I wasn’t crazy about the super fast lightning flashes during the flashback. The whole movie did seems to just zoom along, but not in a bad way. I was completely engaged as all this craziness happened. It didn’t come across as unbelievable in its speed, either. They did the little montage-y bit to show time passing as they moved in, but that worked. There was a point when I suddenly realized that they had been there for less than a month. I was surprised… but not really bothered.

Mikey: The pace kept it always interesting! They weren’t afraid to show you the ghosts either, it was like a ghost in the corner of every shot. Constant bombardment of the supernatural, instead of the very common slow-burn horror where you’re never quite sure if anything is happening.

Solee: I just realized that I was way less skeptical of the ghosts/demons in this movie than I was in Emily Rose. I’m not sure why… maybe because I didn’t really believe that aspect to be part of the “true story”, which doesn’t make much sense. I just watched it as a horror film rather than constantly trying to figure out what was REALLY happening when they thought they saw these things.

Mikey: This goes back to the two different versions of “true”. Emily Rose was claiming to tell the true story of an exorcism (but it did leave you the option of interpretation). This movie was more “let’s tell you the story Mr. Lutz told us”. Which I don’t find as bothersome, even though it bothers me that he’s getting rich and famous from lying.

Solee: I found this quote by Sandor Stern, screenwriter of the 1979 version, that fits that: “I wasn’t really concerned about whether or not it was a true story. It didn’t matter to me. I had to create a reality of my own.” I think you’re right. The makers of this movie were just telling a fun story, not trying to push an agenda.

Mikey: Kind of a campfire ghost story. It’s interesting that it’s become such a cultural touchstone, spawning a whole series of movies, and everybody knows about them.  I knew the flies were going to come pouring in at some point, I remembered that (you know, I am pretty sure I saw the original).

Solee: I’m tempted to go watch the original at some point. You know, I said earlier that this movie wasn’t pushing an agenda, but there was one agenda that came through pretty clearly: White people stole Native American land and abused native people and now we’re paying for it.

Mikey: I bet they wish we’d pay for it! But yeah, I’m not sure that was in the original movie. What came to mind for me was Poltergeist – the Indian burial ground is a trope. I guess they had to bring out some kind of “old” explanation for all this, because they had to have a supernatural reason for the first murders.

Solee: Trope! That’s what was bothering me. I got very irritated when the Rev. Ketchum aspect was revealed, and I wasn’t sure exactly why. It’s because not only did we steal land and spread small pox and do all kinds of horrible things to Native Americans, but NOW we appropriate that history to get sympathy for ourselves! “Look at what the scary Indian ghosts are doing to us!” This movie focused more on the evil white guy and the little girl (I want to ask a question about that later), but most movies make the tortured ghosts of a tortured people into the bad guys. That’s just… ugh.

Mikey: Yeah, I don’t know if there were scary Indian ghosts, I think it was more that Ketchum was so evil, he’s the evil force here (remember he slit his own throat to live forever – which by the way: bad strategy). The torturing of Indians was just an example of why he’s evil. I also had a question about Jody! You go.

Solee: So, I totally understand why Ketchum is a ghost there and his role in everything that has happened all along. And I get that Jody was the little sister of the guy who went nuts and killed his whole family in a drug induced rage… But why is she the only ghost of his family left? Why weren’t his brothers and his parents there helping drive this family crazy (or protect them? Is that what Jody was trying to do? I dunno.)?

Mikey: Oh wow, I just invented a theory! I’m 100% sure this is not what the filmmakers intended, but it’s the story I’m going to tell you, just like Mr. Lutz. So the DeFeo family, like dozens before them I’ll assume, murdered each other (okay, one guy did the murdering) due to the ghost. Once murdered, the whole family was ghostly.  Then over time, Ketchum “kaught ‘em and killed ‘em”, eating their souls to sustain his eternal ghostliness.  Jody was the last one left, and in the final shot of the movie, we see her sucked up at last.  Sad really.

Solee: That’s an interesting theory. It makes sense. I agree that it probably wasn’t actually in this making, but it should have been!

Mikey: I’m hoping to become world-famous for it and they make movies out of it. Not so much movies as appendices to this movie. “By the way, Mike said this was happening…”

Solee: Haha! Good luck with that. So there are a couple more things I wanted to talk about. First, how about that babysitter?

Mikey: Yeah, maybe if the parents had spent five minutes (or one) speaking to her before letting her watch their kids, they would’ve known what an awful babysitter she was.

Solee: Dude. I knew she was an awful babysitter as soon as I saw the shirt she was wearing!

Mikey: That was a funny moment. It seemed like it would’ve been a very classic Ryan Reynolds line to have said what you did after the mom asked “Can I get your coat?” – “Can I put it back on you?”

Solee: Except he was playing a macho 70’s man, so he just exchanged a nudge and a wink with the 13 year old boy they were leaving to be molested by this nasty woman. sigh Thinking about it, that’s the only person that the Jody ghost was really aggressive towards. She REALLY didn’t like that babysitter.

Mikey: Yeah, they had history – she had babysat her in life. Apparently equally well.

Solee: I wasn’t all that sorry for the poor traumatized babysitter after that night. I was more sorry for the brothers, having experienced such a scary thing AND getting blamed for how things ended. Not fair at all.

Mikey: Well, these kids had a very rough life the whole time in the house. Oh wait, I can’t believe I haven’t said this yet: this was a near-clone of The Shining. And what I want to say is that it was unfair of the movie to make him be a not-really-wanted stepdad. If he was their real loving father, the turn to being really nasty and scary would be so much more perplexing and difficult for the kids. As it was, it was more like “Oh yeah, now we’re seeing what he’s really like!” (from the kids’ perspective)

Solee: But then the tension of “will he treat them well?” wouldn’t have been there from the beginning. And he did go through a pretty dramatic transformation. He was a really decent guy, caring about the kids, putting up with the stress of step-parenting, etc. Ryan Reynolds was a great choice for this character because he makes the sweet, endearing, charming side of it very believable, but he also plays scary, angry, abusive quite believably. He was fricking terrifying by the middle of the movie.

Mikey: The wood-chopping scene was very hard to watch! That was one of my favorites. Although it calls to mind what I never knew was a trope: what is with guys under demonic threat becoming obsessed with chopping tons of wood?

Solee: Maybe that’s an unintended side-effect of the real trope: ax murderers!

Mikey: But no axe-murdering in The Witch or whichever other movie we saw that did this, … maybe I’m wrong about that one since I don’t remember which one.

Solee: It was definitely in The Witch. Not sure about any others. I don’t remember anyone getting ax murdered, or even ax injured, though. That’s still a major trope. It’s what we say when we’re suspicious of someone. I was a potential ax murderer, if you ask your mom! 😉

Mikey: I remember well! I think Emily Rose might have had a large amount of chopped wood. I’m looking through our list because I wanna say there were at least 3 besides this movie!  Oh, Kill List I’m pretty sure.

Solee: And you mentioned The Shining… I wouldn’t be surprised to see wood chopping in that one. Some of the ALL WORK that makes JOHNNY A DULL BOY.

Mikey: Oh, I don’t know. Fine. It’s weird.

Oh, I have one last note: I thought it was funny when the ghosts were trying to be scary (oh hey, that moment was another one of Jody seemingly being grabbed… he was trying to katch em!), and the people were just not looking. I think it’d be fun to make a horror movie where the people just never see the ghosts because they’re looking the wrong way the whole time. Horror-comedy.

Solee: Yes. I would love to see that movie made. The audience is scared the whole time, waiting for something bad to happen, but nothing does. The people just go about their business. I think it would have to be a short because that would get irritating and boring after a while.

Mikey: Doesn’t have to be a short, just make a totally unrelated movie! A romantic comedy with frustrated ghosts in the background trying to scare everyone.  Anyway…

Solee: So, there was one other thing I wanted to bring up, too. I thought it was interesting that the haunting/possession of the step-dad had a somatic manifestation. When he was at the house, he displayed flu-like symptoms – throwing up, being tired, headache, etc. I haven’t really seen that in other movies. There are physical symptoms, but they seem to usually be more along the peeling skin or being thrown across the room or pinned to the ceiling variety. This felt more realistic to me. There was definitely something wrong, but it was something he could write off as illness.

Mikey: That would make a good drug ad: “If you experience being pinned to the ceiling or thrown across the room, discontinue use immediately and contact your doctor.” I liked that element, and I have a thought that it was along the lines of punishment for resisting. I’m sure he felt much healthier when he started getting crazy and murderous. It was something to help drive him to do it.

Solee: Good point. There was one moment when I was pulled out of the fictional story and made to question what had really gone down with the real people. The step-dad was in full-blown crazy mode, about to put the ax into the older boy, when mom cocked the shotgun and put it against his temple. He completely froze. The threat of bodily harm/death brought him up cold. In that moment, my only thought was “Oh… so this guy wasn’t actually possessed or out of control at all… he was just in a killing mood”. Crazy, but not so crazy he didn’t remember what a shotgun to the temple meant.

Mikey: Of course, then he slowly pulled it around to point at his forehead instead, which was full of crazy. But you know, your comment fits with my theory! Ketchum couldn’t let him be killed before he had provided sufficient fresh souls. Just one wouldn’t be enough.

Solee: Well that backfired. He got NOTHING from this family. Well… he got the dog. That was sad. But poor Rev. Ketchum is going to be hungry for a while.

Mikey: They always kill the dog 😦

Solee: I know. So… anything else? Are you ready to rate?

Mikey: Yep, this was a good movie. Not my favorite ever, but well-made and really fast-paced in a way that kept it interesting despite the plot being as simple as “dad gets crazier until he tries to kill everyone”.  I will award that 4 stars!

Solee: Aside from being an overdone storyline, I don’t have any issues with this movie and there were things I REALLY liked. I’m going to give it 4.5 out of 5. This is one I’d recommend to people.

Mikey: Good deal! We better watch something terrible next!

Solee: Sounds like a plan. How about i_LIVED? 

*If you have comments to leave specifically for Mikey, you can see this same interview/discussion posted here, on his website.

 

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