Friday, April 30, 2010

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)

Start readying your lips to scream POSER because this viewing of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR was my first ever. I must have heard something in my adolescence that warned me away from this film. Maybe the growing tide of skepticism about the Lutzs' claims colored my perception and made me reach for TERRORVISION on the VHS rack for the seventh time. Whatever.

I am filling this entry with images of Margot Kidder because I think she's prettier than a house.

In teenage me's defense, AMITYVILLE is clearly not a great horror film. Even for a haunted house picture (which entails lackadaisical pacing by tradition), it takes forever to unfold. The little things, like windowsills falling on child hands, happen, but the film overall is so bloated that, by the time the house-stigmata kicks in, the viewer is too spent to be totally invested. AMITYVILLE dishes out lots of cookie-cutter haunted house tricks and, really, a bit too many, perhaps. At under two hours, it still feels like a chore to endure. Any tension that is built is quickly undone by the film's Kardashian-esque bulge. It really sits around the house.

There are other problems. James Brolin's George Lutz is clearly supposed to be tainted by the evil of the house, but this is manifested in A) awful acting ("I'm coming APAAART!") and B) extremely minor and nonthreatening behaviors, like obsessively chopping wood and stealing books from the library. Okay, the latter did bother me, but the casual viewer would probably not swoon. Physically, Brolin's a good fit for the part, but his acting leaves much to be desired. I'm biased, but even someone who hadn't already picked a camp would likely finger Kidder as the film's real star. She's talented as ever and does what she can, but there's nothing much to elevate.

It's tough to evaluate this thing now since its power is almost certainly tied to the carny bullshit that surrounded it. With the ominous "true story" aspects ripped from the tale, it's an unclothed emperor, emaciated and dreary, just another widget from the spookshow factory. The movie equivalent of the What-Is-It? or Feejee Mermaid, only not even half as interesting.

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