Friday, August 26, 2011

“The Amityville Horror” Redux

I have only dim memories of the first Amityville Horror (1979), and they are not pleasant ones. As I recall, the film was slow, boring, and insufficiently horrifying. Accordingly, I did not expect much from the remake, also titled The Amityville Horror (2005), and I did not get much. But what I got was at least superior to the original.

Like the original, the 2005 Amityville is supposedly based on the true story of George and Kathleen Lutz and their family, who moved into a Long Island house that soon turned out to be seriously haunted. This time around, the Lutzes are played by Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George, filling the roles previously handled by James Brolin and Margot Kidder.
Reynolds has a lighter touch than Brolin, which generally serves the material well. All the dark brooding stuff about child murder and torturing Indians can get too heavy-handed without a sense of humor. As for George, I can’t swear that she’s a better actress than Kidder, but I have a soft spot in my heart for George not only for her blonde good looks but for all the other science fiction/horror roles she has essayed—Dark City, 30 Days of Night, Turistas. She may be the Evelyn Ankers of her generation.
The Amityville remake is neither slow nor boring. It zips right along, with lots of creepy hallucinations to jazz things up. An apparition of a dead little girl, Jodie, is somewhat overused and overfamiliar from other movies, but still effective at times. The principal mechanism of mayhem is the transformation of George Lutz from kindly family man to homicidal maniac, and this is depicted without any tedious subtlety. Reynolds falls in love with his dank basement, obsessively chops wood, kills a dog: you know he will attack his family next.

What keeps the Amityville remake from being a really good horror film is that, like its predecessor, it is insufficiently horrifying. Neither Brolin nor Reynolds have it in them to deliver a homicidal father performance like that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, still the benchmark for this type of film. And the haunted house material has been seen so often that something radically new must be done with it to make it freshly horrifying. Still, the Amityville remake merits praise for having topped its original—though not much praise, given the weakness of the original.
George Ochoa

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Most Boring Film Ever Made

According to deanlamb's post on the message board at IMDB, the most boring film ever made may well be Monsters (2010). After just sitting through it--or rather, lying through it, because it made me want to stretch out and go to sleep--I am inclined to agree. Perhaps I am partly to blame. From the title, I expected a horror movie (let's see, Monsters--could that possibly have something to do with monsters?). It turned out to be a rather soft-core science fiction movie, in which very little is made of the aliens who landed on earth six years previously, and more is made of the social and political issues connected to them. Oh, and there is a very dull love story involving the two main characters, both humans.

So, I admit I am the wrong audience for the film. Still, it bored me so much that I did doze a lot near the end, and cannot see that I missed much. After one shot of the couple walking through jungle, I dozed and woke up to find--another shot of the couple walking through jungle.

Nevertheless, I hesitate to say for sure that Monsters is the most boring film ever made. There are so many candidates for this high honor. The 2002 Solaris. Wim Wenders's Kings of the Road. Woody Allen's Interiors. Heartland. My Brilliant Career. It's harder for me to think of a stupefyingly boring horror film, because horror movies at least usually have some moments of action, gruesomeness, suspense, or slime to keep things moving. But how about Lake Placid? That comes as close to being boring as a movie about a giant crocodile can get.

If you have your own suggestions about most boring horror movies, or most boring movies generally, please comment.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Slithering to the Well Once Too Often

It is difficult to come up with an original deformed destructive being, or DDB. The DDBs that have already succeeded in horrifying audiences dominate the imagination and generate sequels and remakes; the ones that purport to be new tend not to be really new, but only slight variations on what has come before. Then there is a movie like Slither (2006), which blends together several DDBs that we have already seen before, making them newish by adding a coating of parody.

In Slither, extraterrestrials traveling by meteorite invade a small town and proceed to do several things lifted from other, better horror movies:
1. penetrate a human and make him a carrier of other aliens (found in Alien)
2. have weird, contaminating sex with tentacle-like organs (found in Rabid)
3. generate zombies who spread the disease (found in Night of the Living Dead)
4. shoot acid (Alien again)
5. grossly deform a couple of the contaminated humans (The Fly, The Thing, et al)
6. spawn offspring from an enormous queen (Aliens)
7. stock lairs with remains of dead creatures (in this case livestock and pets; it's humans in Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and so on)
8. spread via little worm-like entities (They Came from Within)

So when you add it all up, Slither is less a new horror movie than a potpourri of other horror movies. It has some scares and shocks, but these are faint echoes of the scares and shocks from its predecessors, and even the echoes tend to be undermined by the air of tongue-in-cheek humor, a constant peril in horror comedies. Also, when Michael Rooker's character reaches full alien development, he looks sort of like Jabba the Hutt, representing a silly sort of pop culture reach in yet another direction.

The movie is not entirely a waste of time. It stars the beautiful Elizabeth Banks, always a welcome presence. And it does move along in a more or less entertaining way, if only faintly entertaining. But I am always hoping for something more: for that stroke of originality that says a new DDB is on the screen; for the horror that comes when the filmmaker proves that the new DDB is there.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films