I think that by now everyone on the planet knows how I feel about remakes for the sake of remakes, but in case you missed it…Not A Fan! Sometimes, though, you get the chance to see a remake and you really don’t remember what the original was like. I recently had such a brain-fart what I watched The Amityville Horror. I remember that I saw the original in 1979 when it was first in theatres, but I couldn’t really remember any specifics about it, so, being the Bad Movie Guy, I felt that I should take the time to see both the original and the remake before I could be fair about either. And that’s what I did, a solid day of Amityville Horror, and let me tell you, Horror is an understatement!
First is the 1979 version, starring James Brolin and a straight-off-Lois-Lane Margot Kidder, this was one of the biggest movies of the year, that year. The Amityville Horror is the story of the Lutz’s, who find their dream house in Amityville, Long Island and get a little more than just a house for the price of the same mortgage. After they move in, strange things start happening in the house and to the family. George Lutz starts obsessing over chopping wood in general and his axe in particular. As they spend more time in the house the more detached and aggressive George becomes until he’s prepared to and on his way to kill his family. At the last minute, George regains his sanity and gathers the family and leaves the house, never to return. The 2005 version stars Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George as the ill-fated Lutz’s. This follows the same basic story (which is based on a “true story”). Lutz’s move in, George goes crazy, starts to kill family, regains sanity and leaves house…the end.
The differences here are telling, more of the time in which the movie was made more than the story itself. In the original, George (as portrayed by Brolin) is more of the ‘man of the house’ type, with Margot Kidder taking on the homemaker role. In the more current version, the female role is noticeably stronger, with the Kathy Lutz portrayed more as an equal to George than the subordinate of the original version. In both movies, the Lutz’s have a dog, in the original version the dog is used to show that George has regained his sanity at the end of the movie. In the ‘79 version, George stops running from the possessed house to run back through the pouring rain to rescue the family dog, an act that no possessed killer would commit, confirming his return to normalcy! While in the ‘05 version, the dog is used to show us how insane George has gone. During a particularly violent hallucination, George kills the dog with his beloved axe, and then hides the body and cleans the mess so no one will know, an act no sane family man would commit!!
In both movies, the Lutz’s children play prominent roles, in both movies, only the daughter, Chelsea Lutz can see the evil spirit, Jody. In the original, Jody is never fully explained, and we only see two evil looking red eyes floating outside Chelsea’s bedroom window as any example of what Jody might be. In the ‘05 edition, Jody is the spirit of the daughter of the DeFeo family, a family who was slaughtered in their sleep in the house before the Lutz’s took possession of it. In both versions, Jody is the cause of much malicious mischief, while in the original Jody just seems to be evil, in the update Jody explains that someone is making her do the bad things. The sons in both movies are present and accounted for, in the original the sons are basically window dressing, helpless victims who really serve no purpose to the story other than getting hurt once by Jody, while in the updated version, the sons are a bit more fleshed out. In the original the two sons seem to be close to the same age, while in the newer version one is noticeably older than the other with the older boy portrayed as resentful of George’s presence in their home. Also, in the updated version, George torments the older son as he becomes more and more possessed by the house.
There are some big differences in the two, in the original the house is possessed but nothing is explained other than ‘there’s an evil presence in the house’ and that the ‘red room’ in the basement is some kind of ‘path into hell’. In the newer version, the evil is explained as an ancient preacher who caught and tortured Indians in the house. He killed himself with a special knife so that his spirit would live in the house forever, presumably this is the person who is forcing Jody to do bad things to the Lutz’s. Another significant difference is the babysitter. In the original, the babysitter is a sweet seeming girl in braces who is trapped in the closet by the evil Jody. The updated babysitter is a kind of cross between a hippie chick and a hooker, asking the older son if he’s ever “frenched” and then telling the kids the story of the boys who were killed in their room, before the inevitable closet scene. The famous scene where the priest is closed into a room that seems filled with flies is also repeated. In the original, Rod Steiger has a combination of real flies and plastic flies glued to him, while in the update, CGI flies attack the priest and while Rod Steiger plays a prominent role through most the original, the priest in the remake seems to be just tacked into the story to fill the expectations of people who loved the original.
Of the two, I think the newer version is probably more watchable by today’s viewers. The scares are better in the new version and the story is paced more for today’s audiences, while the 1979 version builds to the inevitable walls bleeding scene, the build up to the scene takes quite a while, as reflected in it’s longer running time than the new version. The newer version has more scares too, we get to see that the house is possessed by evil spirits who turn up around every corner, while in the original the presence is there, but not seen as graphically as in the updated version. The bottom line here is that, if you enjoy a little horror in your horror, I’d lean more toward the 2005 version of The Amityville Horror, but if you want to stick with the classics, there’s really nothing wrong with the 1979 version, even if the scariest thing in that one is James Brolin’s perm!!