Screens Amityville horrified

An evil spirit has taken possession of America's haunted house

"Ggeeeettt ooouutttt! Gettt OUUUUUTTT!"

Lots of us have lived in last-choice rentals, roach-infested apartments, or other dwellings that were for one reason or another less than inviting. Yet, not many of us have actually been informed by our own homes that we must leave or die. That's the last straw, even if the plumber can do something about the blood oozing from the walls.

The threatening voice was only one of the plagues inflicted upon an innocent young couple who moved into their dream house in Amityville: Doors and windows took on a life of their own, opening and closing of their own accord; the place grew mysteriously cold - so chilly you'd think Sean Penn and George Bush were sitting on the sofa together - and there were, well, flies.

And why shouldn't the house talk to them? It looked enough like a man, after all: that pair of quarter-round windows up top that would light up at inopportune moments; the nose-like chimney; the second-floor porch guarded by railing posts like long, thin teeth. If a young family moved into your head and started lighting fires in your nose, you'd probably be upset, too.

Most terrifying was the fact that this was, as we were frequently reminded, a true story. Not merely "based upon" or "inspired by," but a true story, as recounted in the best-selling book by Jay Anson. My mother lived on Long Island for a while, and says she drove by the actual house every day on the way to work. She never heard the voices, and no flies ever followed her home, but maybe the ghosts just realized she's a good person and decided to leave her alone.

The Amityville Horror was no terror-movie classic, but it possessed certain key elements. A priest, for instance, made good copy in a '70s scare film, just a few years after The Exorcist's blockbuster success. And while Jaws associated danger with a familiar setting, a beach, The Amityville Horror put the threat of evil in your living room. No wonder it did well enough to inspire two sequels.

Amityville horror fest

8pm Thu, Apr 14
Alamo Drafthouse Westlakes
1255 SW Loop 410

Docia Williams book signing and talk
Author of Ghosts Along the Texas Coast,
and The Mystery and History of the Menger Hotel

The Amityville Horror (1979)

San Antonio Paranormal Investigations
Talk and footage screening

The Amityville Horror (2005)

And now, as all money-making films do, it has spawned a remake. It's produced by Michael Bay, who brought us such horror films as Pearl Harbor - wait, let's not be snide. Bay also produced the recent remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and while many die-hards found that an unforgivable sacrilege, it was far from the worst monster movie to come down the pike lately.

Anyway, aren't scary movies supposed to reflect their times? Remakes of movies such as The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers have, in their variations, told us something about the concerns of the real world when they were made: the Red Scare, AIDS, Leonard Nimoy ...

The shallowness and flash of the new Chainsaw Massacre (and, it doesn't seem too much to suppose, of this Amityville) are a reflection of our world. Could these films go deeper than MTV level, becoming metaphors for concerns such as terrorism, eroding liberties, or environmental catastrophe? Or could they veer from the plots of the movies that inspired them, using the basic premise in a new and thrilling way? They can - see The Manchurian Candidate and Dawn of the Dead, respectively, for examples.

The Chainsaw remake drained a truly unique and scary film of its singular power and turned it into an easily digested mall treat for teenagers. More than a metaphor for a threat to our culture, it was an example of it. Nobody's saying The Amityville Horror is on a plane with the first Massacre, but its remake springs from the same soul - Michael Bay, who, if the cinema were a big old house, might wake up every night hearing some familiar words: Gett outtt! Geeet OUUUTT!

By John DeFore

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