Sunday, November 15, 2009

Amityville Horror (1979)

Amityville Horror (1979)

“For God’s Sake, Get out!” screams the tagline for 1979’s Amityville Horror. I haven’t seen this little gem since it was originally released. My memory of it had been skewed over the years to one of mundane. At the time, I had been a big fan of the book and was excited (perhaps too much so) to see the film adaptation. When it didn’t live up to the book by Jay Anson, I was left disappointed and underwhelmed. Now, thirty years later and thirty years distant from the source material, I have decided to revisit this classic; and, to my surprise, I really liked what I found.

Stuart Rosenberg, who was responsible for the Paul Newman classics Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Drowning Pool (1975), directed The Amityville Horror for American International Pictures (AIP). The film stars James “The Car” Brolin, Margot “Sisters” Kidder, Rod “The Illustrated Man” Steiger, Don Stroud and Murray “Jaws” Hamilton. You could easily consider the house itself as one of the stars with its trademark twin top-story windows flanking the chimney along the house’s side. Sandor Stern wrote the screenplay from the original book by Jay Anson.

The plot is simple, and with the controversial book’s history, well known. Newlyweds, George and Kathy Lutz purchase a beautiful house in Amityville, New York. The house comes with a history; the previous owners, the Defeos, were murdered violently by their own son, Ronald. The Lutz family soon find themselves haunted by frightening sounds, terrifying visions and dreams and violent accidents – not to mention flies. George suffers the most, having his personality change and actions become both self deprecating and dangerous. Even with the involvement of a local priest, the family cannot exorcise the house and must flee for their lives.

I found the movie more professionally directed and well-crafted than I had remembered, building tension and fear slowly toward the over-the-top conclusion. The soundtrack supports the film and the mood necessary to carry the dread and foreboding the films needs. Rosenberg directs the film as a drama with horror elements found in its lining. When it focuses on the psychological elements and brief hints of terror and haunting is when he succeeds the most: eyes outside the windows, the babysitter trapped inside the closet, both Lutz’ awakening from nightmares screaming. When it comes time to address the out and out horror is when it falters slightly: the blood walls, the erupting floors and exploding doors.

James Brolin and Margot Kidder as George and Kathy Lutz shine in their performances. Brolin’s George Lutz is both sympathetic and frightening all at once as his psyche deteriorates with each passing day. Kidder’s Kathy Lutz is desperate to save her family and her husband and frightened of the outcome if she cannot. Rod Steiger however chews the scenery in most of his scenes, but is superb when he is in the house alone and has to face the horror first hand with the flies and the famous line “Get Out!”

It took thirty years, but I’ve changed my mind on The Amityville Horror. I can now see it as a classic and a truly frightening film. Seeing it again was a pleasant and rewarding surprise and I plan on visiting this masterpiece yet again in the future. Recommended.

7.5 out of 10

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Fourth Kind (2009)

The Fourth Kind (2009)

“There are four kinds of alien encounters. The fourth kind is abduction.”

The Fourth Kind, by director Olantunde Osunsanmi, is an unusual beast – a bizarre blend of documentary, mockumentary, dramatization and out-and-out sci-fi/horror fiction. Spinning off the premise of alien encounters in an isolated Alaskan town, Osunsanmi presents us with twin views as the story unfolds: “actual” footage of Dr. Abigail Tyler and dramatization with Milla Jovovich portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler. At times this choice is extremely effective and, at other times, succeeds in pulling you out of the story.

At times the footage and the dramatization are presented side by side or even in grid format. It is a very interesting and original approach; however, for me, it served to remind me that it’s a story, a movie and I would suddenly find myself in the theater again, no longer immersed in the story. Thankfully, the director manages to pull you back in quickly, but the result is at times jarring. I also think this was on purpose, a cinematic trick to make you feel as if it were “real” and had indeed happened and to some degree it works. When the scene’s switch to focus on Dr. Tyler’s recorded footage and is combined with an excellent, amplified score, the result is pure horror. To my surprise, I felt my heart race and my hands and feet tense up. It can be quite chilling and effective, if you let yourself get caught up in it and I did.

The plot is fairly simple, recounting Dr. Abigail Tyler’s encounter with the Fourth Kind, first through her patients (she’s a psychologist) and then her own involvement as well. To say much more would be unfair.

The movie succeeds much more on the psychological and horror levels than any sci-fi level, there are no space ships (ala CE3K) and no aliens – at least in the traditional sense. The focus is on the human element and the affects of the encounters both to the mind and body. When the encounters happen, it can be truly terrifying and horrific. Let’s just say this isn’t a Spielberg happy ET experience. At these moments, the dramatization layer falls away and lets the “real” footage take over where the film is obscured and distorted. This is insanely effective as it allow you to fill in the blanks and imagine much more than is actually there – not many films can do that and not as well as you find here.

The performances are all top notch with Milla Jovovich really hitting it home. You feel her character’s loss, her desperation, her fear and her drive. This is her best performance. Elias Koteas and Hakeem Kae-Kazim support her character, grounding her findings and lend the believability the story needs. Will Patton, as the sheriff, serves as the skeptic exceptionally. The most haunting performance may be the Dr. Abigail Tyler character herself found mostly in an “interview” with the movie’s director framing the film and the key plot points throughout; she is a haunting visage, and she emotes a broken and haunted woman.

I’m not sure this film will appeal to everyone, to many at all, In fact. It takes a large leap of suspension of disbelief to succeed. If you get caught up in how hokey the story and premise can be (and the devices found within expose that from time to time), you won’t find yourself truly enjoying this film. However, if you can let yourself get into the story, you may find yourself genuinely frightened and affected.

7.5 out of 10