61 Days of Halloween- The Amityille Horror (1979)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Amityille Horror

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityille Horror (American International Pictures)

What is interesting to note, for what it’s worth is that both the 1979 and 2005 versions of this film have the same score on the IMDb. This score seemingly ignores the biggest difference between the two which is that the original runs 120 minutes and the remake runs 90 and that running time is put to very good use. Not only do the incidents mount and come with greater frequency it allows for more narrative threads to be developed to support what we all know to be true.

What people are likely to hold against it might be that not enough happens but mind you that there are many incidents and there certainly seems to be more of a crescendo than last year’s (at the time of this writing) runaway hit Paranormal Activity which may be the slowest moving horror film ever crafted.

Another rarity that makes this film one worth seeing is that it has always been difficult to attract names to tales of horror or the supernatural but this film boasts James Brolin, who at the time was already an Emmy-winner, Margot Kidder who was just coming off Superman and Rod Steiger who had already won an Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night. This is in the same decade as The Exorcist which boasted Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow. These are the kinds of casts you can’t find anymore and the kind you need to convey a tale in which terror lives in the characters’ minds even more than it does in reality.
 
The score which opens the film and recurs a few times is reminiscent of certain Giallo films. The score combined with the quick flashbacks at the beginning to illustrate the house’s past are the perfect way to set the table.

I am not going to say this is the quintessential haunted house movie because that would be a disservice to films like The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House which deserve recognition, however, it does take a different approach than those and ushers in the age of suburban terror and perils of home ownership into the genre.

While occasionally you do get some bad looking blood, which is such a pet peeve of mine. There is the compelling case of the priest trying to convince people of what he experienced. The nun who was violently ill on the premises, then subplots that run longer like the obsession with woodcutting due to the cold; Jodie, the “imaginary” friend, The dog digging at the wall in the basement and the police sergeant sensing something is amiss and tailing the family and the priest. All this offers many more layers than you usually get in this type of tale.

Lastly, the film also employs titles very effectively as not many do. It can be an extremely effective when used well and this film does on more than one occasion.The Amityville Horror definitely has a lot to offer the horror connoisseur.

8/10

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Review- Scream 4

Emma Roberts in Scream 4 (Dimension)

Scream has always been, and will always be, perhaps the most reflexive of all properties. You can call it self-referential, meta or reflexive, whatever you want that’s what it is and it’s not about to change and what’s better is that it’s not about to start apologizing for it. So that much at least is a given and should be expected and now to see how it operates within that milieu is another story entirely. I, for one, believe it does very well there.

The horror genre is living a very interesting time and we all know what ancient Chinese curses say about those. It like many other genres in film are embroiled in a perceived plague of sequels, remakes and what have you. The inherent value or lack thereof of said trend is not in question here it just is a fact. Similarly, the genre may be more recognized and known than it ever has been. Whether loved or reviled almost any horror property now is scrutinized and analyzed to the nth degree. Attendance at conventions just keeps rising. Even if you’re not a certified aficionado you have at least enough familiarity to watch this film and get what they’re driving at, regardless of if you like where it’s going.

That is said to postulate this theory: that the rules of the horror genre and whether or not you know them aren’t enough to breathe life to a new Scream. Another hook is necessary and aside from always offering commentary on the genre, which it perhaps has never done so well as it does in this film, it needs a topical hinge to cling to, as it kind of always has in the past as well. It finds that as well in this installment and that’s what elevates it just above an enjoyable piece of escapist entertainment.

This film escapes many of the trappings that other horror films fall prey to almost by definition. The cast is rock solid top to bottom and they really help pull you into the tale, as much as you can be pulled in by a film that constantly reminds you that you are watching a film, however, that has always been the most ingenious thing about the series is that the audience is perhaps never more aware of the fact that they’re watching a film than when watching a horror film so this franchise addresses that head on each and every time and shifts it out of the equation.

What this also does is de-emphasize the whodunit aspect of the narrative, which is kind of old hat in any and all films, such that you don’t see it as much anymore, but it is a staple of this series as well. Whether or not you crack the identity of the new Ghost Face is rather irrelevant in the end because after the who always comes the why and as I may have intimated above I absolutely love the why. I will not divulge that as it might inadvertently give away the who but a good motive is also very important and this film does have that indeed.

The comedic aspect of this film is also alive in full force. It is always a bit like playing with fire when trying to balance out the amount of comedy that needs to be inserted into a horror film but the balance is struck here at least to an extent. It’s there and balanced with the gory scenes enough such that you’re never jarred by the lack or pervasiveness of it. It’s omnipresence may dissipate some of the tension but not much of the enjoyment.

The only parts wherein the film falls flat is when it does stupid horror movie things. This being two instances where you’re left wondering how someone is not yet dead. It’s all well and good to have characters act stupid in the Stab vignettes so it gives you something to talk about but to fall into a tedious cliché within your actual narrative is a bit bothersome.

All told, however, Scream 4 is a very enjoyable film on a number of levels, take your pick: If you’re squeamish at the sight of blood; it’s got plenty of that and it looks great too (easily overcoming one of my pet peeves), if you like comedy there are some great jokes in there (My favorite being where the likelihood of Courteney Cox’s marriage is called into question) and if you like a little social commentary thrown in with whatever you’re watching it’s got that too.

8/10