THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a cross between existentialism, science, and religion, all mixed up in one of the eeriest haunted houses you'll ever walk inside.
As far as found footage goes, GHOSTWATCH sits up high, reigning supreme.
This comes as one of the better adaptations of a King story, bringing along with it some fun, frightening terror, as one man's memories become a haunted house in a creepy hotel room.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 12: “Afterbirth”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (Glee, The New Normal)
Written by Jessica Sharzer
* For a review of the previous episode, “Birth” – click here
We start off this finale, “Afterbirth”, with a flashback to a time when there seemed to be hope for Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott/Connie Britton). They’re trying somehow to make it work, obviously after he has pissed all over their marriage vows. Ben shows her the house – dear ole Murder House – saying they ought to give it a chance, it might be the way to find their groove again. He says he could see it like a movie, they were all there, around the fire, together once more as a true family. It’s one of those excellent scenes done in hindsight; we’re able to look back at all the horrible, terrifying events of Season 1 and say “Yeah okay Ben” when he says that it feels as if there is hope for them in the house. Tragically funny.
With the baby around now, Vivien dead, Ben Harmon is left to himself. He’s trying to take care of the baby, but clearly Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) does not want the child to go back into the wretched Murder House. While I don’t necessarily think the baby is going to turn out all right no matter where it goes – being a child of Tate (Evan Peters) after all – there’s part of Constance which does care for the child. Things went so awfully wrong with Tate, she only wants another child, another chance, in order to not raise a monster; ultimately, it’s all about how she feels her child and his actions reflect on her, not how much she cares about Tate. She is a selfish woman. Many of her intentions are spot on and righteous, however, the way she goes about putting them into action leave a lot to be desired.
At the same time, Ben now becomes aware of Tate being Constance’s son. Further and further his reality is beginning to slip away and become something of a memory. All around him are the ghosts of the house, which now include his own wife and daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga).
I love the smeared lens style look so many shots have, as the ghosts are around Ben and he’s sort of wandering through their garden, so to speak. This really makes things look surreal and the atmosphere takes on an eerie feel simply from the perspective itself. We feel disoriented watching all of this, but it’s meant in an effective way to produce a required feeling; not meant to make us turn away or feel uncomfortable, it’s disorienting in the way we’re drawn into that surreal world. This technique is a classic by now in the universe of American Horror Story, one of those staples of the series, so I think that’s something which works incredibly well. So many psychological horrors will use that style, yet it isn’t overplayed or anything. Used correctly, it puts us into that shaky emotional space where psychologically strange scenes often need to play out.
There is a ton of tragedy in “Afterbirth”. While Vivien and Violet make their own amends with Ben, and decides not to kill himself to be with his family as originally planned, Hayden (Kate Mara) has other plans. Along with Dallas (Kyle Davis) and Fiona (Azura Skye) – the serial killer enthusiasts from “Home Invasion” – she strings Ben up via noose and hangs him until dead from the chandelier.
Just as everything seemed to be going right for Ben, maybe a turning point in his life somehow, there come the ghosts to keep him stuck within the walls.
It’s funny because I’d honestly thought after “Birth”, the season could’ve ended with a bit more time; maybe add another 15 minutes to that penultimate episode and there was the season finale.
But then in “Afterbirth”, we get a really great episode. A new family comes to move in as Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the sly real estate agent she is, doesn’t disclose the ENTIRE history of Murder House; only the recent tragedy of the Harmons. This gives us an interesting chapter for the season’s close.
Super cool aspect to this finale is how we’re seeing the crowded ghosts bumping up against one another. While Violet meets the new teenage boy in the house, Gabriel Ramos (Brennan Mejia), in the background we see Tate – jealous and hateful as ever – watching her with him, no doubt probably plotting whatever his next murderous move might be in the depths of Murder House.
Then there’s a chilling moment where Miguel and Stacy Ramos (Anthony Ruivivar/Lisa Vidal) say they may want a baby, to make the place less lonely after their teenage son moves off to college. Ben and Vivien watch on, unnoticed by the living, and realize this nice couple ought not to have a child in that place. AMAZING SCENE! So visually excellent, as the Ramos couple begins to heavy pet and makeout, almost near sex, and Moira (Frances Conroy) stands over them in the kitchen to tell the Harmons they’ll need some help in getting the Ramos family out of there; other ghosts are vengeful, hateful entities.
Before, the house was trying hard to get a baby, now that the Harmons are newly ghosted on the property they’re more concerned with trying to help another family get away from Murder House.
The spirits are all trying to drive this new family out. Even Tate – he’s no longer concerned with impregnating the wife of the house, he wants to get the teenage boy out so Violet won’t stray away. Although Violet wants nothing to do with Tate, he is constantly misguided in the afterlife.
Even Beau (Sam Kinsey) gets in on the action, scaring Mrs. Ramos in the hallway, as Ben Harmon suits up in the Rubber Man outfit and tries to crawl on top of her in the bedroom. Incredibly well executed sequence, as almost every one of the Murder House ghosts appears to the Ramos family in an attempt to scare them away forever. Elizabeth Short (Mena Suvari) also materializes, Glasgow Smile and all, cut in half and bleeding all over the place. Macabre bunch of nastiness! Phil Critter (W. Earl Brown) bumps into the Ramos husband in the hallway. In the basement, Vivien tears Ben’s guts out in front of the Ramos family, before Ben shoots his deceased wife in the forehead, each exclaiming “You don‘t know how long I‘ve been waiting to do that.”
Another thing about the finale that hit me right in the excellent horror nerve is how they circled back to the Pilot, using that initial song the saucy twins were prancing around to at the beginning. I always love those circular motions in films and television shows. Especially with a series, because we’re harkening back a good ways to revisit things that sometimes we might even forget. Such is the case with the scene where the Ramos family speedily runs out of the house, not worried about their belongings, and the Harmons stand on the porch, lamenting that another family will only move on in eventually; the whole we’re listening to that strange, eerily unsettling song from the Pilot directed by Ryan Murphy, it’s called “Tonight, You Belong To Me” by Patience and Prudence. Effective moment that always gets me when I watch it.
Still, above all else in this episode, I think the best moment of “Afterbirth” is the very finish. Obviously nobody thought the baby – Michael – was going to turn out all right in the end, but what we’re able to see is how as he grows up he becomes more and more like his evil father Tate.
When Constance goes to check on Michael in the final scene, the boy is now slightly older. We’ve flashed forward three years. He is also now starting to grow into his skin, as the true son of his father. The bloody handprints on the rocking chair, Constance’s face as she sees the dead woman on the bedroom floor – it’s so creepy and shocking at once. Really nice horror movie reveal and it works incredibly for the last thing we see in Season 1.
So much of what happened in the house boils down to Constance and Tate, and so I find it’s only fitting she is the last character we see before the season closes. A great way to show how the violence and madness and depravity of Murder House will never fade, as long as there is a child or offspring of some sort related to the house still breathing and living. Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve score, previously played as Tate massacred his high school classmates, comes in eerily just as the scene comes to a close and it’s like echoes of Michael’s father are literally in our ears. Beautifully macabre piece to finish.
The Amityville Horror. 2005. Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the earlier screenplay by Sandor Stern/the novel by Jay Anson.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rachel Nichols, Philip Baker Hall, Isabel Conner, and Brendan Donaldson. Platinum Dunes. 18A. 90 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.
3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m not someone who gets overly upset about remakes. Though I’m not necessarily always a fan of what comes out the other end of the Hollywood meat machine, there are benefits to remakes. I mean, some film fans act as if it’s a big deal somebody discovers an older movie because of its remake. Remakes have been going on since the 1950s, maybe even a little earlier, so get off the high horse first of all. Second of all, why do certain snobbish film fans expect other people to be researching the history of a movie? So what if somebody sees a movie and then realizes it’s a remake? A lot of times people will end up seeing the original and then saying “Wow that’s way better”. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say similar things, glad to have seen the original film.
Not to say The Amityville Horror remake is amazing. It’s not. I would say it’s better than just mediocre, but still not great. I think what I like about this one particularly is that Ryan Reynolds plays George Lutz pretty well, as well as the fact not everything looks like a commercial – such is the Platinum Dunes tradition of making horror look all glossy, with sexy people showing off their sexiness. There is a little of this, honestly, throughout the movie. Far less than any of the other Platinum Dunes remakes – think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, both equally abysmal and sexualized bits of horror blasphemy.
This is a decent remake, though, certainly not better than the original. Not for me, anyways. What I do like about this one is that they dive a bit further into the backstory about the Lutz house. Again as I’ve said before in my review of the original film, I don’t believe the supposed hogwash “true story” behind the whole Amityville ordeal. That being said, I still enjoy the fictionalized telling of the hoax on film. Good haunted house type of stuff, even some nastiness here and there to drive home that horror.
I won’t bore anyone with describing the plot. If you’ve not yet discovered the original, or haven’t otherwise read about the story, check it out online. Plenty of stuff out there. Aside from that, we’re going to go at it right away.
One thing I do enjoy here is the cinematography. There’s a nice atmosphere, which is my favourite thing in horror. If a director and cinematographer together can set the tone of a film off the bat, things pan out so much better from there on out, as long as the tone is upheld.
Peter Lyons Collister is the cinematographer for this film. Until I actually went and checked, I didn’t know that he was also cinematographer on Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; I’m actually a big fan of that one, personally. He was also director of photography on John Singleton’s excellent film Higher Learning. What Collister does here is keep things darkened through almost every single frame of the film. Even when we’re outdoors in the light, or walking with a character through a hallway of the house where sun is shining through the windows, there’s a dim quality to everything I find keeps things eerie. Not to say it’s all drenched in darkness. There are so many scenes, though, almost every one, where Collister keeps things shadowy. Something of which I’m a huge fan. Gave the film that atmosphere I enjoy.
Something I enjoyed about this Amityville Horror is that even quicker and more immediately than the original, the plot of this film kicks in with intensity almost the minute they move into the house. The tension between George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) Lutz goes up ten notches under the house’s influences. Otherwise, there is barely any real tension. Even the kids – George’s stepchildren – become more irritating to him than they ever were before. You can tell when they first get there, after a scene or two with him and the kids, there’s a tiny bit of awkwardness still left, as the kids do miss their father; obviously. But so quickly, the house exerts its grip on George, and it begins to affect everything and everyone around him.
Another thing is that I enjoyed the way the children were so affected by the house, as well. In the original they experienced quite a bit in their own right, but the majority was heaped all on George. It’s still mostly like that, however, we see the kids all get terrorized a for nice while. The youngest boy sees a ghastly image next to him in the bathroom mirror while he washes his hands in the middle of the night – a solid jump scare. Worst of all, little Chelsea Lutz (Chloë Grace Moretz) seems to be entranced by the invisible friend she calls Jodie – who is actually Jodie DeFeo (Isabel Conner), murdered by her older brother as he killed their entire family a year before the Lutz’s arrival in 1975. This goes to great lengths, as Chelsea and Jodie get closer and closer.
The downfall of The Amityville Horror remake, why it can’t surpass the original for me, is mostly because it gets that modern day Platinum Dunes treatment, as I mentioned before – the one suffered by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes alike.
First of all, there’s the part with the babysitter. I mean – there was just no need to sexualize that character so much. It’s fine to have a wild babysitter, that would’ve been different than the first film, but why make her a young girl all dolled up wearing the tiniest top, low-cut jeans, showing off her ribs and her stomach? It’s just another obvious idiotic marketing film executive thinking “Hmmm how do we get more young men watching horror? Let’s add sex”. But then there’s the further idiotic idea that, because she’s an obviously sexual young woman, an even younger boy drooling all over her, and because she smokes pot in the bathroom, then OF COURSE SHE MUST BE TERRORIZED IN THE CLOSET! Sure, put her in the closet – why does it need to feel like she’s being set up to be punished, though? Make her sexy then make her pay? Dumb Platinum Dunes style crap.
I felt truly weird about the whole scene where she was laying on the bed with this kid talking to her. Such an awkward scene.
Then we can’t ignore Ryan Reynolds showing off his abs – seemingly always greased and glistening – which is just downright silly. It was like at certain times someone said “WHIP OFF THAT SHIRT, RYAN. SOMEBODY: GREASE HIM UP!” I mean, I get that sometimes people don’t have shirts on, but it’s like there’s such an intense need for Platinum Dunes remakes to try and focus on wet, slick bodies, as if that draws people somehow to the movie.
This is the sort of stuff which really tears me out of a film, regardless if it’s horror or not. Another reason for people to hate remakes, so it irks me when I see this kind of stuff. Does not help the genre whatsoever.
George Lutz: “There’s no bad houses there’s just bad people”
So, as I said before, I do like the backstory they put into the remake. I have no time for the supposedly “true story”, because it’s not true. Though I really enjoy the fictionalized telling of the story. Here, we get disturbing and weird stuff as George Lutz descends from a fairly regular, everyday man towards a pit of madness into which he gets sucked by the evil in that house. He looks tired all the time, he’s getting angrier by the minute, and his paranoia begins to pulse almost as noticeable as the blood in his veins, the beat in his heart. All due to the house and the demons living in the very foundation.
This is the best stuff. As George starts to see and hear so many things throughout the house, we’re treated to a lot of macabre and unsettling imagery. They’re not all jumpy NOISE TO SCARE YOU type shots either. A couple come up, no doubt, but they’re not relied on solely for Andrew Douglas to scare us. We get enough to be able to enjoy; I find when too many jump scares happen, I’m just desensitized and not scared any longer. With only a handful, this helps to creep me out. Most of all, it’s the weird story of the preacher, the things he did to the Indians and all that which freaks me out most. Great work on that part because it was intense and freaky.
In the end, I really enjoy Ryan Reynolds in this film as George Lutz. Not to say I put him or James Brolin over one or the other, but what I truly liked is how much of George going crazy is fit into the script for this remake. There is a lot more to him stalking around the house, digging around in the basement, in the walls, watching videos, waking up to the clock at 3:15 AM. So I think that’s something, plus the creepy as hell backstory of the house with the preacher and all that, which made me enjoy this almost as much as the original. Not quite as much, close though.
This is about a 3.5 out of 5 film. That whole bit with the babysitter, the sexualization – really takes things down a notch, and I wish Platinum Dunes would keep the needless stuff out of their remakes. It would help them if they want to appeal to true genre fans. We don’t need that sort of crap just thrown into scenes, especially if it makes no sense and serves no purpose whatsoever.
If you really want the best, go for the original. That being said, there are a lot of worse remakes than this one, and at least Andrew Douglas tried to craft a genuine atmosphere of suspense and fear instead of relying totally on shock horror or jump scares to get the response for which he was looking.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK remake does its best, but it can't hold a ghostly candle to the original.
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