Friday, April 15, 2005

Don't Go in the House -- Critics walk out of "Amityville Horror"

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek confesses that she actually walked out of "The Amityville Horror" in this review, worth reading for her comments on what's wrong with the the "relentless clubbing" of the first half of the movie and "the cycle of carelessly but often expensively made pictures that Hollywood studios are increasingly putting before us."

Slate's David Edelstein lasted only five minutes. "I'd like to believe I was propelled from that room by a beneficent spirit. Dude, I owe you a drink in the afterlife." He manages to be not just more entertaining than the movie, but more illuminating than he would have been if he had stayed with it.

Both were better off than the critics who lasted through the end of the movie, but some managed to find new ways to say that there's nothing either new or watchable here:

"From the team that decided it was a good idea to remake 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' comes this unpleasant, exploitative and stupid film." Laura Clifford, Reeling Reviews

"Since 1979, you can argue that human intelligence has failed to advance. The evidence: Characters still can't keep out of basements, no matter how spooky.

You can, however, say that there has been cultural deterioration: The filmmakers have managed to take a mediocre movie and make it worse.

The horror. The horror."

Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News

"The only lasting horror in The Amityville Horror is in what it takes from your wallet." Brent Simon, Now Playing

"This replacement of irrational otherworldly imagery with a safe, comprehendible portrait of the supernatural reeks of reductive, lowest-common-denominator pandering (as usual, mainstream Hollywood fare exhibits scant faith in its audience's ability to cope with any potentially inexplicable material). Andrew Douglas's moronic and flashy remake simply offers B-grade chills while resorting to convoluted exposition to explain the unnatural goings on at 112 Ocean Ave." Nick Schager, Slant Magazine


bitch said...
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Jim said...

I'm kinda getting upset with reviewers. The thing about movies, and their respective genres is that reviewers tend to lean towards certain ones. You'll rarely see a critic give a C- or a D to a heavy drama (For that is the genre they tend to favor); while you will frequently see a negative review for a horror or a romantic comedy.

There are exceptions (Roger Ebert's review of Life of David Gale is one that comes to mind) but for the most part this is true. My problem is that no one person can argue that a movie like The Ring is better than Million Dollar Baby, its not possible. Yet, what should be possible is to weigh them on two different scales.

After viewing The Ring I was left thinking this is one of the best horror movies of my generation. Scary, but doesn't go out of its way to make you jump. After leaving Million Dollar Baby, I was left with similar feelings, but fit to the Dramatic genre. I felt as though it was one of the better character studies of our time, heartfelt, without any truly sappy moments, and didn't give a way too much.

Similar reviews, but if you look at the critics responses, you'd think that The Ring wasn't worth your money. The problem here is that even though the reviewers have the ability to judge this movie based on other horror movies, they don't. There are plenty of movies that fall into this vortex of reviews and I think its about time movies were judged fairly. Yes, we know Miss Congeniality isn't going to win an Academy Award, but is it one of the worst of the year? No.

There's a clear grading curve when movies can be describe as near perfect, but earn 3/5 stars or a B rating. Last year's sleeper hit The Notebook was a tragic film, with a happy ending. It left people in tears, and left single women everywhere looking for that special someone. It was a romance that showed the bright side of love. The problem is that critics would spew things like "As far as tearies go it's almost perfect" and give it a B rating.

The same went for last year's surprise hit comedy Mean Girls. The writing was witty, sarcastic and above all intelligent. The acting was fantastic, and solidified the careers of Lindsay Lohan, Tina Fey and a then relatively unknown Rachel McAdams. The problem was that because it was a movie geared at teen audiences and it was a comedy, most critics just dismissed it. They acknowledged the wit, and intelligence and labeled it a "Great TEEN movie" but as far as teen movies go, the highest you can get is 4/5 stars.

It's a great injustice to movies that are worth the time of the general public, and not just the fans of the respective genres. Movies like The Ring and Mean Girls should be seen, not just cast aside with the mediocre dramas that get the same rating. I never want to see The Ring compared to The Alamo or Mean Girls compared to Alexander.

While I'm sad this argument for the equality of movies had to come as a comment to "The Amityville Horror" it's the only place I could think of posting it at the time and felt it needed to be said.

Nell Minow said...

Thanks for writing, Jim! I agree -- as do all critics -- that you have to evaluate a movie within the scope of its own aspirations (you can't review "Amityville Horror by saying that it's no 'Citizen Kane' but you can find that a movie like "The Shining" transcends genre to be a classic by any standard), there are plenty of critics, myself included, who give heavy dramas poor grades. A lot of us hated "The Life of David Gale" (David Edelstein used it as his all-time worst ending example in his column on twist endings). I really didn't like "Million Dollar Baby" or "Mystic River" or "The Notebook" (sorry). A lot of us loved "Mean Girls," comparing it not just to teen multiplex fodder but to the top comedies of the year. The reason I didn't give it an A was that I thought it fell apart in the last half hour, not because it was "just a teen movie." You should see what Chicago's Nick Digilio had to say about it, for example. And whatever the critics said about it, it did very well at the box office and on DVD, which means that it found its audience.

Thanks for writing! It was my disagreement with other critics that led me to become one myself, so maybe the answer to your questions is for you to do the same. Best wishes, and please comment again any time.


Jim said...

Well, I find your reviews exciting, which is why I chose to come here to post my comment to begin with. Would love to read what you think of more independent films (the ones you dont write about on Yahoo!0

Nell Minow said...

Exciting! Wow, thanks. I'm going to post a couple of reviews of independent films on Yahoo! this week and will try to give my thoughts on others on this blog. You can always write me at to ask about any films I haven't had time to review or let me know what you think of what you've seen.

Thanks again.

James said...

Movie Mom, as a fan of sci-fi/horror movies, I have to say your reviews are usually right on the money. (I say "usually" because I thought you were a bit too merciful on "Van Helsing." Blech!)

I will avoid "Amityville Horror" and cannot wait until the era of MTV-editing-too-much-CGI-for-the-eye-to-follow-too-much-style-not-enough-substance moviemaking is a thing of the past.