In 1974, the DeFeo home in Amityville, Long Island was the scene of a grisly crime scene: The entire DeFeo family had been murdered while they slept, and one of the sons, Ronald DeFeo, confessed to the crime, claiming that "voices" drove him to it.
We'll probably never know what truly drove DeFeo to do what he did, but what is certain is that Hollywood has made a lot of money from this true story thanks to George and Kathy Lutz, the couple who lived in the house a year after the murders and claimed in a tell-all book that the place was possessed. A 1979 movie followed, as did a load of awful sequels, and now 30 years after the original DeFeo crime, a remake of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is about to hit movie theaters nationwide.
Starring Ryan Reynolds (BLADE: TRINITY) and Melissa George (ALIAS), the film was directed by Andrew Douglas, a commercial and documentary director who makes his feature dramatic debut with AMITYVILLE. Last fall, CINESCAPE visited the set of the film outside of Chicago, where the U.K.-born Douglas was kind enough to sit down with us and discuss his first venture into the realm of horror.
CINESCAPE: How did you get the job on AMITYVILLE?
ANDREW DOUGLAS: It certainly wouldn't happen in England. It can only happen in America where there are more jobs than directors. So a lot of companies are looking for people ready to cross over, especially in the horror and action genres. They're not looking for people with consummate drama skills. They're looking for people who have developed a look, who can bring a visual style to something. It wasn't obvious, trust me. And it wasn't [a year and a half] ago where I thought I'd go, to remake a horror film, but I was just invited so I did some work and figured out from the script and the story where I'd be interested to take it. And I suppose the stars aligned or something like that for me.
C: What's it like going from the world of documentaries and commercials to the Hollywood studio system?
AD: I had to learn a whole new business really, the business of being a hired gun, and working not just for one other person but a lot of other people. It's difficult. You come from a world where you really are the boss... so to go from there to being a kind of interpreter of other people's material made the first two weeks really difficult, astonishingly difficult. I was besieged by producers and accountants and insurance bond companies and [producer] Michael [Bay's] office and MGM's office and Dimension's office. They'd say you didn't shoot enough shots today, or you didn't get enough coverage in that scene, and of course I was doing what I normally do, which was to do it in my head. And that's not how you do it, so that was a very, very painful education. [laughs] So I learned that pretty fast!
C: What did you take from the original film, if anything?
AD: [The original was] "after 28 days they ran out of money," not "after 28 days they left [the house]." It stops very quickly... You can see exactly where they ran out of money. Even at the script stage [our film] was a very different version of the story, in many ways more modern, in many ways more extreme, and for obvious reasons in many ways more action-driven. And I'm hoping a lot more satisfying than the original.
C: Is the film still set in the '70s?
AD: The film is set in the '70s but you can't help but add your own modern-ness to it. And the cast are up for that as well. The cast were very keen to make this as layered as the genre can take, in terms of the psychological drama about this dysfunctional family, in terms of trying to track that psychological flaw that something like possession might be able to wedge itself into you, and [also in terms of] the idea of tracking psychological drama to something other than childhood. [These are] ideas that everybody embraced. What gives [the actors] sustenance is to work off of and find the idea beneath each piece of dialogue, and I think that's something I tried to do as well. I tried to be as scary as I could, as ghastly as I could, to tap quite a deep vein of imagery if I could. To exploit the imagery that stayed in my mind from the original film 30 years later, like the kind of house, the shape of the house. To keep the priest, to keep the flies... You know, a priest without faith is one of the most tragic characters in literature or film.
C: So you remembered the 1979 movie, but did you watch it again?
AD: I didn't look at the movie again. I looked at the book again. I didn't want specific images to contaminate my interpretation. What I did do was I went back and watched a lot of movies that I'd missed in one way or another. A lot of the Wes Craven movies, the SCREAM movies... Wes Craven especially, because he's such a mathematician of horror. You turn the sound down and you watch the structure of Wes Craven's scares, and he never uses the same scare twice.
C: How does having Michael Bay as a producer affect the project?
AD: It's much more a balance between horror and action, pretty intense action, than the first film was. You never tracked James Brolin to a kind of lethal nature [in the original]. He was always a little bit of a victim, and here you track all of the characters to a much more intense place Kathy as well as George. We track George all the way to Jack Nicholson's SHINING killer, and we track Kathy to another place, which is primordial protectiveness. So in a sense, I have been informed by Michael; he has got his thumbprint on the material.