Why don’t they just leave? During all haunted house movies, between the classic musical cues and the inevitable forays into the dark, musty basement, the same question lurks in the back of every viewer’s mind: Do these people not know certain death when they see it? What do they think it means when their refrigerator magnets start spelling out “Katch’em and Kill’em” and their daughter dangles off the roof of their Victorian manor because her so-called “imaginary friend” told her that they could “play together forever?”

Film Reviews
“All you need is scented candles, massage oil and Barry White. Write that down.” (Courtesy of MGM)

While many horror flicks have nobly attempted to answer this question, they usually come up with the same, stupefying verdict. Namely, it seems that people would love nothing more than to get the hell out of dodge — but, wouldn’t you know it, their houses just won’t let them leave.

Still, in “The Amityville Horror,” the effective new remake of the hit 1979 thriller, Ryan Reynolds’s (“Blade: Trinity”) haunted stepfather comes up with something that’s at least a bit more in touch with reality. “Houses don’t kill people, people kill people,” he says, and in any other movie, he’d probably be right. But his house has quite a history; it’s the sort of place where holy water boils on the floor and dense clouds of flies live in the ventilation, and over the years, it’s proved to be one persistent S.O.B. In fact, give it just 28 days and it promises to turn the man of the house into an axe-wielding heathen whose eventual killing spree makes its way through his entire family, including the unsuspecting pooch.

As with the original, the new “Amityville Horror” claims to be based on a true story, with its primary source material being the 1977 book by Jay Anson. Strange, isn’t it, how the two films’ plots — which are supposedly based on the same events — have little to do with each other, aside from that ominous early-morning hour that all the aforementioned mayhem begins (3:15 a.m., by the way, for those keeping count).

But no matter — that isn’t really the point. The important thing is that in the capable hands of director Andrew Douglas and the surprisingly strong cast, the film trumps the idiotic, inexplicably popular original and finishes it as one of the more substantively disquieting horror offerings in recent years. True, it relies on the usual stock of thriller devices to up its shock factor and never quite finds narrative coherence. Yes, the ending is a nonsensical copout that shies away from the film’s natural climax in the face of easy closure. But the film is also a tightly wound, consistently creepy 86 minutes that puts a face on its evil and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

And fact or fiction, taut or trifling, let’s face it: That obligatory basement scene alone, which takes heavy inspiration from the 2000 mind-bender “The Cell,” is more haunting than full-lenth thrillers this year. Add to that the contextually spot-on performances from Reynolds and Melissa George (TV’s “Alias”), and “The Amityville Horror” proves to be a solid, fully functional haunted house movie that has more than its fair share of scares. It might go down the usual, creaky hallways, but as a remake, the movie comes close to finding something new at the end — and sometimes, that’s enough.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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