The Amityville Horror (2005)


I will admit that I have been harsh on George Lutz for the fact that he pretty much dedicated his life to protecting what was, in essence, a made up haunted house story that would have fallen apart long before coming to the big screen if not for Jay Anson's wonderful job of turning it into an effective horror novel.  Still, the way he pricked up his ears and swooped in on any project as if he was a huckster Grither was as hilarious as it was disturbingly obsessive.

In one case, however, I can see where he was right.  2000s horror, despite a few exceptions, was like 2000s music: derivative, shallow and devoid of any inspiration.  That is why so many older properties got remade in such a short period of time, and The Amityville Horror was one of those.  Despite the fact the series had continued in the 1990s, not one of the films had received a theatrical release since Amityville 3-D, and they barely had any connection with anything that came before them.  Instead, starting with the television movie with Jamie Lee Curtis, most of them involved people suffering hauntings due to coming into possession of objects that had been in the house.  

Where Lutz was right to get upset this time around was, though he was always portrayed as not being the nicest person in the world while under the influence of the house, he was never portrayed as an outright psychopath.  In the original movie, despite the home trying to make him re-enact Ronnie Defeo, Jr.'s massacre with his own family, Lutz resisted and dragged his entire family away, including going back to rescue the family dog.  The remake, though, depicts him putting his stepchildren in danger and meticulously planning their murder until his wife Kathleen (Melissa George) intervenes.  Throughout there are a number of other scenes that neither Lutz nor anyone involved ever claimed happened.  They were made up since obviously writer Scott Kosar wasn't satisfied with just sticking with the actual stuff that never happened and it truly gets to the point of character assassination.  It is one thing for people to point out that Lutz's stories were false and the he was perpetrating a hoax, but it's another thing to accuse the man of trying to murder his family.

George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathleen Lutz are looking for a new home and come upon 412 Ocean Avenue, a home in Amityville that, despite its size, is within their price range.  The reason for that is that the year before a man named Ronnie Defeo, Jr. murdered his parents and his siblings, claiming to have done so at the behest of voices in the home.  Initially apprehensive they move in anyway, and from the outset the home begins preying on George, while their daughter Chelsea (Chloë Grace Moretz) begins communicating with Jodie (Isabel Conner), the ghost of Defeo's younger sister.  Kathleen, of course, believes Jodie is an imaginary friend, but is disturbed by the things she tells Chelsea to do.

While George starts becoming increasingly hostile, especially toward his stepsons Billy (Jesse James) and Michael (Jimmy Bennett), Kathleen begins to try and find out some answers to what is going on.  She finds out that the Defeo murders weren't the only horrific events that happened at the house.  Concerned for the safety of her family she begins to try to rescue everyone before it is too late.

Despite being a cynical and unnecessary remake, The Amityville Horror does a few things right.  Unlike the first one it keeps its runtime short, cutting out the whole subplot about the priest trying to authorize an exorcism and a lead detective becoming suspicious of what happened in the house.  It doesn't have the pacing issues, nor does it just have random events that are never resolved.  It even improves on one of the best scenes from the original where the babysitter Lisa (Rachel Nichols) is locked in the closet by Jodie after the ghost gets angry.

While Ryan Reynolds isn't bad in this he doesn't exactly seem like he's excited to be there, and nor does anyone else.  He has a ridiculously chiseled, six-pack figure that gets shown off a number of times and, despite some call-backs to this occurring in 1975, very little of it looks like that time period no matter how much the attempt is made to wash out the film stock in certain scenes.  The biggest mistake is showing the ghosts.  The original failed in that sense as well, since the more frightening scenes came from the inference that there was a demonic entity, which is undone by the glowing-eyed pig at the end.  In this, they are typical 2000s ghosts that seem more like studio mandates than anything frightening. 

As usual, that lack of anything truly scary means relying on tired jump scares and unseen things skittering across the foreground and disturbing the actors.  No cliché seems out of bounds, and though it's about a decade away from films routinely making every man in the film either dumb or evil, Reynolds's portrayal of George Lutz is definitely one of those prototypes.  Unlike in the past, where it was simply all about trying to rake in every stray dollar he could from this story, his last suit made sense as it was a vicious attack against him.  Whether everyone involved forgot that there was a living person who may not be happy about how he was portrayed or they just didn't care, the truth was that had he real George Lutz not passed away the next year this movie would have probably been more remembered for the controversy around it more than anything else.

Strangely, though the Amityville fad had faded decades before, the remake made a decent amount of money.  It also helped get Ryan Reynolds noticed as well as kicking off Chloë Grace Moretz's career. It's too bad someone else didn't write the script because if it had stuck closer to Anson's book while keeping it to this length it could have finally told the original story the way it should be, especially if it made it clear that it was a work of fiction.  Instead, once again the claim is made that this is based on actual events, while straying even further from the truth than even the Lutzes did. 

The Amityville Horror (2005)
Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett
Director: Andrew Douglas

 

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