Director – Andrew Douglas, Screenplay – Scott Kosar, Based on the Screenplay by Sandor Stern and the Book by Jay Anson, Producers – Michael Bay, Andrew Form & Brad Fuller, Photography – Peter Lyons-Collister, Music – Steve Jablonsky, Visual Effects – Asylum (Supervisor – Nathan McGuinness) & Industrial Light and Magic (Supervisor – Roger Guyett), Special Effects Supervisor – John Milinac, Makeup Effects Supervisors – Howard Berger & Greg Nicotero, Production Design – Jennifer Williams. Production Company – Dimension Pictures/Platinum Dunes/Radar Pictures.
Ryan Reynolds (George Lutz), Melissa George (Kathy Lutz), Jesse James (Billy Lutz), Chloe Grace Moretz (Chelsea Lutz), Jimmy Bennett (Michael Lutz), Rachel Nichols (Lisa), Philip Baker Hall (Father Callaway), Annabel Armour (Edith), Isabel Conner (Jody DeFeo)
Contractor George Lutz and his wife Kathy find a huge house for sale going incredibly cheaply in the Long Island town of Amityville and decide to buy it. They learn the reason for this is because the previous tenant Ronald DeFeo murdered his entire family, claiming that he was possessed. Soon after they move in along with Kathy’s three children, they are subject to supernatural phenomenon – there are apparitions everywhere; the youngest child Chelsea insists that the murdered DeFeo daughter Jody is her invisible friend; while George takes to brooding and becomes aggressive.
The story of the Lutz family and the so-called Amityville Horror caused a sensation in the 1970s. The story first appeared in a non-fiction book The Amityville Horror (1977) by Jay Anson. The book purported to tell the true account of the Lutz family who in 1975 moved into a house where teenager Ronald DeFeo had murdered his entire family a year before and ended up being forced out 28 days later by demonic forces. The DeFeo portion of the story and the fact that the Lutzes brought the house is factual but little else is. Extensive investigation by various people, most notably psychic investigator Stephen Kaplan who wrote a book The Amityville Horror Conspiracy (1995), showed that many claims made by the Lutzes were simply not true – the front door that was supposedly torn off was still found attached; weather reports show that it was not snowing on the night that they claimed to see demonic hoofprints imprinted in the snow; numerous people cited in the book, from the priest who came to bless the house and was supposedly driven away to the Amityville police department who were called for help, issued statements denying ever being involved; while it was also noted that the Lutzes conducted a garage sale at their house the day after they were allegedly driven out. Ronald DeFeo’s lawyer William Weber later confirmed the hoax, stating that he and George Lutz had made it up in the hopes of getting DeFeo a retrial and that George Lutz agreed in the hope of getting out of a mortgage that was financially crippling him. The subsequent purchasers of the Amityville house reported no untoward happenings and subsequently sued Jay Anson after curiosity seekers and tourists overwhelmed their property, forcing them to go to the extent of having the house’s distinctive cupola removed and the street numbering changed. Mindedly, many still insist that the story was true, including George Lutz who was still doing so at the time of this remake (and sued the makers of this film for portraying him as psychotic), even websites that viciously ridicule the credentials of Stephen Kaplan and dispute the discrepancies in his story with great improbability. The claims were even upheld as being true by Amityville 2000/The Amityville Horror: 25 Years Later (2000), a documentary made for the normally reputable History Channel.
The Lutzes and Jay Anson made a good deal of money touring the talkshow circuit and their story became of great fascination in the media. A film version was made of the book with The Amityville Horror (1979), which was successful, even though it was not much liked by critics. This spawned a number of sequels:– Amityville II: The Possession (1982), Amityville 3-D (1983), The Amityville Curse (1989), Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989), Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992), Amityville: A New Generation (1993), Amityville: Dollhouse (1996), The Amityville Haunting (2011), The Amityville Asylum (2013), Amityville Death House (2015), Amityville Playhouse (2015), The Amityville Legacy (2016), Amityville: No Escape (2016), Amityville Terror (2016), Amityville: Vanishing Point (2016), Amityville Exorcism (2017), Amityville: The Awakening (2017) and The Amityville Murders (2018), as well as several documentaries The Real Amityville Horror (2005) and Amityville: The Final Testament (2010), while the parapsychological investigation into the house is also featured in The Conjuring 2 (2016). None of these have apparently been deterred by the almost incontrovertible proof that the original story was a hoax or the fact that they are telling a fictional follow-up to supposedly true events. In fact, the name of the town has become generic for a haunted house and some of the films are not even set in Amityville.
This remake of The Amityville Horror comes as one of a recent spate of remakes and revivals of 1970s/80s horror classics, which has also included the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Toolbox Murders (2003), Willard (2003), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), The Fog (2005), Black Christmas (2006), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Omen (2006), Sisters (2006), When a Stranger Calls (2006), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween (2007), The Hitcher (2007), April Fool’s Day (2008), Day of the Dead (2008), It’s Alive (2008), Long Weekend (2008), Prom Night (2008), Friday the 13th (2009), The Last House on the Left (2009), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Night of the Demons (2009), Sorority Row (2009), The Stepfather (2009), And Soon the Darkness (2010), The Crazies (2010), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), Mother’s Day (2010), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Piranha (2010), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011), Fright Night (2011), Straw Dogs (2011), The Thing (2011), Maniac (2012), Carrie (2013), Evil Dead (2013), Patrick (2013) and Poltergeist (2015). Indeed, The Amityville Horror was made by the Platinum Dunes production company headed by Michael Bay, the director of Armageddon (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001) and Transformers (2007) notoriety, which also conducted the Texas Chainsaw remake that started the current 1970s horror remake fad off, as well as the remakes of The Hitcher, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Screenwriter Scott Kosar also wrote the remakes of Texas Chainsaw and The Crazies, as well as The Machinist (2004), as well as produced tv remakes such as Bates Motel (2013-7) and The Haunting of Hill House (2018).
The most noticeable thing about The Amityville Horror 2005 is that it still persists with the claim that it is based on a true story. In fact, the first credit we see on the screen is not even the title of the film but the legend “Based on a True Story”. The good thing about The Amityville Horror 2005 is that it is more of a remake of the first film than it ever makes any serious pretence to be going back and re-examining the “facts” – the end credits acknowledge Sandor Stern’s screenplay for the original film as the source of this film before ever mentioning Jay Anson’s book, for instance. Notedly, the remake replicates many scenes that were invented by the 79 film – where the priest is attacked by flies, the images of George brooding and sharpening his axe in the backyard – but do not appear in the book.
No longer lumbered with pretensions to be offering an account of true events, the remake has the freedom to tell its story as much more of a horror film than the original – the original seemed timid about opening up and elaborating out any more than it did. Many of the familiar scenes from the original are replicated – the babysitter locked in the closet, George’s feeling cold, the imaginary playmates – but reimagined on a much more dramatic and larger scale. The remake also takes the liberty of manufacturing a number of scenes that were not present in either the original film or the book – a scene where the daughter ventures out onto the rooftop; sinister happenings in the boathouse; George’s murder of the dog; and in particular offering up an entirely fictional backstory about the property being a site where the evil Reverend Jeremiah Ketcham tortured Indians. Scott Kosar’s script delves much more satisfyingly into George’s axe-sharpening brooding and also dwells on the Ronald DeFeo killings more than the original did.
On the minus side, The Amityville Horror 2005 imports much of the baggage of trick effects of the modern horror film – sped-up rotating heads, undead kids nonchalantly sitting in the midst of rooms, flash fantasies using mixed and black-and-white film stock. The film certainly provides a number of occasionally spooky moments – hands snatching the ghost girl through the ceiling, rotting corpses popping up behind shoulders and an intimidating scene where Ryan Reynolds demands young Jesse James hold the logs between his hands as he chops wood with his axe. At the same time, just as many sequences fall into silliness – arms grabbing Ryan Reynolds in the bathtub, much of the climax involving Melissa George getting her hair wound up in the boat propeller and the family finding coffins with their names on them. It eventually merges into much of a muchness – some mildly effective moments balanced by an equal amount of overblown silliness, but nothing particularly memorable on any deeper level.
Like the Texas Chainsaw remake, The Amityville Horror also blurs its stated 1970s period setting – take away the few Kiss posters in the background and the characters are dressed and styled in a way that they could step out into 2005 without anyone noticing.