We’ll get to the remake of The Amityville Horror (2005) in a bit. The original The Amityville Horror (1979) was a gateway horror film for me. Let me provide a bit of context. The first horror movie I ever remember seeing was Child’s Play (1988) when I was six years old. My dad let me watch it off of a TV broadcast he recorded. He would also introduce me to the original Halloween (1978) when I was eight. That became my favorite horror film of all time. I discovered the Friday the 13th movies on my own around the same time. They used to show marathons of them on TV. They still do, just not as frequently.
My mom was a little more resistant to me watching horror movies, but she eventually broke down. Some she would introduce me to include Poltergeist (1982), The Fog (1980). I also have fond memories of watching through the A Nightmare on Elm Street series with her. The one I first and most associate with her though was The Amityville Horror.
Honestly, the first movie we watched in the series was Amityville: A New Generation (1993). We had gone to a video store in the Kroger grocery store. Yes, not only did video stores once exist. They also used to exist within grocery stores. That video store didn’t have the first The Amityville Horror, so we instead settled for that sequel. We asked the video store clerk which movie in the series it was. He thought it might be the second movie.
He obviously had no idea what he was talking about. It was the seventh movie in the series. The movies at this point did not take place at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. The series had left the supposedly haunted house behind. Instead, they were about items that came from that house that contained lingering evil spirits. Several movies in the series had to do with this concept. Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989) was about a lamp. Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992), my favorite of these, was appropriately about a clock. While I’m sure you can guess what Amityville Dollhouse (1996), the worst of them, was about.
Amityville: A New Generation was about a mirror. I still think it’s a decent sequel despite its silly concept. There were also several people in its cast I later became familiar with from other horror films, including Ross Partridge (Baghead), David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London), Barbara Howard (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), Lin Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street), and Terry O’Quinn (The Stepfather).
My mom and I were finally able to eventually rent the first The Amityville Horror from Blockbuster. It would creep me out and leave an impression on me for years. Let me break down the basic story, for those unaware. On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four younger siblings in their house with a rifle. A year later, married couple George and Kathy Lutz moved into the same house with Kathy’s three children from a previous marriage. Roughly a month after that, they move out. The house is haunted, or so they claim. Jay Anson wrote the book The Amityville Horror about their ordeal in 1977. The first movie came out two years after that.
Three things from that first film really creeped me out. First was the musical score by Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, Cool Hand Luke). It was so memorable that it got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. Second are those distinctive windows of the house that look like evil eyes. I moved into a new neighborhood when I was in middle school. I remember being nervous when discovering some of the houses in the neighborhood had those same exact windows.
The third is a particular scene in the film. Kathy Lutz, as played by the late, great Margot Kidder (Black Christmas, Sisters), walks into her daughter Amy’s (Natasha Ryan) bedroom. Amy claims she was talking to her imaginary friend Jodi, who we later learn is a pig. Kathy apparently scares the imaginary friend out the window. She walks over to it and looks outside. We hear first a growl. Then there’s a series of musical stingers as Kathy sees a pair of red, floating eyes outside the window.
The story behind The Amityville Horror (1979) became an obsession with me. I bought the original book (which I still remember fondly as well), along with several fictional tie-ins. I probably took the story as fact when I was a kid. As I’ve grown older, I don’t really believe in ghosts or the supernatural. I’m not saying it’s not possible, I’m just skeptical. The most I’ll allow is that the Lutz family may have subconsciously tricked themselves into believing it. Or perhaps they really did just concoct a hoax. I also don’t know if The Amityville Horror holds up quite as well as when I was a child. That may also be due to my changing beliefs and age. I do still have strong sentimental feelings for it, however.
What can’t be argued against is the tragic family murder in that house. I did also become obsessed with the DeFeo murders. I poured over the details, which would creep me out so much that I had trouble sleeping. The real family and crime scene photos became ingrained into my brain, haunting my imagination. I read some of the book High Hopes: The Amityville Murders (1981) by Gerard Sullivan and Harvey Aronson. That book details the murders and subsequent investigation. The first narrative section was interesting. The later courtroom and legal details got a little boring, however. I never finished it.
I think Amityville II: The Possession (1982) has become my favorite movie in the series over time. You could call it an interpretation of the DeFeo murders. It changes the family’s name and drops one of the kids. Evil spirits possess Sonny Montelli (Jack Magner) and make him kill his family in the movie. The family death scene would creep me out for years. It might be the creepiest, most unnerving sequence in the entire franchise.
Ronald DeFeo Jr. did at one point claim he heard voices. There have been many claims though. Someone in the mafia killed them. Ronald’s sister Dawn killed them, and Ronald killed her. Dawn served as Ronald’s accomplice. Other people served as accomplices. When the story of the Lutz family became popular, parts of his story conveniently started to match up with their ordeals. Etc. There have been so many claims that it seems without a doubt that Ronald DeFeo Jr. is guilty.
I will acknowledge there are several mysteries that remain intriguing, however. The fact that the entire family was facedown in their beds. There was also no sign of a struggle or any indication someone drugged them. There’s the fact that none of the neighbors reported hearing gunshots. The gun used was loud, and there were no indications of a silencer. The apparent quickness and ease of the murders have created suspicions that there may have been an accomplice. I don’t believe evil spirits were at play though. It’s just strange. I would like to see a movie someday about the DeFeo murders that doesn’t involve possession or the supernatural. The murders are creepy, tragic, and interesting enough on their own.
The remake of The Amityville Horror (2005) is the first Amityville movie to get a theatrical release in over 20 years. The last one was Amityville 3-D (1983). We saw the house blow up at the end of that and in 3-D no less. The next TV movie sequel, Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, chose to ignore that ending. As it opens, priests arrive at the infamous house to exorcise its demons. They seem to succeed with the house itself, but apparently not with all of its possessions.
Michael Bay’s (Armageddon, Transformers) production company Platinum Dunes was responsible for the remake of The Amityville Horror. I should maybe mention that I am not a fan of Michael Bay. At times I might even jovially refer to him as the antichrist. I don’t dislike all his movies. I would not associate Michael Bay with the word “filmmaker” though. He’s a businessman. His approach to film feels cheap, sleazy and superficial.
Thus, I’m apprehensive any time Platinum Dunes releases a horror remake or movie in general. Producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller probably have more direct involvement with these movies. From how I’ve heard them talk, I do believe they’re bigger fans of the genre than Michael Bay. I don’t trust though that they have a much better approach with the horror properties they release.
Platinum Dunes’ first horror remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), is probably their best. I also thought that the movie had one of the best horror trailers of all time. I feel like the sole defender of their prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006). Even these movies though I would say are good, not great. From my vague memories, I want to say that their remake of The Hitcher (2007) was okay. I thought their remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was just barely good enough to recommend. I might be the only one. More accurately, I didn’t think it was one of the worst horror remakes ever like most fans seem to. It is still my least favorite movie of the series.
I much more hated their Friday the 13th (2009) remake. Blame shouldn’t go towards writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift. They also wrote Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Those two films and interviews I’ve heard with them convince me. They’re true horror fans who want to do right. I blame Platinum Dunes for hiring director Marcus Nispel (Pathfinder, Conan the Barbarian). Nispel was the director of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He did good enough with that material. It didn’t feel like he was very familiar with the Friday the 13th series. So I get the sense he just relies on what he did for his first remake. As a result, it feels more like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie than a Friday the 13th movie. It’s also my least favorite horror remake from Platinum Dunes.
The remake of The Amityville Horror is their second–worst to me. George Lutz actually took the studio to court over the remake rights. He passed away in 2006 before they could settle the case, which was after the release. Kathy Lutz would pass away before that, while it was still shooting. The director of the remake was Andrew Douglas. I’m not otherwise familiar with Douglas, but he did direct a couple of episodes of Mindhunter recently.
I’m more familiar with the writer, Scott Kosar. Kosar had other experiences with horror remakes. Before The Amityville Horror, he wrote the screenplay for that remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Afterward, he co-wrote The Crazies (2010), a remake of a George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow) film. He was also a writer and producer of the TV series Bates Motel and The Haunting of Hill House.
I got into a conversation with one of my colleagues on this site, Gus Wood. Gus doesn’t mind the Platinum Dunes remakes as much as I do. He thinks they have value if they bring audiences back to the original movie. I agree with that. Another thing he said though is, “They feel like really slick trailers for the original films.” To each their own. However, that statement may embody precisely why I have trouble with them. In particular, with The Amityville Horror.
The remake is half an hour shorter than the original film. It has no patience. There is less substance and characterization. Less is left to the imagination. Director Andrew Douglas has experience directing music videos, and it shows. He’s not the only director under Platinum Dunes that came from music videos. It’s also not always a problem. The Amityville Horror is a victim in having too much random, flashy imagery that is ultimately nonsensical.
There’s a scene where young Michael Lutz (Jimmy Bennett) nervously goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Suddenly, a ghost with decaying, yellow skin and blood coming out of its mouth appears next to him. We see it, but Michael doesn’t. There are ghosts seen in the waters of the boathouse. There’s another scene where George Lutz walks into a closet. We see the ghost of Jodie DeFeo (Isabel Conner) above him. Hands are holding her against the ceiling.
That’s another change from the book, as well as from the 1979 movie. Jodie is no longer an imaginary pig friend, but now one of the DeFeo children. Based on her age, she would most closely match the real-life Allison DeFeo. Are we to believe that as a victim in the house, the other ghosts will bully Jodie for all eternity? I’m not sure. My point is in the fact that we see these ghosts, and yet the characters often don’t. The scares come off as cheap, ridiculous and pointless because of it. Maybe that’s silly to argue in a ghost movie, however.
There are other lame scares. More than once CGI shadows of ghost children run across hallways. There are kitchen magnets that form into the words, “Ketcham and Kill’em.” This refers to John Ketcham, a witch who supposedly tortured Indians on the property many years before. There are sacrificial altars in the basement. There’s one scene where we see two different things happening in different places at the same time. Kathy Lutz is discovering the John Ketcham legend at the library. George Lutz is discovering ghosts in the basement, apparently in a nightmare. The sequence is edited poorly together. It comes across more like a montage. Or, hmm, maybe a music video?
I have other problems. For one, they change the house. The side of the house with the “evil eye” windows is now at the front of the house. It looks awkward and unnatural. Perhaps that’s the point. For me though, it was giving me flashbacks to when they pointlessly change the house in the Psycho (1998) remake. Why mess with something that isn’t broken? Though a side note: I don’t think the Psycho remake is as bad as its reputation.
There’s something significantly missing from this remake as well. This is the memorable original musical score, particularly the main theme, from Lalo Schifrin. The main theme did appear in the ads however, so I don’t know why it’s absent in the film. Instead, Steve Jablonsky (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th) is the composer. He’s a regular composer for Platinum Dunes, for reasons I’m unsure of. I hate his music. It’s completely flat and leaves no lasting impression whatsoever.
I will give this remake a little credit. I didn’t think it was as terrible on my most recent viewing as when I first saw it. That’s not to say I would recommend it either. Andrew Douglas films the opening sequence on the DeFeo murders really well. There’s a nice sepia tone to the scene. I was also going to give him credit for recreating news footage of the era. That is until I found out it’s a mix of actual news footage with awful reenactments of the family and crime scene photos.
There’s a cool moment later as well. The camera is inside the house, looking out through a doorway. If you look very closely, you’ll see a dark figure pass by. It’s a subtle, creepy moment that is more reminiscent of the original. I wish the remake contained more of those moments. If not for a commentary on the DVD that calls it out, I might’ve never noticed it.
There are some deleted scenes on the DVD as well. I understand why the filmmakers chose to delete them. There’s a funny scene where George Lutz gives a toast. One of his stepsons deliberately smashes his glass into George’s, causing it to break. George tries to comfort his wife, brushing his hand across her face. It leaves a bloody mark though, causing her daughter to scream. The other deleted scenes are mostly of outside characters reacting to the house, such as a grocery clerk. One does feature one of George’s co-workers and his girlfriend, characters that were in the original. There’s another that nearly duplicates the scene from the original in which a window smashes one of the boy’s hands. The window barely misses this time though.
I also watched interviews with cast and crew as research. Those interviews have the actors on multiple occasions mentioning how the house was another character. I roll my eyes at this cliche. Melissa George (Mulholland Drive, 30 Days of Night), who plays Kathy Lutz, is in the interviews. She mentions they’re focusing on the book more than the original movie. She obviously doesn’t know the material. There’s a babysitter character in the remake that doesn’t exist in the book, only the 1979 movie. I want to use this character as an example of Platinum Dunes’ sensibilities. Scott Kosar originally wrote the Lutz’s babysitter Lisa as she was in the original movie. There, she was a bookish, prudish type.
When the producers heard about this, they would force Kosar to change her. Now she’d be a hot sexpot. Megan Fox (Transformers, Jennifer’s Body) was one person to audition for the role. The role of Lisa eventually went to Rachel Nichols (The Woods, Star Trek). Lisa arrives as a figure of seduction for the older Lutz boy, Billy (Jesse James). As she arrives and Billy drools over her, George and Kathy awkwardly leave without even a goodbye. Lisa will ask Billy if he french–kisses before switching the conversation to the DeFeo murders. The humor the filmmakers try to bring out of this character feels out of place. It doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie.
There is one mildly amusing moment in the scene. Ghosts apparently trap Lisa in the closet where Ronnie DeFeo murdered his sister Jodie (in reality, the entire family was murdered in their beds). The ghost of Jodie appears to Lisa, forcing Lisa’s finger into the bullet hole in her forehead. A smile appears on her face. Suddenly Jodie bursts backward as if Lisa’s finger has just shot her.
There’s another, bigger aspect the filmmakers carry over from the 1979 film. This is the idea that living in the house causes George Lutz to go psychotic. He starts having the same murderous impulses that Ronald DeFeo Jr. had. This idea is nowhere in the book. Ryan Reynolds plays George Lutz in the remake. I hated Reynolds at this time.
Now true, at this point, I mostly knew Ryan Reynolds from Blade: Trinity (2004). That terrible sequel starts off with a vampire flicking off the sun. Reynolds’ character in that movie, Hannibal King, is utterly incapable of taking a single moment seriously throughout the film. Some comic relief is fine. In that movie, Reynolds eventually wears me out, and I found him annoying and unbearable.
I did like him in Adventureland (2009), though he’s more subdued in that, showing restraint. I’m slowly turning around on him. He seems to have found the perfect material for himself with Deadpool (2016). I’ll also acknowledge that he is quite the handsome devil. The remake of The Amityville Horror does one thing right. It gives the audience multiple shots of Ryan Reynolds shirtless. Damn, those abs are flawless!
I have a hard time buying Reynolds when he tries to go dramatic or angry in the film though. He seems to be attempting to channel Jack Nicholson (Batman, Chinatown) from The Shining (1980). As he slips into madness, he sees his wife and three stepchildren as the crazy ones. Kathy mentions at one point that maybe buying the house was a mistake. “How did you get so fucking stupid?” is George’s response. It feels very much like a moment in The Shining. It’s the scene where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) suggests to her husband Jack that they leave the Overlook Hotel.
The problem is Ryan Reynolds goes overboard too quickly. Many moments that should be intimidating are instead humorous. I believe one is after the babysitter scene. George tells one of his stepchildren, “Wipe that stupid look off your face and go to bed. Run!” There’s a scene at the dinner table where he tells them a lesson his father taught him. Kathy gets on him for it. George’s snarky response is to mention that it’s not as if their dead father will ever teach them. There’s a scene where Billy helps him as he chops firewood. George forces Billy’s shaky hands onto the firewood. With intimidation, he says, “We’re friends. We’re having fun, right? Put your hands up there.”
Ryan Reynolds also has lines that feel familiar. “Houses don’t kill people. People kill people.” Or, “There aren’t bad houses, just bad people.” These lines turn into cliches when you connect them to other things such as guns. There’s a sex scene between George and Kathy early in the movie. George suddenly sees the ghost of Jodie behind his wife. Her neck is at the end of a noose. It’s another moment of nonsense. Why, when the girl was shot to death, is she suddenly being hung? Later, George starts to see the faces of his stepchildren morph into superimposed CGI bullshit. We’re to believe that these lame effects are compelling him to kill them all.
George has a nightmare in which he sees himself shooting his family dead. His head does what I call a “herky-jerky” motion before he shoots them. It won’t be the last time the film uses this lame effect. There’s also a scene where George thinks a ghost is coming at him in the boathouse. He chops at it with an axe, only to discover he’s just killed the family dog. Again, it might be a bad sign that I laugh at all these moments instead of shiver.
There are scenes in which George and Kathy go on a date, or to the doctor’s office. The filmmakers try to convey through these scenes that George is okay whenever he’s not at the house. Ryan Reynolds chose to be distant from the child actors on purpose. He felt it would aid his performance while intimidating them at the same time.
The actress who plays his stepdaughter would become a familiar face. Chloe Grace Moretz makes her theatrical debut as Chelsea Lutz. You might recognize Moretz in 500 Days of Summer (2009). She’s the wise younger sister of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, The Night Before). Or as a pre-teen assassin in Kick-Ass (2010). She was the star of one of my favorite movies last year, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018). She’d go on to star in more horror remakes as well. Three of them in fact: Let Me In (2010), Carrie (2013), and Suspiria (2018).
There’s a scene where Jodie convinces Chelsea to get out on the roof. She tells Chelsea that if she jumps, she’ll get to see her father again. Chloe Grace Moretz was actually on the roof of the house in a harness for some of the shots. That seems extremely risky for a girl eight years old at the time, however safe it may be. There’s another scene where Chelsea stands over the water in the boathouse, holding a red balloon. I blame the recent adaptation of Stephen King’s It (2017) for putting a thought in my head. I couldn’t help expecting a clown to suddenly pop up and say, “We all float down here.”
There is one actor I was excited to see. Philip Baker Hall is a character actor with nearly 200 credits to his name. I mostly know and like Hall from Paul Thomas Anderson’s films Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), and Magnolia (1999). Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite directors. Philip Baker Hall plays Father Callaway in the remake of The Amityville Horror. In the original 1979 film, Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night, On the Waterfront) plays the equivalent character.
There’s something I find interesting between the two films. There was more significant involvement and connection between Father Delaney and the plot and family in the original. Yet he never occupies the same shot with any of the Lutz family. In the remake, Kathy Lutz reaches out to Father Callaway for help, who shows up to bless the house.
We saw actual crosses turn upside down as a sign of the house’s evil in the original film. In the remake, the cross is comically on a doorknob in the house blessing scene. Flies would gradually appear in the original scene, covering Father Delaney’s face. They suddenly explode all at once from the vent towards Father Callaway in the remake. This is another example of why I prefer the original over the remake. It was more subtle with its scares. There is still a loud, booming voice that shouts at Father Callaway to “GET OUT!” causing him to run for his life. As he leaves, George Lutz attempts to comfort his wife. In case the crazy look on George’s face isn’t enough, we get a couple of hilarious zoom-in shots to emphasize it.
The remake ends fairly similar to the original, though it’s less interesting to me. This time the Lutz family escapes by boat rather than by van as in the original. The final scare is the biggest, most laughable bunch of bullshit. Jodie stands in the front hallway of the house. Her face suddenly does that “herky-jerky” thing as she screams. The house seems to “reset” itself. We see the cliche of a single tear falling down Jodie’s face. As the camera moves back, hands suddenly pull her down through the floor. Again, as with many things in this film…why?! Is there any actual reason for this, or is it just random, flashy music video garbage? I’m sorry, I’ll stick with the slow build and subtle creepiness of the original, thank you very much!