I write about the Amityville franchise a lot, too much maybe. So imagine my shock when I realized I had never properly reviewed the films. There are ELEVEN of them, and I’ve only written about one! I started working on the book series a while back, and I still plan to finish those, but for Halloween 2013 I plan to dive into the film series with the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror. I realize this is out of order, and probably will annoy the Continuity Police somewhere but I was in the mood for some wet Ryan Reynolds the other day and my hormones won. Also, this movie is old so I’m assuming you’ve seen it and there are a shit-ton of spoilers ahead.
In 2003 Michael Bay had some success with his remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and decided to keep the trend going. When he asked his team which other aging horror franchises they would like to see remade his producers dropped a tattered paperback copy of The Amityville Horror on his desk and well…here we are. They made a big deal out of “being true to Anson’s book” and “the established history” behind the story which got me very excited. Then I saw the film, and while it isn’t bad as a horror film in its own right it certainly isn’t “true” to anything but the bottom line. It does have some moments though.
The film starts off on a high note with a slicker and somewhat scarier depiction of the DeFeo murders that started this whole Amityville train in motion. Director Andrew Douglas even went so far as to faithfully recreate the crime scenes which is pretty jarring if you know what you are looking at. The big detour here is the fictional Jodie DeFeo who wakes up and confronts her murderous brother before taking a bullet to the forehead. I gave the movie its first side-eye at this point. The Jodie of the book was a demonic pig, not a little girl. If you can’t figure out how to make a demonic pig creature scary then I have to question everything that follows because it can be done. Why even be literal? Just play with shadows and eyes at the window. Think! It can be done, and making up a new DeFeo kid is just not cool.
Ronald DeFeo Jr was watching a movie in the early morning hours of November 13, 1974 before he took a rifle from room to room and made history. The movie was Castle Keep I think, not exactly an Indian picture but whatever. What I don’t get is what the American Indian themed station sign-off graphic that our new Ronnie was hypnotized by had to do with anything. Do Indians have their own cable access channel in the afterlife? If non-Indian/evil ghost Jeremiah Ketcham is behind the goings on at 412 Ocean Avenue then why does his TV station graphic have a big Indian head on it? Maybe because he liked to torture Indians and therefore his viewers? This is a minor grievance, but it bugs me. These things are so easy to get right when you have a true story to pull from. Why make shit up?
Cut to a year later and we see George and Kathryn (not Kathleen for some reason, even though that was her real name) Lutz being an adorable little family in their adorable little bungalow in Deer Park, Long Island. Kudos for getting the city right! They really did live in Deer Park! Facts are fun aren’t they? And more kudos for acknowledging that there was tension between George and his step-kids. The reality, according to the eldest son Daniel*, was much worse but at least they went there. Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George really look the parts too. The period details were spot on. They won back some points loss during that opening scene.
So George and Kathy go house hunting and end up at 412 Ocean Avenue which should be out of their price range given its river front location but its not! Score! Which brings me to the house, a huge subject of much scorn and debate among Amityville fans. I’ve ranted about the house before so I won’t get on that particular soapbox again.
What I do want to know is why they bothered with a made up history of the place. The real house was built in 1924. A smaller house occupied the lot at the time and that house was relocated down the street. It still stands today at 40 S Ireland Place (approx), just a stones throw from 112 Ocean on the north side of the street. The realtor in the film claims that the current house is “one of the oldest on long island” and built on the foundation of a house from 1692. No and no. Fake history doesn’t make this any scarier people.
So George and Kathy tour the house and learn about the murders the previous year, murders that despite the trial ending three weeks before their move in date is a “distant memory” that no one in town ever thinks about anymore. They have the “houses don’t kill people” discussion and suddenly we are watching home movies of moving day. YAY! It isn’t long before little Jodie DeFeo breaks up their family bliss by revealing herself hanging from a rope while George and Kathy have sex. Why is she choosing this as her big debut? She didn’t die that way. Is Ketcham making her do it? Is she doing it on her own to scare the Lutzs into moving before Ketcham can drive them crazy? It isn’t clear.
From this point on its all downhill into asshole town for George while Kathy channels Shelly Duvall from The Shining. By the time babysitter Rachel Nichols shows up to steal the movie the family is on the brink of a psychotic break. Nothing a little Italian food won’t fix though. The poor babysitter gets quite a scare in the closet, but while it was much gorier and over the top than the scene in the original it certainly didn’t add anything interesting. The bit with Jodie forcing the babysitters finger into the bullet hole in her forehead was just stupid. I did enjoy the inclusion of the creepy doll faces splitting open which was an element from the same sequence in the 1979 script that never made it in the final film. I did get distracted for a moment imagining Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) was using her telekinesis to keep the slutty babysitter locked in the closet of horrors. I blame that on just seeing an older Moretz in Carrie.
“You’re going to make her mad.”
I said this movie had some good moments and I wasn’t lying. When the local priest, expertly played by Phillip Baker Hall shows up things get pretty crazy. The “Get out!” scene is probably the most famous from the 1979 movie and its interpretation here was very well done. They dropped the ball by not making the flies a recurring problem but once again the supporting cast swept in and stole the show. I also thought that George’s final breakdown on the dock was pretty powerful stuff, which is nice considering everything that came after was complete shit.
The end of this movie is a mess. Nothing about it all resembles anything related to the source material, either in the 1979 movie or the 1977 book. Nor does it resemble anything George or Kathy Lutz said in their lifetime about their final night in the house. So what we get from Bay and his team is a mess of people running up stairs when they should be breaking out windows, vast underground torture chambers and children scaling rooftops in the rain because it always rains at the end of a horror film. I suppose it could be argued that the original film depicts George on a rampage, but it is revealed pretty fast that it is more misunderstanding than murderous and he comes around and saves the day. I heard that the real George Lutz left the theater during this sequence and I can’t say I blame him. Hopefully he missed the part where they family escapes via speedboat.
I should note that my boyfriend loved this movie, and he makes a good point that as a horror film standing on its own without all the history clouding it up it is pretty decent. Sure there are some silly jump scares like the drooling Indian in the bathroom, but it isn’t any worse than most of what people consider horror these days. I can almost detach myself enough to see that, but The Amityville Horror (1979) is my favorite horror film of all time, and I will loudly admit that I went into this remake with a chip on my shoulder the size of Long Island. It was going to have to work very hard to win me over, and sadly it didn’t try very hard at all. At least we got wet, shirtless Ryan Reynolds for two hours and the world was introduced to Chloe Grace Moretz.
Next up I’ll revisit Amityville 2: The Possession, which just came out on Blu-Ray.
*Daniel Lutz told his story in the excellent documentary My Amityville Horror. Check it out!