Let’s see here: You and your family have just moved into a massive house in Deer Park, Long Island, that only a year earlier was the site of a brutal massacre, in which the killer said evil voices in the house compelled him to do it. Your new husband is seeing ghosts and snapping at the kids, your dog won’t stop howling at the moon, and your daughter says she has become good friends with Jody, the girl who lives in her closet, and don’t you know it, shares the same name with one of the children that was murdered. Think it’s time to leave?
In the by-the-numbers remake of The Amityville Horror, it takes Kathy Lutz (Melissa George) several weeks to make these connections and actually consider escaping her new house, which was a bargain only because of its bloody history. She and George (Van Wilder’s Ryan Reynolds) are initially hesitant to buy the old, spooky place, but he’s convinced that “Houses don’t kill people. People kill people.”
Naturally, he’s dead wrong, and it’s not long before the house’s demons grab hold of the Lutz family. There are a few decent scares, but mostly the film is just a mishmash of split-second ghost sightings, creaky doors and flickering thunderstorms that provide just enough blinking light to see your step-dad coming at you with a shotgun.
It’s all based on the real killings that happened in the early ’70s, but director Andrew Douglas doesn’t really capture the time period outside of a couple Alice Cooper and KISS posters in the eldest child Billy’s (Jesse James) room. The scenery, filmed in Illinois and Wisconsin, is passable enough as an upstate New York country refuge, but like The Amityville Horror itself, it is devoid of anything truly unique or persistently alarming.
The script by Scott Kosar, who also wrote the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is low on surprises but does a decent job of capturing the uncomfortable process of George trying to get to know his wife’s kids. It’s been done thousands of times before but makes for an effective backdrop for a tale about a man whose possessed house prevents him from being the father that his stepchildren never really want him to be in the first place.
Surprisingly, Reynolds holds his own in his first dramatic starring role, gradually inhabiting George’s transition from eager, amiable dad to disturbed, violent madman. Even as Douglas resorts to outdated scare tactics like blood dripping throughout the house and the pitter-patter of ghosts scurrying across wood floors, Reynolds’ troubled eyes create a legitimate sense of haunting dread as his house tells him to kill his family.
The Amityville Horror doesn’t exactly break any new ground, but it is less laughable and maintains a stronger, more consistent tone of creeping terror than the recent Hide and Seek or The Ring Two. Sure, it’s a bit hard to buy that the same girl that babysat for the family that was murdered would take another job at the same house or that the refrigerator magnets would be arranged to say “Home Sweet Home” just as the Lutz family is at their most distant and afraid. It’s all so very ironic but not as much as the fact that, like the poor family that chooses to live in a mansion with evil in its walls, this unnecessary remake of The Amityville Horror simply revisits something that was better left dead.