The Amityville haunting is one of the most well documented and discussed “real-world” hauntings that has ever occurred. The ordeal that the Lutz family endured and their supposed encounters with the supernatural after moving into 112 Ocean Avenue has been spoken of, disputed, proven and denied. The accounts of what happened during the month that the family stayed there has been adapted into a book, books about that book, news articles, TV specials, miniseries, movies and at least one flash animation concerning an irate squirrel and a haunted toaster.
So let's have a look at the 2005 remake of the 1979 adaptation of the 1977 novel and find out what happened at that one spooky house in AMITYVILLE!
The titles clue us in to November 13th, 1974. Some shaggy looking gent in the living room of the big, bad house scribbles a few insane etchings down in his notebook, then stops watching TV to head upstairs and turn on the house's strobelights. Clearly bugged by all of this flashing, the man decides to empty his rifle into his sleeping family. Man, there are like five people in this house and they must already sleep like the dead, considering that the only one to hear any of this is the youngest daughter. She hides in the closet, until Shaggy Shooter kicks in the door, sheds a tear and blows her brains out. Cause the voices said so.
We then cut to the bedroom of the Lutzes, George Lutz being played by Pre-Crisis Ryan Reynolds. He's doing the whole “Stepfather” thing to the gaggle of kids rampaging in and out of the apartment and also trying to dissuade his wife, Cathy, from her constant house-hunting.
During one of said hunting trips, they spot the notorious House from afar and meet up with the real estate agent. That seller is probably my favourite part of the movie, as she escorts them around the place, it's very clear that she knows that shit's haunted. She's constantly distracting them away from creeping shadows or politely lingering upstairs while they inspect the basement or preventing them from opening the fridge and seeing Zuul. Hey, when it comes to real estate, you're either a seller or a loser. Ryan is a contractor in this film and knows for a fact that house this big doesn't come this cheap, but the agent only comes clean after they agree to buy the place. She tells tham about the murders that happened there a year ago, but then quickly yells “no take-backs” and runs off, so I guess they have to buy the place.
I think I've seen this episode of The Simpsons.
Ryan is pretty cool with it, quoting the old National Contractor's Association excuse that “Houses don't kill people, people kill people”
The title card for Day 1 flashes up and the Shining rip offs start to pile together. The Lutz family moves in, with Ryan shooting home movies for the whole thing on a video camera that has to be the size of a sofa. I have to say, we're well into this movie and the only thing that seems even vaguely 70's at this point is the massive collar that Reynolds was sporting a scene ago. Even with the beard, these people just aren't hairy enough. That night, Cathy creeps into bed and these two start to bone, though it doesn't last very long. Reynolds sees the image of a hanging little girl behind his wife, which is probably enough to make him physically retract out of his wife and spoil the mood. Ain't it always the case when kids wander in?
The next day, Cathy checks in on her kids and holy hell, there's actually a daughter too? Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I was completely blind sided by the existence of this third child. And also, she's played by a baby Chloe Moretz. Hey there kid! Can't wait to think you're cool in Kick-Ass and then think you're hot in Neighbours 2. Man, they grow up so fast.
It turns out the Chloe, or rather, Chelsea, has been talking with the waterlogged ghost girl from last night. Her name is Jodie and she seems friendly enough, though Cathy just writes this off as an imaginary friend. Meanwhile, Reynolds is cutting wood outside and gets a little snippy with one of the kids when he finds a weird metal thingy in the basement.
Things start to get spooky when Chelsea wanders out to the boathouse at Jodie's behest, and the youngest kid has a nocturnal visitor when taking a leak, realizing he's sharing the sink with some guy who looks like he spent way too long in a tanning bed. Ryan wanders the house, shirtless and flexing as hallucinations of himself killing his family stick to his brain. The house actually starts to bleed and Ryan sees Jodie in Chelsea's room. A quick investigation reveals that she's gone, but only because she's getting felt up on the ceiling by some strong, lovin' ghost arms. Okay, shot in the head, drowned and hung? Rasputin wishes he had this girl's resume.
I know that I'm just listing off events as they happen, but really, that's exactly what this movie is, a greatest hits album of various haunted house tropes. Bleeding walls? Check. Creepy ghost girls? Check. Patriarch being driven steadily crazy by extranormal forces until he inevitably tries to murder them all with that woodcutting axe he's so fond of?
Oh, and spoilers.
By Day 15, things are getting tense in the ol' Amityville household. Cathy notices the fridge magnets (oh, check for spooky fridge magnets) spelling out the arc words “Katch 'em Kill em” that the trigger happy murderer from the beginning was fond of writing in his notebook, until Ryan storms in and just pisses all over everyone's pillows. Some rotting six year old was keeping him up all night, the fountains keep spewing blood whenever he tries to shave and he has to work tomorrow DAMMIT. Cathy gets fed up with all this and manages to wrangle him out of the house for a date in his best turtleneck, thinking a change in scenery would do him good. They bring in Lisa, the midriff bearing babysitter and quickly skedaddle. Lisa does as any good babysitter would, inspiring thoughts of prepubescent lust in the older brother, taking a massive bong rip in the bathroom and then telling the kids all about how some other kids that looked JUST LIKE them died in the exact same room as them. Amazing.
It's very easy to avoid pitying her when she gets locked in the closet with the Jodie ghost. Turns out Lisa was the babysitter for the last family as well, and Jodie has some issues with her. She spooks Lisa and then, ew, oh, don't make her finger your brain hole, dude!
The Lutzs return home, and poor Ryan was actually having a pretty nice time before he saw the teenager they paid to look after their kids getting carted off in an ambulance, rambling about brain holes. I suppose the authorities just chalk it all up to the reefer. The kids are justifiably pissed that their parents didn't tell them about all the stabbings that went on in here and Ryan just shouts everybody down. From now on he is flatly terrorizing the rest of the family, having a dream about a hidden room in the basement that contains rows of sacrificial slabs and a bloodletting channel in the floor. He decides to just wash away all the bad feelings and we get to check off another box when something tries to drown him in the tub.
A trip to the doctor states that there is nothing physically wrong with Ryan, so it looks like he's just crazy. They get home to find little baby Moretz hanging out on the roof and barely manage to save her.
It seems that Jodie wanted to keep her on as a permanent playmate. Everybody starts yelling at each other like it's a particularly dark episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and again, there isn't really much of an actual STORY to provide commentary on. It's all just Stuff, Happening: The movie.
Ryan is completely screwed loose at this point, either freaking out his stepchildren or sitting in the basement and gigglecrying at the home movies from earlier, occasionally seeing demon faces leap out at him from the screen. That night, Ryan sees another figure scootching around the boathouse and heads down there, getting scared by some creepman who lunges out at him and ends up chopping the family dog to death, thinking it's one of the tanning ghosts that keep popping up.
Oh, boo. If I can't talk about a story just because this movie doesn't have one, I can at least talk about the various utterly disposable cliches that are on display. Much like the Black Guy never surviving, it seems to be written word of law that the family dog never survives moving to a haunted house. In the end of the first or second act, some unseen force or beastie or deranged Van Wilder will quickly kill the lovable pooch in order to ramp up tension and the threat of danger without actually harming any of the characters. It goes hand in hand with the trope that dogs can sense evil or paranormal forces, so it makes sense that such an asset would have to be removed from the occasion in order to keep the audience guessing. It makes sense from a strictly technical point, but such a trope has become predictable and cliched for decades. God forbid someone try to write something original for once. For heaven's sake, the Lutz family dog actually survived unharmed in real life and the book.
Ryan hides the dogs body and then starts yelling at everyone again until the local priest shows up and tries his hand at a good old fashioned exorcism. Cathy had called him earlier and shared the story with him, and the Padre informs her that the spooky cat doll Chelsea has been playing with the whole time once belonged to Jodie. He knew the DeFayo's quite well, and assures her that the little girl was buried with that doll.
Padre tries his hand at sanctifying the creepy old house with his bag of sacred knick knacks. Holy water hits the walls and floor like paint thinner and not much forward progress is made, until a swarm of flies zitzes the priest in the face and the house actually vocally tells him to piss off. He does so without a word spoken to a yelling Cathy, hightailing it out of there in his station wagon. You're a real dick, you know that preacher?
We get another pointless scene of Ryan Reynolds getting messed with until he is reduced to a fetal position and we zip ahead to:
Deciding to finally fill in this is dirth of plot, Cathy heads to the public library and does the 1970's equivalent of googling herself to investigate the house and the DeFayo family. The following tactless infodump reveals that the oldest sibling snapped 28 days after moving in to the rickety old place and killed his parents and all three of his siblings. Wait a minute, today is 28 days! She continues to belch backstory into our lungs by looking into the history of the old place. At the same time, Ryan finally physically busts down the wall over the hidden room in the basement and wanders into some ghostly fetish dungeon under the house. Get this, Cathy reads that the house was originally built by a crazy preacher called Reverend Ketcham, who's desire to katch 'em all compelled him to round up and torture Native Americans in his murder basement, dumping their bodies in the lake. Ryan wanders around said murder basement, getting freaked out by Gollum's brother who is really in to body modifications and a surprisingly pouty Iroquois Kris Angel dangling around on fishhooks. He walks into the final room, where the ghost of Ketcham sort of winks at him and slits his throat all over Ryan.
Cathy runs home, determined to get her family out of the house. She finds Ryan in the boathouse and they have some minor hijinks with a boat propeller that go absolutely nowhere, then tries to head inside, finding that her husband has become fatalistic enough to build coffins for the entire family. This might have been scary in an “All Work And No Play” kind of way, but receives absolutely build up or foreshadowing. But hey, coffins are scary! Ryan pulls a shotgun out of nowhere and starts chasing them around the house, eventually up the stairs and up to the roof, occasionally summoning or banishing his shotgun to and from the ether depending on whether he needs to use both hands in a fight scene.
Billy gives him a solid booting and Reynolds goes toppling off the roof and into the mud as the wife and kids climb down to safety. But Ryan's back and full on Jack Torrance at this point, swinging away at them with the axe. He's about to axe Billy a question, seeing his entire family as monsters at this point, until Cathy grabs the shotgun. But she just can't bear to shoot that pretty face. Could you?
Instead she rifle butts him in the face, which knocks a couple happy memories of balloons into his head long enough for him to come to his senses. We get a brief fake out scene where he envisions murdering Cathy with his axe one more time for the sake of a cheap scare before the family packages him up and gets in the speedboat, driving off. Oh yeah, leave the murder house and drive off into Corpse Lake. That place is probably much better.
Ryan awakens in the boat, and tells Cathy to keep going. The entire Lutz family survived their ordeal, never returned the house and went on to sue pretty much everyone who tried to adapt their story, including the makers of this film.
This film is pure shlock, the equivalent of walking through a haunted house attraction and getting spooks jumping out at you. Any attempt at cultivating a sense of dread or atmosphere is ruined by the visuals, which cannot resist pulling the trigger on a ghost popping up every ten minutes. The story is that there is no story. Actually no, the story is The Shining. Just go watch The Shining. Many people have lived in the 121 house with no talk of supernatural troubles, and I'm pretty sure that George Lutz never tried to murder his family with a 12 gauge.
I could say that the only real saving grace of the movie is Ryan Reynolds himself, if only because it's just terrible to watch so many scary things happen to someone so handsome. This movie is a wreck. Skip it.