One night in November 1974, around quarter past three and in a house in Long Island, Ronald DeFeo (Brendan Donaldson) takes a shotgun and murders his family. After raising the alarm himself he is arrested and claims that he heard voices telling him to do it, but nevertheless is imprisoned for the crime. The next year, the now empty house has yet to be bought until a young married couple, George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds) and his wife Kathy (Melissa George) see it as the ideal place to bring up Kathy's children from her previous marriage. However, whatever demons lie in the building are restless and soon the Lutzes will be embroiled in a terrifying ordeal...
"Based on a true story" it says at the start if this film. Based on a true story. Is it wrong to add so much to a story that was factually dubious in the first place, because that's what they try to get away with here. The real George Lutz was not at all happy with the revised version of the events that caused him to vacate his new house back in the mid-seventies, and took legal action, but did he have a case? Scripted by Scott Kosar, there's so much stuff in here that wasn't in the original account that you may well wonder why they bothered to call it a remake at all.
Of course, the reason it's still called The Amityville Horror is that true story tag carries a lot of impact. It also excuses the film makers from hanging the scary events around a narrative, indeed this movie is virtually plotless, throwing up one damn thing after another. The aspects of the original film, which was no masterpiece if you'll remember, that gave it resonance, such as the religious angle or the plunging of the family into financial peril, are largely dismissed in favour of a relentless succession of shocks and elaborate displays of special effects, all with diminishing power.
Although set in the seventies, little attempt has been made to conjure up the feel of the period - this could all be contemporary 2005, which it was in this instance. When the Lutzes move in, we already know that the three children haven't entirely accepted George as their new father, and this relationship will grow increasingly strained as the film wears on. But any suspense that might arise from there possibly being a haunting is swiftly dissipated when a host of apparitions make their presence felt, with daughter Chelsea (star of the future Chloë Grace Moretz) making friends with the ghost of one of the dead DeFeo daughters (no sign of any phantom pigs this time, however).
You get the impression that even though the film opens with a massacre, the film makers were just itching to kill one of the characters off yet are frustrated by the "based on fact" underpinnings. They do make sure the dog is axed to death by a hallucinating George, but that's about as far as they can go - needless to say, that never happened to the Lutzes' pooch. It's Reynolds who is mainly the focus of the haunting, as he is attacked in the bath, chops logs incessantly and generally lets the oppression of the house get to him, but any psychology of his condition is shallow amongst the flashy presentation. In the end, any fear you might have felt will be replaced by the rolling of eyes while the over the top events mount up, as if strenuous sensationalism is the only step up for yet another seventies remake. Music by Steve Jablonsky.