I have only dim memories of the first Amityville Horror (1979), and they are not pleasant ones. As I recall, the film was slow, boring, and insufficiently horrifying. Accordingly, I did not expect much from the remake, also titled The Amityville Horror (2005), and I did not get much. But what I got was at least superior to the original.
Like the original, the 2005 Amityville is supposedly based on the true story of George and Kathleen Lutz and their family, who moved into a Long Island house that soon turned out to be seriously haunted. This time around, the Lutzes are played by Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George, filling the roles previously handled by James Brolin and Margot Kidder.
Reynolds has a lighter touch than Brolin, which generally serves the material well. All the dark brooding stuff about child murder and torturing Indians can get too heavy-handed without a sense of humor. As for George, I can’t swear that she’s a better actress than Kidder, but I have a soft spot in my heart for George not only for her blonde good looks but for all the other science fiction/horror roles she has essayed—Dark City, 30 Days of Night, Turistas. She may be the Evelyn Ankers of her generation.
The Amityville remake is neither slow nor boring. It zips right along, with lots of creepy hallucinations to jazz things up. An apparition of a dead little girl, Jodie, is somewhat overused and overfamiliar from other movies, but still effective at times. The principal mechanism of mayhem is the transformation of George Lutz from kindly family man to homicidal maniac, and this is depicted without any tedious subtlety. Reynolds falls in love with his dank basement, obsessively chops wood, kills a dog: you know he will attack his family next.
What keeps the Amityville remake from being a really good horror film is that, like its predecessor, it is insufficiently horrifying. Neither Brolin nor Reynolds have it in them to deliver a homicidal father performance like that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, still the benchmark for this type of film. And the haunted house material has been seen so often that something radically new must be done with it to make it freshly horrifying. Still, the Amityville remake merits praise for having topped its original—though not much praise, given the weakness of the original.