Once upon a time, Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form co-founded a production company called Platinum Dunes, whose purpose was to remake old horror films, but shinier and worse. I mean, presumably the "worse" part wasn't in the corporate statement of principles, and it just worked out that way. I think it's entirely fair to put the brunt of the blame for the 2000s' mania for horror remakes securely on Platinum Dunes' shoulders: the company's first release, the 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was a substantial enough hit that it started to give other producers notions, and those notions ended up covering just about every commercially significant post-1970 American horror film you could name and more than a few you probably couldn't. Platinum Dunes itself rode the wave through remakes of The Hitcher, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street before decamping to the relatively tasteful, dignified business of making those hideous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pictures.

For our current purposes, the most important Platinum Dunes release was their second, the remake of The Amityville Horror that came out in 2005. "Based on the true story", it says in a title card right at the start, in typewriter font so's you know how official and austere and documented it is. THE true story, not the more typical A true story, and that's fine, so far as it goes. Except that of course, as it admits in its own credits, The Amityville Horror is based on the Sandor Stern screenplay that wildly elaborated on the Jay Anson novel that wildly elaborated on the audio testimony of George & Kathy Lutz that was trumped-up bullshit in the first place.

And even here, "based on" largely means that it takes the names, plot hook, and quarter-moon windows from the 1979 Amityville Horror, but it takes everything else from the great big grab bag labeled "every crappy horror clichΓ© of the late '90s and early '00s". Swear to God, the film is at least as much a remake of the godawful 1999 iteration of The Haunting as its namesake.

Coming out nine years after the initial, more-or-less contiguous flow of Amityville pictures had rattled itself to death on direct-to-video schlock, The Amityville Horror '05 falls into the spot where it has a brand name to trade on, but not necessarily the same cultural memory of the 1974 murders and 1975 "haunting" that fueled all those haunted lamps and haunted clocks. This could, in the best of worlds, mean that the new film could begin from scratch, without the accumulated baggage of the real-world news events, books, and smash hit films, and create a more perfect marriage of spectral terror and the fraught domestic drama of the Lutz family.

The fact that an Amityville Horror remake exists is, of course, proof enough that this isn't the best of worlds, and it should be no surprise that the 2005 film is nothing but screaming over-the-top jump scares and garish visual effects and a cranky loud score (by Michael Bay regular Steve Jablonsky) that badgers us into feeling harangued, if not exactly frightened. It is the most pandering kind of horror remake, one that assumes that 21st Century audiences couldn't possibly stand for a horror film that actually tries to ease us into the material by slowly building up a sense of unease that transforms into tension that erupts into terror. Nope, we start getting spooky little girls with oozing bullet holes and a dad who starts to go axe crazy with red-rimmed eyes basically from the second the Lutz family moves into the house. Which has, for no earthly reason I can make out, been moved to 412 Ocean Ave. in Amityville, New York.

So anyway, the plot is still the plot: in December, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. (Brendan Donaldson) killed his whole family with a shotgun, and we see this play out in a sequence that director Andrew Douglas stages as a series of flashes from the storm-wracked night of the killing to clips from the newspaper reports and crime scene photos of the aftermath, all of it punctuated with blasts of light (be they gunshots or lightning strikes) and bursts of noise. In the moment, I found this slightly wretched, little knowing that I was watching the subtlest, most artistically sophisticated part of the entire film.

A year later, newlyweds George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) stumble across the murder house, knowing nothing about its history, and allow the visibly terrified real estate agent (Annabel Armour) talk them into buying the house despite it being slightly above their budget even at a ridiculously low fraction of its value. And then the haunting starts. No, literally, like immediately then. By the end of Day 1, as the inconsistent title cards announce the calendar, the house's psychic torture of the Lutzes is already in full swing, and we've already seen little Chelsea (ChloΓ« Grace Moretz, in her film debut) chatting amiably with the repulsive-looking ghost of little Jodie DeFeo (Isabel Conner). Which has already pushed us far enough away from "the true story" that the filmmakers should maybe have been a little more humble in their word choice (the two youngest DeFeo victims were both boys, their youngest sister was still a teenager, and the real Jodie was, you'll recall, a demon pig with glowing eyes. I'm not saying it's a bad change). To say nothing of the way that showing us Spectral J-Horror Knockoff Jodie so early ruins all of the potential build-up that the original film extracted from the same material.

Maybe it was Day 2. My notes contain more swear words than plot details, if I am being honest.

Around the same time, George, who is clearly not a favorite of Kathy's three children by her late husband (changing her from a divorcΓ©e to a widow is a choice that strikes me as fundamentally daft), has already clearly been suckered in by whatever dark force lives in the house, and suffers from many horrible visions and nightmares (including Jodie, who was shot in the head, appearing as a hanging corpse), when he's not busy threatening the children. Kathy, meanwhile, uncovers the house's ludicrously overbaked history, involving a colonial-era serial killer who built a torture chamber in the basement that did not, at that point, have a house over it. Or something. The film rockets from the second to the 15th day, and then gets us to the 28th as fast as possible from there, all in the obvious hope of keeping us so dazzled by the litany of haunted incidents that we'll never have time to get bored by such trivialities as "atmosphere building" or "character development".

And, I mean, kudos to Douglas and writer Scott Kosar on that count: The Amityville Horror certainly doesn't have the luxury of time to be boring. If all you want is the same material from every other paranormal horror film of the preceding 6 years played at 1.5x speed, this has the distinct merit of providing it. For myself, I was too busy being appalled to be bored; the film's refusal to do anything even vaguely subtle means that every scare scene is full of broad, garish gestures, and it all comes off as tacky, loud, and forced, like the film was made by belligerent drunks. The babysitter sequence is a perfect case in point: setting aside the fact that Lisa (Rachel Nichols) is costumed to look exactly like she's in a film produced by Michael Bay, the incident where she ends up locked in a closet has none of the creepy stasis that the 1979 film mustered. Instead, the little dead girl taunts her right to her face, and goes so far as to grab Lisa's hand and force her finger into the bullet hole in Jodie's forehead. A moment that's impressively crass and wrong-headed, if nothing else.

Basically, the film assumes for all of its thankfully brief 89 minutes that its audience is stupid and easily-bored, and proceeds to fling nonsense at us without pause, leaving no room for subtlety. The symbolic disintegration of a poorly-blended family is nowhere to be seen; now it's just Ryan Reynolds at his least-effective, glaring with sweaty wrath. We have no baseline to compare things to and thus no sense of stakes or development; we have no outside world to measure the Lutzes' terror against. We just have a laundry list of trite shocks, thrown at us with more momentum than style.

The film's overall lack of nuance or anything like it extends to the house; the best part about the original run of films, the house is now a gigantic pile, redressed from an old lakefront vacation mansion in southern Wisconsin, not very far from the production center in northeast Illinois. I mention this mostly so that I can point out that the vast majority of the film's non-house exteriors were shot in a pair of small Illinois towns near to the even smaller Illinois town where I grew up, near enough that I recognised several of the buildings. I make no claim that this fact is interesting, though it is substantially more interesting than The Amityville Horror. Anyway, the house: in the earlier films, as in reality, it was a good-size suburban single-family home. Here, it's a monstrous hulk, so big as to completely swallow up those wonderful windows as a barely-discernible architectural feature, no more noticeable or atmospheric than the cathedral-like dining room. For a horror film based entirely in domestic terrors, setting the whole thing in a decaying mansion like this is just critically idiotic.

But the most idiotic of all was casting Reynolds and George. Though I guess the problem isn't with them, specifically; they are merely the symptoms. Basically, it's quite impossible to take either of them even a little bit seriously as someone alive in the 1970s; they are too clean and generically pretty. Reynolds particularly, whose bearing evokes absolutely nothing about his character or the time he comes from, and the beard he wears to disguise this fact is laughably insufficient. George is also visibly too young to be the mother of the children we meet; she is, indeed, only 13 years older than Jesse James, the actor playing her eldest son.

These matters hurt the film, but the big problem is that they speak to an abiding disinterest in the reality of story. So what if they look all wrong for the part? So what if the whole thing feels like it might take place as long ago as 1998, but only because nobody carries a cell phone? You're just here for the glossy CGI spook show and the shiny blue nighttime cinematography - that's the obvious calculation that was made, and the mercenary coldness of that choice is present at every level of the film's production. And it certainly worked out well for the filmmakers financially, but artistically, this is a total dead end: more polished and expansive than the cruddiest of the DTV films, but entirely lifeless, entirely free of any real scares or atmosphere, entirely unencumbered by any fidelity to what human beings think or feel. Even by Platinum Dunes standards - and they are decidedly not high - this is an arid excuse for horror cinema, bereft of any but the most hollow merits.

Reviews in this series
The Amityville Horror (Rosenberg, 1979)
Amityville II: The Possession (Damiani, 1982)
Amityville 3-D (Fleischer, 1983)
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (Stern, 1989)
The Amityville Curse (Berry, 1990)
Amityville 1992: It's About Time (Randel, 1992)
Amityville: A New Generation (Murlowski, 1993)
Amityville Dollhouse (White, 1996)
The Amityville Horror (Douglas, 2005)
The Amityville Haunting (Meed, 2011)
My Amityville Horror (Walter, 2012)
The Amityville Asylum (Jones, 2013)
The Amityville Playhouse (Walker, 2015)
Amityville: Vanishing Point (Greenberg, 2016)
The Amityville Terror (Angelo, 2016)
Amityville: No Escape (Couto, 2016)
Amityville Exorcism (Polonia, 2017)
Amityville: The Awakening (Khalfoun, 2017)

Not reviewed at this time
Amityville Death House (Polonia, 2015)
The Amityville Legacy (Ferguson and Johnson, 2016)
Amityville: Evil Never Dies (Ferguson, 2017)