Stuart Rosenberg, 1979
Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger
As pretty much everyone knows, The Amityville Horror is based on the “true” story of the Lutz family and the 28 horrifying days they spent in 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York, a house that was the site of a mass killing the previous year. Jay Anson wrote a novel about the supposed events, which was so popular that it was soon turned into a film. The script from Sandor Stern (Pin) unfortunately sticks closely to Anson’s novel.
George and Kathy Lutz purchase their first home together. Almost immediately, things take a turn for the weird, when Kathy’s priest, Father Delaney, shows up to bless the house, but is struck ill and encounters a room full of flies. He later tries to contact Kathy, but the phone won’t work and gives him strange blisters on his hands. Delaney suffers a number of other coincidental injuries, culminating in a mental breakdown, and believes the house is responsible. A number of strange accidents occur around the house: black ooze comes up from a toilet, a window smashes the fingers of one of Kathy’s two sons, and a babysitter gets trapped in a closet for hours. Kathy’s daughter reveals that she has a sinister imaginary friend. George can’t sleep and becomes more and more paranoid, while Kathy sees a malevolent looking pig in the window of the second floor. George’s business partner and his occult sensitive wife pay them a visit and reveal that something sinister may be lurking in the basement...
There are plenty of great haunted house films - The Changeling, The Innocents, The Haunting, The Shining - but The Amityville Horror is just not one of them. It seems to waver back and forth between wanting to be a haunted house film and wanting to be The Exorcist with some lame attempts at religious symbolism and a few priests (and a nun) thrown into the script for good measure. It also wavers between taking itself seriously and descending into utter ridiculousness. Personally, I would have preferred the latter. Why the hell does Margot Kidder see a glowing, diabolical pig in the second story window? No idea, but I would prefer more of this than the dull, slow moving plot and anticlimactic ending when they simply flee from the house. Their brief return to rescue the family dog only makes it worse.
One of the major issues is that there is no real story here, just a series of vignettes describing what happened on different days during their month at the house. We learn very little about George and Kathy and even less about Kathy’s children. There are a handful of effects, such as the black ooze and some bleeding walls, but things never go far enough to make it interesting. Tension never builds, there is no confrontation against good and evil, and there isn’t even really an ending. They couldn’t have blown up the house or something?
James Brolin (Capricorn One) is good as George Lutz, but neither he nor Margot Kidder (Black Christmas) can overcome a lousy script. With George, the film constantly presents the threat of impending violence, but never delivers. With Kathy, it hints at a level of sleaze it never delivers on. Though Kathy is topless a few times and does some suggestive stretching in her underwear (while wearing a single legging), her ridiculous outfits and pigtails are more distracting than anything else. And speaking of distracting, Rod Steiger (On the Waterfront) practically steals the film out from under them as Father Delaney, exhibiting such melodrama and B-level absurdity that the rest of the film just can’t top. He winds up blind, insensible, and wearing a black monk’s robe. And I have no idea why, as he has no real face off with the house and spends most of his screen time simply trying to call Kathy on the phone.
I can’t recommend this film, but for some reason it was one of the most successful independent films of the period and resulted in a nauseating amount of sequels and a remake, which was also given some sequels. I simply don’t understand the appeal. If you’re feeling brave or need something to put you to sleep, there’s a DVD collection of the first few films.
The Amityville Horror was followed by a number of increasingly absurd sequels: Amityville II: The Possession (1982), Amityville 3-D: The Demon (1983), Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989), The Amityville Curse (1990), Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992), Amityville: A New Generation (1993), and Amityville Dollhouse: Evil Never Dies (1996). I’m reviewing all these, but ignoring the 2005 remake and its sequels. Amityville just won’t stop and I suspect I’m in for an astoundingly dull week.