The Amityville Horror (1979 film) Review
The Amityville Horror (1979 film) Review
When I was a wee lad I was enthralled by the arrival of a video cassette recorder into our family home. It opened up a whole new world of entertainment to me. I was now able to see films I would have been unable to at the local flicks given I was under-age. I embraced the genre of horror, a forbidden fruit, and I would scare myself silly with the likes of The Exorcist and Suspiria. As you can imagine my parents did their best to stop me from watching adult titles but I was a wily bugger and if I wanted to watch something then I would find a way to do so. This was the time of ‘video nasties’ and I was lucky enough to see many of the titles that became labelled as such, before they were whisked away and banned.
Into this landscape came the video release of 1979’s box-office success The Amityville Horror. I knew the title from the 1977 best-selling book of the same name written by Jay Anson, upon which this film is based. The book was a really big deal at the time. It detailed a modern day haunting that allegedly beset the Lutz family after they moved into their new home – 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York – the very same location that a young man shot and murdered his family a year prior. It was a major talking point and my interest was piqued.
I had to see the film (I wasn’t much of one for such reading material back then, I was more interested in my collection of Target’s Doctor Who books). What a disappointment. Even as an impressionable near-teenager I was bored by the resulting film. Perhaps I had been desensitised by the more hardcore titles I had oggled at the time, and upon receiving this press screener I reasoned that perhaps seeing the film again as a middle-aged man I’d appreciate it for what it really is, rather than what my younger self was hoping it would be. Alas, my younger self wasn’t wrong.
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg and produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff, The Amityville Horror was hated by the critics but adored by the paying public who turned the film into the second highest grossing film Stateside in the year of its release. Its success could, in part, be due to the hype at the time, press stories looking into the apparent haunting and the subsequent lawsuits raised, or it could be due to the phenomenal success of the book. It could also be because horror was big business in the Seventies with both The Exorcist and The Omen reaping in accolades and causing queues around the block. Whatever the reason, it certainly wasn’t down to the quality of the film. It’s a mess, it’s incoherent, it’s trashy, and even worse than that, it’s dull!
Originally planned as a made-for-TV production for CBS, The Amityvillle Horror STILL looks and plays as a made-for-TV production, and it’s still bad, even by those standards. I could go on and on about the number of things I found wrong with Rosenberg’s film, and I will! Firstly, the scriptwriter deliberately loaded the movie so that nothing as such happened directly to the family members until around the film’s halfway mark. He reasoned that otherwise audiences would be wondering why the family didn’t leave the house sooner. This makes sense but instead we get the likes of the priest, the sister and the babysitter getting a rough deal and it all feels so contrived, too obvious, too calculated. Religious figures made for big box-office (Exorcist/Omen) so why not chuck a priest and a sister into the mix. These additions, especially that involving Rod Steiger’s priest, ultimately add nothing, feeling tacked on.
And speaking of Steiger’s priest, Father Delaney, Rod Steiger acts like he’s in a different film all together, in fact his scenes should have been in another film, or even better, lying on the cutting room floor. Still, there’s much amusement to be had watching him go bug-eyed as the evil at Amityville manages to thwart his attempts to contact the family from afar (seriously, what supernatural power is THAT strong that it can reach out from its abode and cause havoc elsewhere?) Isn’t the evil in the house connected to George Lutz (a sleepwalking James Brolin, who looks pissed to have signed on to star in this)? Isn’t that why George is going bonkers?
If tormenting Father Delaney and causing George to lose his marbles wasn’t enough for the spirit, or spirits, residing at 112 Ocean Avenue it also befriends the Amy (Natasha Ryan), George and Kathy’s daughter, and takes the form of a pig. Why a pig? What’s that about? Jody sits in the rocking chair by Amy’s bed, we know this because we see the chair moving to indicate as such. A ghostly pig sitting in a rocking chair? Seriously? This spooky porker also manages to ‘lock’ Amy’s babysitter away for an evening. Jody is like no porcine you’ll ever meet, in the flesh or even ghost form. How are we meant to buy into this twaddle? Aside from the porker, the other animal lurking at the address also raises questions, the family dog! Just why is it that the family dog fails to recognise anything amiss in the house until later – when it suits the script if not the logic – given that it is generally believed that man’s best friend are more attune to the supernatural?
Apparently George looks exactly like the guy who shot and murdered his family at the house a year ago. No one locally seems to notice that and just one cop, Sergeant Gionfriddo (Val Avery), notices the similarity. Gionfriddo is called to the house following the doors of the property being blown outwards (given the spirits do not want the family to leave, blowing the doors off is hardly going to keep them all in) and remarks upon the resemblance. This leads to the sergeant tailing the house/family in much the same way the detective does in The Exorcist, only here the nosey parker is oddly absent the night all hell breaks lose. And it’s always stormy, very stormy! It’s like a committee sat down and made a list of everything they think might work in a ghost story and failed to come up with any sensible reason as to why it should all sit together in the same script.
The Amityville spooks have fun stealing away $1,500 in cash meant for payment to a wedding caterer. What are they going to do with the money? Go shopping??? I’m all for drama, I’m all for scares but some sense would be lovely too! These spirits make no rhyme or reason. There’s a moment late on in the film where George can hear drums being played. However the way the film plays one wouldn’t register that the drumming sounds meant anything more than being part of the film’s score. The same thing is much clearer in the film’s 2005 remake. In this 1979 version it’s just another odd moment that comes to nothing.
The film’s continuity is awful, witness as George climbs out of the basement, covered in black goo, only to be seen goo-free as he runs towards the car. Yes I know he removes an item but it’s STILL all over him. I doubt he stopped to get cleaned off and no, the heavy rain outside wouldn’t have cleared it off that easily or quickly or completely! On the fun side of things you could have a drinking game whilst watching The Amityville Horror, sinking a shot every-time Margot Kidder’s Kathy shouts or screams ‘GEORGE!’
Poltergeist, released three years later, bears some plot similarities – the spirits connect mostly with the youngest, a girl, the house has been built on a burial ground and the house tries to prevent the family leaving at the end – however Tobe Hooper’s film is so much better! There are also elements that remind of Kubrick’s The Shining, which arrived a year later, again a far better film – the father figure losing his marbles, the axe, trapped in the bathroom – but it’s unlikely that it cribbed from The Amityville Horror given that it’s sourced from Stephen King’s 1977 book of the same name. See The Amityville Horror and marvel at the awfulness of it all, it’s bad enough to be fun and there’s so much fun to be had in ripping it apart, and there really is so much to tear apart. A fun watch for all the wrong reasons.