The Amityville Horror (1979) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for disturbing images, violence, sexuality and language
Running Time: 117 min.
Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton, John Larch, Natasha Ryan, K.C. Martel, Meeno Peluce, Michael Sacks, Helen Shaver, Amy Wright, Val Avery
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Screenplay: Sandor Stern (based on the novel, "The Amityville Horror - A True Story", by Jay Anson)
Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Amityville Horror is its staying power, spawning at least a prequel and seven spin-offs, and a remake in 2005. The reason why this is surprising is that this original 1979 film is a fairly bad movie. Yet, for some reason, it does creep a certain segment of the audience out, and these people keep flocking back for more bad haunted house action, regardless of how dreary each succeeding sequel would become.
It is based on a popular novel by Jay Anson with a little longer title, "The Amityville Horror - A True Story". The true story is, at this point, well known to be fictitious, but it did give the public quite a rise for a while. In the story, a young man ends up shooting his parents and sibling while they slept in the middle of the night for reasons even he couldn't begin to explain. The horrific events shocked the small town, but the house was still deemed worthy for sale. Enter the Lutz family, who buy the house because it is going for a relatively cheaper rate than if it didn't have the malevolent stigma, but they can't pass up the price. However, weird things start happening, starting with the fact that the preacher (Rod Steiger, Love and Bullets) who comes to bless the house is scared out of his wits, soon after suffering from an unknown ailment he feels has been inflicted by the evil within the house. The Lutz family themselves start exhibiting weird behavior themselves, with the father, George (James Brolin, Westworld), always feeling cold, and having little motivation to do anything more than chop wood for the fire. Doors and windows open and close, the daughter starts talking to an imaginary (?) friend, and the dog starts sniffing around the cellar trying to dig up something only he knows is there.
Although the creep factor is high, the crap factor is even higher, in this ridiculously overblown and underdeveloped attempt at an Exorcist-style horror film. While you can't really expect a haunted house flick to be logical or realistic, it's never really clear what the parameters are as far as the powers that be within the house. Sometimes the house lets its intentions be known to a person right away, and others, not for a long time. For some reason, the house is also able to haunt people that aren't even on the premises, such as when they are driving in a car miles away, or a far away church, or when they are on the phone with someone from the house.
The Amityville Horror is directed by Stuart Rosenberg, who can be good, depending on the material, having helmed such classics as Cool Hand Luke, Brubaker, and The Pope of Greenwich Village. However, he seems quite befuddled as to what to do within the atmospheric horror genre, never really building solid suspense, and offering nothing more than to throw more unpleasant images at us whenever the film starts losing momentum, which is quite often. Although the film does contain a number of thespians that have done fine work in the past, for some reason, all of the performances seem particularly bad in this one.
The Amityville Horror is schlock horror adapted from a misguided book that is only interesting based on the presumption of its truth. Lacking that, all it is is just another attempt at horror of the most cheesy variety, filling a void where The Exorcist ended and The Shining began. From all known sources I've read, all of the rest of the Amityville films are even worse than this one, and if that is true, my advice is to write off this entire film series altogether. The tagline, and one of the lines from the movie, implores famously, "For God's sake, get out!" I can't think of a more fitting phrase to start the film with for any audience sitting in a theater or living room where this overrated, ineptly produced bore is showing.
-- Followed by two theatrical sequels: Amityville II: The Possession (1982) & Amityville 3-D (1983). Also followed by a TV movie, Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989), and several straight-to-video releases: The Amityville Curse (1989), Amityville 1992: It's About Time (1992), Amityville: A New Generation (1993), Amityville: Dollhouse (1996), and The Amityville Haunting (2011). Remade in 2005. Spun off in The Amityville Asylum (2013)
©2005 Vince Leo