In its day, “The Amityville Horror” was the highest grossing independent film ever, and with good reason. It’s one of those films (like “Jaws” and the original “Haunting”) where less is more when talking about special effects. Yes, it does contain a lot of information, but the pacing is slow enough that it never seems to be too much at the time (the film is told sequentially, over a period of a week or so).
By now, nearly everyone is familiar with the plot: George and Kathy Lutz move into their dream home on Long Island. The price is unexpectedly cheap, but that might have something to do with the fact that a young man previously murdered his entire family in cold blood there (the only part of the tale that’s true).
The murders are attributed to evil spirits within the house and, needless to say, they’re not too happy to see the Lutz’s moving in. In fact, they let them know in no uncertain terms: Doors rip off the hinges, flies begin to accumulate in grotesque numbers, the stair railing can’t stay together – it’s a homeowner’s worst nightmare. For a family with very little money, they stay much longer than I would have. A “fixer upper” is one thing, but this is just ridiculous.
Some things don’t really work any more (the pig eyes, for example, that used to scare the crap out of me) but my main problem with the film is the overreacting of all involved to the house’s antics. Other than that, “The Amityville Horror” has aged fairly well and still has an underlying feeling of dread beneath it all that is still effective.
It has been said that “The Amityville Horror” shares similarities with “The Shining”, “Pet Cemetery”, and “Poltergeist”, and this just shows how influential it is, having come before those films. It builds slowly but consistently to a strong, tense conclusion and leaves the viewer with a sense of unease long after the credits have rolled. It remains a classic horror film, and I re-watch this once a year or so.
Pros: Creepy without being gory. Brolin and Kidder are excellent…
Cons: …while Steiger remains as hammy as ever. Moves slowly compared to the newer version.
Review Rating: 3 out of 5 dogs covered in…well, I hope that’s mud.
“The Amityville Horror” (1979)
117 Minutes; USA
Rated R for tense scenes and adult situations.
James Brolin (George Lutz)
Margot Kidder (Kathy Lutz)
Rod Steiger (Father Delaney)
Don Stroud (Father Bolen)
Murray Hamilton (Father Ryan)
John Larch (Father Nuncio)
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
Written by: Sandor Stern, based on the book by Jay Anson
Viewing Format: VHS