Newlyweds, George (James Brolin, Capricorn One) and Kathy (Margot Kidder, Superman: The Movie) Lutz, move into a Long Island, NY, house with a history of violence, and begin to experience a series of inexplicable events. Meanwhile, a catholic priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger, On the Waterfront), discovers that the house is indeed possessed by an evil force and tries to help the Lutz family.
Reaction & Thoughts:
The enormous success of The Amityville Horror at the box office can be attributed to a number of factors which include babyboomers’ anxiety about their financial future; what could be scarier than using all your life’s savings to buy a lemon? The ugliest ghoul in the film is the unscrupulous realtor who sells a demonic house to unsuspecting hard-working folks — it’s the American Dream gone topsy-turvy!
Seriously, I’ve read Jay Anson’s (allegedly) true account of what occurred in the infamous Long Island house and I think only a miniseries could have done justice to the book; many interesting details needed to be compressed or completely exercised in order to create an entertaining 2-hour theatrical experience.
However, I think writer Sandor Stern (Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole and The Strange and Deadly Occurrence) did a fine job condensing the book (whether you believe George Lutz or not the book is ideally suited to be read in one sitting — it kept me up all night!). Yes, the production lacks a much-needed touch of “art,” but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I love the fervent way in which Rod Steiger “attacks” the role of the clergyman fighting an evil entity. While Max Von Sydow’s famous Father Merrin is an exercise in restraint, Steiger goes for the big effects. It does work; Steiger’s scenes are by far the most interesting aspect of the film. The priest argues that his secular education makes him a great demonslayer, an argument that could be considered controversial nowadays.
James Brolin also gives a deliciously mannered performance (who the hell he thinks he is, Rod Steiger?), but Margot Kidder’s realistic work as Brolin’s wife keeps the (fantastic) story grounded in reality. The fine cast also includes Murray Hamilton (Jaws), Don Stroud (Django Unchained), Michael Sacks (Slaughterhouse-Five), Irene Dailey (No Way to Treat a Lady) and Helen Shaver (The Believers).
Best of all is Lalo Schifrin’s (Bullit and Cool Hand Luke) superb, Oscar-nominated music score. It’s such a powerful soundtrack! The main theme is chilling and unnerving. The atmospheric camera work of Oscar-winner Fred J. Koenekamp (Patton and The Towering Inferno) is good too — those long, slow-paced shots of the house were creepy!
Reaction & Thoughts:
The Amityville Horror is spooky, and lots of fun. Not for CGI-obsessed viewers, though. The film spawned many sequels and imitators. Color, 117 minutes, Rated R.
Followed by Amityville II: The Possession (1982)