Newlyweds George (James Brolin, Capricorn One) and Kathy (Margot Kidder, Superman: The Movie) Lutz move into a house with a history of violence and immediately begin experiencing a series of inexplicable events. Meanwhile, a catholic priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night), discovers that the house is possessed by an evil force and tries to help the Lutz family.
Reaction & Thoughts:
The big success of the chiller The Amityville Horror at the box office can be attributed to a number of factors, which include baby boomers’ 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 haywire!
All kidding aside, The Amityville Horror, based on Jay Anson’s best-selling book (a supposedly true account of what happened to the Lutz family), is a creepy if a bit undercooked haunted house movie. I read the book and I think only a miniseries could have done justice to the book — many events needed to be compressed or completely exercised in order to create an entertaining two-hour theatrical experience.
While this is a case where the book is much better than the movie, I thought writer Sandor Stern (TV movies Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole and The Strange and Deadly Occurrence) did a decent job condensing the book (whether you believe Anson’s book is a work of fiction or not, the book is ideally suited to be read in one sitting — it kept me up all night!). The Amityville Horror isn’t perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The acting in the film ranges from realistic to over-the-top. Rod Steiger doesn’t act, he “attacks” the role of the clergyman fighting an evil entity. It does work. Steiger’s scenes are by far the most interesting aspect of the film. The troubled priest argues that his secular education — he is a trained psychoanalyst — makes him a great demon slayer, an argument that could be considered controversial nowadays.
James Brolin is deliciously mannered too (Holly ham, who the hell Brolin thinks he is, Rod Steiger?), but Margot Kidder’s realistic work as Brolin’s supportive wife keeps the story grounded in reality. The excellent cast also includes Murray Hamilton (Jaws), Don Stroud (The Buddy Holly Story), Michael Sacks (Slaughterhouse-Five), Irene Dailey (Five Easy Pieces) and Helen Shaver (The Believers) as a woman with psychic abilities.
Lalo Schifrin’s (Cool Hand Luke and Voyage of the Damned) superb, Oscar-nominated music score is the best thing about the movie. It’s such a spine-tingling and powerful soundtrack — the main theme is chilling and unnerving. The atmospheric camera work of Oscar-winner Fred J. Koenekamp (The Towering Inferno and Islands in the Stream) is good too — those slow-paced shots of the house are creepy! Some visual effects are a little hokey, but they don’t put a damper on the ghostly festivities.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Admittedly, The Amityville Horror is probably a little too benign for hardcore horror fans — there is hardly any violence in the movie. This isn’t for CGI-obsessed viewers, either. It’s more for fans of old haunted house movies, like the classic The Innocents (1961) and the original The Haunting (1963). The Amityville Horror spawned many, many sequels and imitators. Color, 117 minutes, Rated R.
Followed by Amityville II: The Possession (1982)