The Amityville Horror (1979) Movie Review

I'm a sucker for both haunted house movies and "true horror" stories, but as I was a mere eight years old when the original Amityville Horror was released, it had joined the kind of horror legendry of The Exorcist, Halloween, and Friday the 13th, all from its general era.

Amityville is based on the famous book of the same name -- a story which is shrouded in mystery and passed off as true. Here's what really happened: In 1974, the DeFeo family living at 112 Ocean Avenue, in Amityville, New York, were shot and killed while sleeping in their beds. The culprit was the son, who is still in prison for murdering six members of his family. The house was eventually sold, and in 1977 the Lutz family moved in. 28 days later, they fled the house in fear for their lives.

What happened during those 28 days is the subject of both the film and intense debate. Positing the house as inhabited by demons, built on an Indian burial ground, and haunted by the spirit of Ronald DeFeo Jr. (who wasn't -- and isn't -- dead), the Amityville Horror house is one hotbed of supernatural activity. The horrors of the title include garden variety haunting stuff -- black goo in the toilets, flies in one of the rooms, are door that blows off its hinges. But some of the other antics are severe, namely the psychosis of patriarch George (James Brolin, often shirtless), a ghostly pig with glowing eyes (uh huh), and a chamber to hell that's almost casually discovered in the basement. And yet the Lutzes still don't leave! A side story involves mom Kathy (Margot Kidder) and her deep Catholicism. When the local father (Rod Steiger, overacting superbly) comes for a blessing, he ends up going insane.

Ultimately, the tale of the Lutzes has come under serious suspicion. Not only have subsequent residents had no problem with ghost pigs, one of the Lutzes allegedly confessed it was all a hoax to make money. It worked. The DeFeo murders were real, and based on those horrors and the power of suggestion, millions of books and movie tickets have been sold.

Never mind the facts, how's the horror? Well, for starters, it's kinda lame. The horror is cheesy in that 1970s way: Stuart Rosenberg's (Brubaker) direction is choppy and favors cats leaping out of the darkness. But worst of all is the gore, of which there really isn't any. Aside from the opening scene that explains the DeFeo murders, this is that rare horror film that has a body count of zero.

Reinvented in the zeroes as a "classic," The Amityville Horror arrives as part of a box set (the first three films are included, plus a DVD of extra documentaries). The original film gets the biggest treatment, including current-day interviews with Brolin and Kidder, commentary by a parapsychologist, and other archival materials.


Comments

The Amityville Horror (1979) Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 1979

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