An all-American couple – George (James Brolin) and Kathy (Margot Kidder) Lutz – move with their young family into a dream house in the small town of Amityville, in the wilds of New York’s Long Island. They dismiss the story of the house’s notorious past where a young man gruesomely murdered his family the previous year. The house is going dirt cheap and, as they’re broke, they can’t really afford to pick and choose. They haven’t settled in long however before the past comes back to haunt them with horrific results for the whole family.
The Amityville Horror is one of those films which is famous for being famous. The kind which everyone – whether they’ve seen it or not – has an opinion on. In the years following it initial release in 1979, it gathered controversy like other films gather awards. Most of the notoriety surrounding it had more to do with the real-life events on which it was apparently based, and whether or not these were true or simply part of a money making scam by the family who had lived in the house on New York’s Long Island. However, no matter what the real facts were, there was no denying that the film based on the book was an atmospheric piece of filmmaking. Or at least so it appeared at the time. Watching it now though, you may not find it quite as effective.
Looking back at some notorious films, it is often hard to fathom what all the fuss was about. Those from the 1930s – in particular horror films – which terrified audiences and which you wouldn’t have seen if you were below eighteen, will now happily be shown to children of all ages without any such restrictions. Does this mean that audiences then were more susceptible, or that those now have become desensitised or are simply used to more sophisticated fare?
The same could be said for The Amityville Horror. Now, according to those involved, the producers of the film never aimed to make a blood and guts, in-your-face, type horror. All this film was intended to be was a good old fashioned, haunted house film, and as such it works on many levels. There is plenty of spooky house atmosphere in the setting: the locations – though on the same Eastern Seaboard of America – were nowhere near the original house in Amityville, but did provide ample opportunity for things to go bump in the night, as well as the day. You then have plenty of Catholic church rigmarole added which is always good to emphasise whatever evil comes into play during the proceedings.
Despite all this however the film, overall, fails to raise little more than a few made-for-TV movie chills. The fact is everything unfolds at such a pedestrian pace, that by the time the real action kicks in – during the final third of the film – the viewer is likely to feel rather nonplussed as to the story’s outcome, or the fate of its protagonists. Brolin puts in a more than adequate performance as the increasingly moody George, though by the end he is so annoying that you’d be hard put to feel any real sympathy for him or his predicament. Kidder – as his wife Kathy – has little to do other than run around looking increasingly fraught and agitated. Which is really all there is by way of scares or intensity of performance. The only other real star is Rod Steiger as a family priest, who has to put up with the much of the force of the evil manifestations. This again though falls well short of any potential horror as the satanic forces at play are, for the majority of the time, merely used to chase him away from the house.
Ultimately The Amityville Horror is not a bad little frightener if you like your scares lightly chilled. If you look for them more hard core however, you’d probably be better off reading the original novel which apparently provides a much more unsettling experience.
The Amityville Horror was released on the 26th June, 2017, by Second Sight, in Limited Edition Steelbook. Extras include interviews with cast members James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Meeno Peluce, original trailer, TV spot and radio spots, postcard reproductions of lobby cards and subtitles for the hard of hearing amongst a host of other bonus features.
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writer: Sandor Stern (screenplay), Jay Anson (novel)
Stars: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud
Runtime: 118 mins