To quote the late great Roger Ebert: “What Jesus was to the 1950s movie epic, the devil is to the 1970s.” Another post-Exorcist Satan movie, The Amityville Horror is supposedly based on a true story. You know, like Braveheart or The Bible.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder play a couple with great hair and awful children, who move into a house so scary it actually has a face. But this isn’t just any old house with a face; this is the house where a man murdered his whole family a year before. But on the plus side, the price is reduced. Swings and roundabouts.
The ensuing “horror” is based on the account of George and Kathy Lutz, who moved into such a house and claimed to experience all manner of boring phenomena. Their story shows a real paucity of imagination, claiming to have witnessed slamming doors, rocking chairs and moving ornaments. While this may be mundane enough to trick the gullible, it doesn’t make for particularly scary viewing.
One character is attacked by a swarm of flies; not exactly a terrifying idea. Unless you consider flies dangerous predators, so maybe if you’re plant sap. That’s the main problem with The Amityville Horror; it’s aimed squarely at plant sap.
It’s two hours of haunted house clichés; stuff moves, dogs bark, we snooze. Perhaps these devices didn’t feel quite so hackneyed back in 1979, but it’s as cynical and uninspired as the slew of haunted house movies that followed.
The kid starts talking to an imaginary friend, the dad goes crazy with an axe and the walls bleed; all executed infinitely better in Stanley Kubrick’s seminal The Shining, released less than a year later. In fact, Stephen King’s classic was published months before Jay Anson’s novelisation of the Lutz account; the book at the centre of much controversy and legal debate.
But what’s to debate? They claim to have seen a giant pig-demon with glowing red eyes. Call me sceptical, but that would never happen. Everyone knows giant pig-demons have green eyes. In any case, the film doesn’t work; the score is comprised of sub-Psycho stabbing strings, the screenplay is preposterous and the performances are as wooden as the bannisters. The only person to display any interest in the drama is Rod Steiger as Christopher Biggins as Father Delaney; the shoutiest clergyman since the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells from Blackadder.
Spawning scores of sequels, countless imitations and the obligatory Michael Bay remake, The Amityville Horror is a tentpole haunted house movie. But it supports a flimsy framework of films, which rest on tired tricks, familiar formulae and the absurd notion that any of this stuff actually happened. The movie has no plot, characters or conclusion; it just leaves us with loads of questions.
Questions like: Given that it can cause a car crash on the main road, how far does this house’s jurisdiction extend? If you actually expect audiences to believe this, how stupid do you think people are? At what point would you decide it’s probably best to leave the house? When it shouts “GET OUT” at you? Or when the toilet starts spewing black bile? Mind you, we’ve all been there. Just don’t invite George and Kathy Lutz over for dinner; you’ll never get rid of them.