The Amityville Horror (1979)
the amityville horror | stuart rosenberg | sandor stern | james brolin | margot kidder | rod steiger | united states | haunted | haunted house | demon | don stroud | murray hamilton | john larch | natasha ryan | helen shaver | based on | true story | novel | jay anson
Film: The Amityville Horror
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writer: Sandor Stern
Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger
This film was one I have a lot of history with. My mother showed me this as a child and I’m not going to lie, it terrified me. My sister and she actually read the book this is based on. I’ve done quite a bit of research into this incident myself. To get into this, the synopsis is newlyweds move into a large house where a mass murder was committed, and experience strange manifestations which drive them away.
It then begins with a rainy night. We are outside of a large house. We see flashes of lights in the windows. There is a delay between them. It turns out that the eldest son is going room to room, assassinating his family with a gun. A detective, Sgt. Gionfriddo (Val Avery) comes to investigate and doesn’t understand why he did it and how no one heard him as he did.
We then shift to one year later. A couple comes to check out the house. They are just recently married. We have George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder). It has enough space for them, but it is at the upper-end of their budget. Kathy has three children from a previous marriage, two boys Greg (K.C. Martel) and Matt (Meeno Peluce). She also has a daughter Amy (Natasha Ryan). They end up getting the house and start to unpack their things as one big happy family.
From that first day we see there’s something wrong with this house. The children are outside playing with their dog while George and Kathy are unpacking. They decide to take a break and go outside. When they do, a priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) comes to bless the house. He finds they’re outside and decides to go ahead with his task. He goes into a room and there are flies on the window. He is stopped as it gets hotter and hotter in the room, there is a horrible smell, more flies appear even though it is out of season for them and finally a voice tells him to get out. He does just that. Before he gets away though, he vomits.
More and more weird things happen in this house. Any time Kathy and Father Delaney try to talk on the phone, the connection goes bad. George while in the house is always cold. Amy begins to have an imaginary friend that might not be so imaginary by the name of Jody. Things turn up missing and other mysterious things happen at 3:15 am. Even Kathy’s Aunt Helena, who is a nun, can’t stay long in the house.
Things get even weirder when the basement door and the front door are blown off their hinges by something. Sgt. Gionfriddo comes to check it out and is shocked when he sees George. He states that he looks just like the boy that killed his family that lived in the house. George hasn’t been feeling well and doesn’t take kindly to the statement. They can’t explain what happened and Sgt. Gionfriddo watches the house. With things getting worse and worse, can the family stop what is happening before it is too late?
I outlined my feelings on this one from when I first saw it. I watched it quite a few times growing up and now twice with a more critical eye. Watching it now, I realize that it still had some parts that scared me, but not as bad. With that said though, it still has the potential, even if you have seen it before.
Something I didn’t want to do with this review was go through some of the true story behind this and how it actually might be a hoax. I do think this film is hampered a bit that it is based off what Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated. Jay Anson wrote a book on the events and there is some talk that he was in on it with George, who might not be as nice a guy as this film portrays.
With that out of the way though, I did want to touch on the family dynamic we have here. Kathy I believe is divorced. It is interesting that she is Catholic. She has her three children from a previous marriage. In the beginning, the film does well at showing George is new to this, but he really wants to be a father to these children. I think it is important to establish this, because it really doesn’t take long for him to start descending into madness. To go even farther, they can’t just leave. They have all of their money tied up in the house and I think that adds a scary element as well. They are essentially trapped with the way that we operate in society.
An issue I did have with this film is that I think it is jumbled a bit. We get introduced to Father Delaney early on and I feel like the film was going to give us The Exorcist, where this priest would be in the forefront to help. He never actually meets the characters in the film itself. It does seem that Kathy has known him for sometime though. We then get Father Delaney with his run-ins with the church, but that doesn’t go anywhere. Later in the film, Carolyn (Helen Shaver), who is a dating George’s business partner Jeff (Michael Sacks), introduces us back-story to possible explain the haunting, but that doesn’t go anywhere either. It feels like this film wanted to do more, but it just introduced things and doesn’t flesh them out.
To move next into the pacing of the film, which I think, is average. It starts off well. We get introduced to minor elements of the haunting and it does progress into something more. I think the film though is too long and this goes back to elements that are introduced, but do not go anywhere. I think some of these subplots could be cut out and it would tighten up the film. I do think that the ending is fine and there are some really creepy elements in the film.
Next to the acting, I would say Brolin is great in the film as well as Kidder. They really do seem like a newly married couple that are still feeling each other out and trying to build a new life together that isn’t the norm for the time. Steiger is fine in the film, but I just don’t think his character is really needed. The same goes for Don Stroud and the rest of the priests. The children are fine and there is a solid scene with the babysitter, Jackie (Amy Wright). I also really liked Shaver even though she had such a small part. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
The film doesn’t feature a lot of effects, which I am glad for. A lot of this was the time period and they really didn’t have the technology to do too much. There is some creepy aspects with the eyes of Jody and we actually see an incarnation of it at the end. Both I thought were fine. The rest of them are practical with doing things in the house. I think for what they did, they’re good.
The last thing to cover before wrapping up is the soundtrack, which is one of the strongest parts of this film. The main theme is terrifying. There is something with the little kids that really made me feel uneasy. I think the rest of the selections definitely set the mood for the scenes and it works. This would be a score I would seek out to listen to while writing.
I would recommend giving this film a viewing. It is a classic haunted house film that is based on what is considered a true story. It really is an iconic film and I would say it needs to be viewed at least once. It is not the best haunted house film out there, but definitely is an important film to the genre. There is some really good acting, a decent story and an overwhelming creepy feeling. The soundtrack helps here. It is just plagued by some pacing issues and story ideas that don’t go anywhere. Regardless, this one sticks with you a little bit after watching it. If you like horror films, I would say that this one is a must see for the significance of it.
My Rating: 8 out of 10