Director: Stuart Rosenberg | Run time: 115 mins | Second Sight | On sale 26th June
The Amityville Horror tells the story of George and Kathy Lutz who believe they have found the perfect family home on the coast of Long Island. But the house has a shocking history and within its walls a demonic presence lies in wait that will turn the Lutz’s lives into a living nightmare. Their only hope is to get out before it’s too late!
Many reading this will have heard about The Amityville Horror. Not only the film but the book and ‘real life events’ that inspired it. In its many incarnations over the last four decades ‘the Horror’ still has a lot of appeal for people, publishers and movie studios.
It is in some ways a classic haunted house yarn with a then modern and partially factual twist added to it. One November night in 1974, troubled youth Ronald DeFeo Jr shot dead his family in their house in Amityville, Long Island, New York. His father, mother, two brothers and two sisters were in their beds at the time of their murders. His reasons why he carried out the killings have changed several times in the years since (he originally claimed it was gang related). At one point he claimed he heard voices telling him to do it. Whatever the reason, six people were murdered by him and he has been in jail ever since.
But, in 1975, a family moved into the house where these crimes took place. That family was the Lutz’. They didn’t stay long, as they fled the house after several weeks following paranormal incidents that would increase in nature and terror for the family. Their account of what happened was turned into a book by author Jay Anson, which became a worldwide hit upon release in 1977. Never mind the doubts over the credibility of what the Lutz’ claimed happened to them, the public ate it up. As is the case with a hit book, Hollywood wanted in.
Which brings us nicely to this, the movie itself. Upon its initial release in 1979 The Amityville Horror shocked many and fascinated an awful lot more. It did come at a time when mainstream Hollywood began exploring possession, demons and ‘plausible horror’ in everyday settings that were either based on fact, ‘manipulated fact’ or could plausibly happen even if fabricated. Hitting a nerve, these features did big money or were well praised: The Exorcist (1974), The Omen (1976) and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) to name a few. Amityville is no different, although some aspects don’t hold up as well as its contemporaries.
The feature goes for what is scary back then. For an audience still discovering the power of these ‘based on true events’ horror flicks back in the late seventies this would have been terrifying. In 2017 this is passable at worst, entertaining at best. It does manage to create some tension and dread but does not deliver the big scares that the same material would have gotten in 1979. The decades since will have made many viewers jaded, ‘spoiled’ by movies that have pushed the envelope further.
The two main stars are James Brolin and Margot Kidder. They handle much of the screen time as the married couple, plus their kids, that have moved into 112 Ocean Avenue. Kidder will be best known for her role as Louis Lane in the Superman franchise of the seventies/eighties, her performance as Kathy Lutz showing she can convincingly play a character outside of a newspaper reporter. Brolin is a legendary actor that has had numerous iconic roles over the decades, here his ‘slow turn’ into a possible killer involves him looking like he needs a good wash. Rod Steiger seems determined to make each scene he is in more over the top than the last, but it is fun.
A big asset for this movie is the house. The iconic, often eerie, windows on one end of the house are shot in a way that makes it appear as if the house is somehow glaring at the viewer. It would be a key aspect of the promotional material for this and the various sequels in the decades since. The house used here is not the actual house the murders happened in.
The release comes with various extras, the most noteworthy being…
Brolin Thunder (16 mins) – This is a new interview with James Brolin (who else?). He gives a brief history of his career up until Amityville before discussing the main feature in question. He first heard of the story when his agent told him to read the book, Brolin says his underpants (yes) helped him make his mind up to do the film some time later while reading it. Other topics covered are Rosenberg, the Lutz family after leaving Ocean Avenue and his brother being his stunt double.
Child’s Play (16 mins) – Meeno Peluce, Matt in the film, recounts being in a horror as a child. He never found it scary, just fun. He makes note of the house having an intimidating feel despite it not being the actual house where the ‘events’ took place. He seems very pleased that he did his own stunts during the shoot. Peluce talks about the friendships he had with his on-screen siblings, too.
My Amityville Horror (2012, 85 mins) – As an extra this is interesting. It is a full length documentary made by Daniel Lutz, one of the children who were in that house with his family when the supernatural shit hit the fan. Daniel is of course a grown man now and speaks throughout passionately about what happened to him in the house, his relationship with George Lutz, his life afterwards and more. However, the narrative is disjointed, Lutz seems easily angered and some of what he says doesn’t quite ring true.
The steelbook also comes with reproduction lobby cards.
The original 1979 film gave way to a whole host of sequels, none would match the success of Rosenberg’s work. The first was a prequel, Amityville II: The Possession (1982), that tried to show the killings of the DeFeo family and some jargon about the house being built on some old burial ground (this reviewer loves this film despite it’s many flaws). Amityville 3-D (1983) followed in, yup, 3D. This entry marked the end of the sequels being released to cinemas, with Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989) onward being released either on VHS/DVD or as television movies. A woeful remake was released in 2005.