Review: The Amityville Horror (1979)

“Houses don’t have memories.”

James Brolin and Margot Kidder

“For God’s Sake, Get Out!”

The tagline is legendary…well to me at least. It’s larger than the film’s title on the poster and echoes the sentiment of many people in the late seventies when they read about what happened to George and Kathy Lutz in Amityville. “Get Out” they did, and kicked off a firestorm.

I found this movie at a time when I was obsessed with horror in all its many shapes and forms. More specifically ghosts and haunted houses. I devoured anything and everything I could find with a big creepy house on the cover, and there was no house scarier to me as a young teen in the 1980s than the Dutch Colonial on Ocean Avenue.

The film had been out for five or six years by the time I saw it. I found out it was being featured on our local TV station’s “Friday Night Frights” show and quickly made plans to spend the weekend at a friend’s house so we could watch it. His parents had a big screen television the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, a rare thing in the early 80s, and it was the next best thing to the movie theater. We shut off the lights, surrounded ourselves with junk food and settled in. I was freaking terrified. Bleeding walls! Flies! Demonic pigs! And it was all TRUE!

I loved the movie so much that when it aired again on one of the cable movie networks I brought a portable cassette recorder so I could capture some of my favorite parts, mostly the theme song. We didn’t have a VCR in my house at the time so recording the movie was not an option. Audio was the next best thing. This led to a very amusing situation when we played some of it back and hear a strange voice on the tape telling us to “Run!”. We spent a good half hour convinced we had captured a ghost on tape, that by merely watching the movie we had invited the demons into my friends house! Then we remembered it had been us whispering about making a fast run to the bathroom. I prefer the possessed tape recorder story better.

So let’s get to the film. For starters it has one of the best musical scores of any film in history. I’ve read that Lalo Schifrin’s music was originally written for 1973’s The Exorcist but was rejected. I don’t know which melodies he reused but the movie is all the better for it. I spent literal decades looking for an original copy of it on vinyl and finally wound up getting one on EBay just a few short years ago. Not too long ago Quartet Records released a limited edition reissue of the soundtrack with a second disc containing the few remaining stereo tracks as well as some stuff not on the original release, including the disco hit “Amityville Frenzy”.

Teenage me makes an Amityville movie….

Let’s be honest. There is not a lot in this movie that is truly scary to modern audiences. Torture porn movies like Saw and Hostel have desensitized us to violence to such a degree that watching the murder of the DeFeo family is no more shocking than an episode of “Forensic Files”. The “haunting” plays out in a series of mostly benign events that most people would shrug off. George Lutz (James Brolin) and his wife Kathy (Margot Kidder) mostly spend their time unpacking and chasing odd smells and flies around the house. The heating system doesn’t work very well and it George is very cranky out it. The only real sign that something is VERY wrong at 112 Ocean Avenue happens when Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) is alone. He tries to warn them by phone, then attempts to come over and when that doesn’t work he performs the most epic blessing of all time from his church, and ends up blind. Why he didn’t just send them a post card is beyond me, but perhaps the mail service was slow in the seventies.

Don’t misunderstand my joking about the sometimes silly script. I love this film dearly. I love Margot Kidder’s wacky school girl wardrobe and her erotic ballet. I love Aunt Helena puking so much that I replay it over and over again sometimes and there was a brief time when her ridiculous vomiting was my ringtone.

I love Brolin’s epic hair and his penchant for wandering around at night with no pants. I love the sassy priests at the Diocese who believe in God and the Devil but don’t believe the Devil might be up to something. I love that all of the frightening events happen on a Thursday or a Friday and that George steals library books when they are literally free.

I watch enough ghost shows on Discovery+ to know that every haunting starts out with things you can write off as shitty plumbing or a bad draft from the basement and then BOOM the walls are bleeding and a demonic pig is chasing you out of the house.

The original movie poster I got as a birthday gift from my husband.

Let’s talk about the bleeding walls. There are a few scenes and shots in this movie that live in my mind rent free. Jodie the Pig in the window, Carolyn screaming about the well in the basement, and the bleeding walls. There is something about that image that is still so frightening to me. The house, in the film at least, is built over a burial ground and the blood of the insane and tortured Indians is literally oozing from the walls! This marks the beginning of their escape from the house and makes up for any silliness that came before it.

George and Kathy drag the kids out of the house as the demon emerges from the sewing room and howls at them. In the script this demon was seen on screen, but for reasons I will NEVER understand all we get in the final cut is George and Kathy reacting to it then noping right down the stairs and out a window because demons like to lock doors. They almost get away and then Amy reminds everyone they have a dog named Harry.

Poor Harry. After the first day in the house when the kids play frisbee with him the yard Harry spends the rest of the film tied up on the back porch. It’s November, on Long Island, and they can’t let the dog into the damn kitchen at night? He’s the goodest boy though and literally saves George from the Devil Goo in the well. Can someone rehome this poor animal please? Get Sarah McLachlan on the phone.

The Amityville Horror is very much a movie of its time. The decades since the book and film were a phenomenon the story has for the most part been disproven, or at least debunked to the point that if something happened to the Lutz’s in that house it no longer matters. George and Kathy are gone, and the kids who were talking about it seem to be quiet again. As for me I will watch anything to do with this legend and that house. I used to dream about winning the lottery and funding a remake that used both the Anson book and the many interviews with the Lutzs to tell the definitive version of the story. I would build an exact replica of the house on a sound stage and really do it right. But I haven’t won the lottery…yet…and there is the pesky issue of copyrights and so forth. But it’s nice to think about and maybe someday I’ll write a screenplay just to see what I can do with it.

I had high hopes that James Wan would take a stab at it when he started The Conjuring series, and he did…sort of…but it only left me wanting more. I understand why he didn’t. There are like forty movies in this franchise at this point, and most of them lost the plot years ago.

I’ve let my little Amityville blog languish for too long. This review, which I should have done in the beginning, marks a new start. I’m going to make my way through all of the films I can legally find. Next up will be Amityville: The Possesion.

I sometimes get laughs when I name this film as my favorite horror movie but some people, usually folks around my age (I’ll be 51 next month), they get it. Everyone has that movie, the one that first kept them up and night and had them sleeping with the lights on. The one that had them racing to school to tell their friends about it. The Amityville Horror was that movie for me, and while houses don’t have memories I sure do and it will forever be a fond one.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Amityville Horror (1979)

  1. thedevilsdvdbin

    Great review! Awesome site. I’m twenty years younger and love this movie too. I recently re-read the book (actually, I don’t think I ever finished it the first time) and appreciate how it gives new context to little things that aren’t fully explained in the movie. Like, I never realized the marching band music George hears downstairs was supposed to be coming from the house (I just thought it was part of the score), or that the statue actually came to life and bit him. Or that they see a demon.

    Reply
    1. Neal Post author

      Thanks! Yeah that marching band scene is odd. It’s been a while since I read it but my memory was that George just heard a lot of noise coming from down there, as loud as a “marching band” but I could be wrong about that. Either way they didn’t do a good job explaining why the furniture was moved around. I’m about to reread the novel soon. Glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply

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