The Amityville Horror (1979) Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2 release of The Amityville Horror.

The infamous supernatural chiller that was the basis of an elaborate hoax and a best-selling novel. Starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, and directed by Stuart Rosenberg. The DVD is bare-bones but is available in MGM’s budget range.

The Amityville Horror, an average scary movie produced in 1979, is more interesting when viewed as a factor in the hoax phenomenon that has since effectively served films such as The Blair Witch Project. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, Voyage Of The Damned) and starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger, the film was an intensely manipulative effort aimed at cranking out a thriller for the audience without equalling the substance of The Exorcist or The Omen.

“For God’s Sake, Get Out!”. Supposedly based on a true story, The Amityville Horror’s origins lie in a best-selling novel by Jay Anson. The novel was based on the bizarre occurrences that struck the Amityville community in the mid-seventies. At 3.15, November 13th 1974, a man in his early twenties named Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings during a ferocious thunderstorm in his house at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville. One year later, a young married couple, George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) buy the infamous house, knowing that they could never afford a house in normal circumstances and despite the fact that Kathy is severely spooked by the house’s history. The couple moves in with Kathy’s three children from a previous relationship, and start to build a worthy home with the large house they have purchased. Soon enough, strange events start to occur in the house. Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) visits the house and is instantly repelled by the evil sense that strikes him, and he instinctively knows that the house is haunted. Delaney asks the church to help him, but the higher authorities of the religion disbelieve his shocking claims. To make matters worse, George is starting to act very strange indeed. He’s refusing to turn up for his job, is frequently freezing cold and has a manic obsession for sharpening his tool axe. Not to mention the fact that he has deviated from a calm family man into an aggressive savage. Also, this strange behaviour tends to commence at exactly 3.15am every night. Kathy has also started to have disturbing nightmares, in which she dreams George has killed off the whole family. Has the curse of the Amityville horror been inflicted on the Lutzes?

That’s the film’s plot out of the way. What’s more interesting about The Amityville Horror is the alleged hoax that was constructed behind the scenes. The tale of the Amityville Horror was supposed to be a defence-type excuse for Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. whilst undergoing trial for the murders, until slick enterprising turned the case into a tourist attraction, best-selling book and high grossing film. Apparently, the Lutz family were part of the hoax process, moving into the house solely so they could move out again, claiming it to be haunted, and thus sell their story to an author and make a packet living off the rumours. The Lutzes’ story has grown to be far more appealing than that of the actual film. Soon after leaving the ‘haunted house’, the Lutzes met author Jay Anson, who claimed that their accounts amounted to “one hell of a ghost story.” The book was falsely sold under the tagline of ‘a true story’, and the 112 Ocean Avenue House has since served to be a freakish tourist attraction to horror fans and sick killer-obsessives. For a fantastic insight into the hoax of the Amityville story, check out the Amityville Murders website.

The film of The Amityville Horror is well directed by Stuart Rosenberg. He employs every cinematic horror trick in the book (i.e. scary sequences that are just dreams, red herrings, dramatic lighting) and makes the film a passable effort despite the relatively weak plot that doesn’t actually amount to much. With regards to the film’s ending, The Amityville Horror is anticlimactic and dull, with the added bonus of the audience feeling cheated as well, since the film leads up to a frenetic climax that never materialises. Jay Anson’s novel was gripping in a mainstream sort of way, but the screenplay adaptation by Sandor Stern relies too heavily on exploiting the lightweight religious aspects of the film. This is the main reason why Rod Steiger’s character Father Delaney is given more emphasis in the film, which is a sort of back-stabbing swipe at The Exorcist’s reliance on strong religious characters. Indeed, the film employs an eerie Lalo Schifrin score that was actually a reject from Friedkin’s masterpiece. Steiger gives all he can to the performance, and you cannot accuse him of not taking proceedings seriously. Margot Kidder is often under-rated in the roles she has been given, particularly in the decade of the seventies, and she is fine as Kathy Lutz, the token ‘screaming woman’ of this particular horror film. James Brolin is wooden as usual, and is more suited to television than major motion pictures. It’s almost as if Kris Kristofferson or Kurt Russell weren’t available. On a brief trivia note, the film also stars Murray Hamilton, most famous for playing Mayor Larry Vaughn in Jaws, the man who refused to believe ‘Amity Island’ was terrorised by a shark. In The Amityville Horror, he plays Father Ryan, who refuses to believe 112 Ocean Avenue is haunted!

The Amityville Horror is certainly infamous enough to warrant a viewing from any horror film connoisseur, and is more enjoyable in hindsight due to the hoax that surround the publicity of the original novel.

Academy Awards 1979

Academy Award Nominations 1979
Best Original Score – Lalo Schifrin

As opposed to the terrible Region 1 edition, which manages to incorrectly frame both the fullscreen unmatted version and the non-anamorphic widescreen version, the Region 2 edition is correctly framed at 1.85:1, and is given a very good anamorphic transfer. The picture suffers from brief shimmers on occasions, as well as digital artefacts occurring in some of the darker scenes, but on the whole the transfer is very good.

Presented in one track mono, the sound mix for the film is clear and audible, if recorded quite low in terms of volume. Because of the frequent haunting overtones of the film, and heavy emphasis on atmospheric sound effects, there is a case for the film benefiting from a 5.1 remix. Even so, the mono mix serves the film well.

Menu: Considering the scary elements of the film, the static and silent menu is uninspired and does not fulfill its potential.

Packaging: The usual MGM budget range; maintaining the same template and amaray packaging, with the chapter listings on the reverse of the inlay and visible due to the transparent casing.


Original Theatrical Trailer: A tense trailer that exploits the purported ‘true’ aspects of the film and contains the usual abundance of screams.

The film spawned several inferior sequels that have helped to tarnish the original even more than the surrounding rumours circling the production. Despite this, The Amityville Horror is a watchable enough supernatural chiller, and is available at a cheap price due to being part of MGM’s budget range.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Jan 08, 2002

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