Even if you have never seen The Amityville Horror you will have heard of it and even if you think you have never heard of it chances are you will have definitely seen one of the hundreds of horror movies that were hugely inspired by it over the years from House all the way up to The Conjuring.
Brought back to Blu-ray and packed with a ton of extras now is most defiantly the time to revisit the creepy classic directed by Stuart Rosenberg and written by Sandor Stern based on the original book by Jay Anson.
Opening with its spine tingling theme by the legendary Lalo Schifrin we see images of the ominous house cut with the killing of an entire family gunned down by their Dad in the dead of night.
Once the gun shots have stopped and the police have ruled the homicide as closed but mysteriously without motivation the house goes back on the market attracting the attention of George and Kathy Lutz (The Car’s James Brolin and Superman’s Margot Kidder) who are desperate to own a home of their own.
On sale at a huge discount being it’s a death house the Lutz’s move straight in with their three kids all from Kathy’s previous marriage and start to build the idyllic life they always dreamed of. This dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the house starts to exert its evil on the entire family slowly eroding their personalities and sanity in an attempt to claim their souls as it has done so many times before.
The set-up and preceding horror many appear familiar to modern audiences however it must be remembered that The Amityville Horror was one of the first to do it coming out even before The Shinning another claustrophobic horror classic where a building warps the wills of its unsuspecting inhabitants.
With plenty of jump scares along the way it is the slow descent of the unlucky Lutz’s that is most chilling of all embodied in James Brolin’s George who loses all sight of his work, family and self becoming increasingly obsessed with his axe as he is taken over mind body and soul by another far more malicious force.
There are also some great set pieces as well with one of the scariest moments coming when the young daughter who is home alone is told by her eerie new invisible friend to lock the babysitter in the wardrobe. The sheer desperation and fear on the teenagers face as she beats her bloody fists against the door cutting to the sinister indifference in the little girls face listening is horrible made worse by the length of the ordeal which only ends when the Lutz’s arrive home hours later.
What works so well in The Amityville Horror is the utter evil infused in the very bricks and mortar of the spooky structure which we are constantly encouraged to see as a character in itself complete with its own demonic voice and skull like face found in the composition of the windows and slanting roof we repetitively revisit in long shot throughout the film.
Several spiritual characters including Kathy’s aunt who is a Nun have such a strong reaction to the home they cannot stay more than a few minutes fleeing and vomiting out its insidious influence as soon as they are away from it. Worst of all is the fate of Kathy’s priest Father Delaney, played with zeal by Mars Attacks! Rod Steiger, who attempts to bless their home at the start of the film and is beset by hundreds of flies and violent sickness which gets worse the harder he tries to warn the fated family.
Although the effects may look a little dated and the fashions a bit odd The Amityville Horror has lasted so long and remained so relevant due to the fact that it’s myriad of themes work on multiple levels from the psychological to the supernatural to the religious and beyond.
As the sensational Stephen King comments in his immensely insightful Danse Macabre “the pictures subtext is one of economic unease” and anyone watching with a mortgage or bills or family to fund will find themselves as stressed by the Lutz financial situation as by the demons trying to destroy them. Ultimately the film asks ‘would you live in murder house if it was cheap enough?’ and given our current dire housing crisis I think many peoples answer might be yes.
The added element to all of this is that many claim The Amityville Horror is all true being that Anson’s novel was based on the experiences of the real life Lutz family who moved into a home where a murder had taken place in the suburban neighborhood of Amityville fleeing 28 days latter claiming they had been terrorized by paranormal activity.
To discover more about the true story I highly recommend My Amityville Horror a documentary telling the oldest Lutz child’s experiences but for everyone else The Amityville Horror is a must have movie that still manages to inspire modern horror and unnerve its audience all these years later.