An incredibly eerie Lalo Schifrin score welcomes us to The Amityville Horror and the terror that awaits us in one of the most iconic houses in the history of cinema. Set in Long Island, The Amityville Horror sees newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) move into a home that, unbeknownst to them, has a very tragic history. Five years earlier, the original owner of the house went crazy and suddenly killed his entire family, seemingly without motive, which would explain why the Lutz’ got such a good deal on the house. As George, Kathy, and Kathy’s children from a previous marriage get settled, it isn’t long at all before strange things begin happening in the home that initially seem to defy logical explanation. George, who looks like a lost member of the Bee Gees with his impressive beard that seamlessly blends in with his permed hair, is the most sensitive to the eerie activity; he begins to slowly lose his mind as the film progresses, as evidenced by his unkempt hair, pale skin, and fondness for chopping wood.
There’s an overwhelming sense of paranoia to the proceedings when it comes to George. As I said, he’s the most sensitive and vulnerable to the home’s paranormal activity. He hears noises that no one else hears and soon loses grasp with his ability to concentrate and focus on anything other than the dark entity that has consumed him. George’s change in behavior obviously affects his family and work, which comes into play more and more as the film goes on. Meanwhile, a priest (Rod Steiger) who’s close to the family comes to terms with the presence of a supernatural being when he attempts to bless the Lutz’ new home and is suddenly attacked by flies and, like George, is consumed by an undeniable evil, which eventually results in unexplained attacks on the priest, as well as a standout scene in which the priest argues with his superior about the presence of the aforementioned evil versus logic and the denial of the paranormal. By the way, I’d like to know who the Fly Wrangler was for this movie.
One of the things that I admire about supernatural films that deal with religion is the absence of God. There’s always a sense of hopelessness with these films, which I like. No matter how many priests you bring in, no matter how religious you are, and no matter how many times you pray and call out to God, evil will prevail in most cases.
An interesting aspect of James Brolin’s character that comes into play is that he’s very manly and he’s inherently a sinner according to the Bible because of his pride. Even though the evil entity was already present in the home before George and his family moved in, he sees it as something trying to infiltrate his home and take away what he’s worked hard for. In a way, he’s trying to protect his family, but you can’t help but feel that it becomes a personal challenge. George’s pride won’t let him be defeated, which is one of the more logical explanations as to why he doesn’t just pack up his shit and move his family out of the house sooner than later.
“Deliberate pacing” is something that’s associated with a lot of horror movies from the 70′s, especially ones that are considered classics by today’s standards and deal with ghosts, haunted houses, and demonic possession. The Amityville Horror is no different, as it’s occasionally sluggish and a bit long. Patience is key with these sorts of films, but The Amityville Horror in particular goes by fairly quickly because of how the plot is fleshed out. Still, it’s arguable that certain areas of the film could have been trimmed, and I don’t mean James Brolin’s majestic mane.
Whether you consider The Amityville Horror deserving of its status as a classic or not, it would be hard to deny its effectiveness as a horror movie. The scares are far between as a good portion of the movie focuses on its psychological elements, but they’re well-executed and far from cheap. In a strange but effective choice of editing and gag placement, a simple sequence in the film in which George and Kathy are getting a tour of the house before they buy it is intercut with incredibly jarring glimpses of the tragic murders that took place in the various rooms throughout the house; these flashback clips are abrupt, unexpected, and accompanied by loud shotgun blasts. The juxtaposition of the happily married couple and the violent end of a family is brilliant. Not only should this sequence theoretically shake you, but it also establishes the house in the film as a place you probably wouldn’t want to set foot in. The film also features the convention of the child who suddenly has a new imaginary friend, which signifies that said child is being deceived by what we can only assume is a ghost with harmful intentions. Anyone familiar enough with horror movies knows that the “imaginary friend” convention is bad news for the characters involved, and such is the case with this film. The Amityville Horror may be dull and overrated to some, but I find it to be a very well-acted and generally well-made film.