“The Amityville Horror” (1979) – [Movie Review]

Newlyweds and their three children move into a large house where a mass murder was committed. They start to experience strange, inexplicable manifestations which have strong effects on everyone living in or visiting the house.

This was a massive blind spot for me as a horror fan, so I decided to give this a watch. It’s the season after all. The granddaddy of haunted house flicks, the one from which the nectar is being sucked upon even to this day. Too bad this is not a good movie. Although it does have some fun sequences and a truly unhinged performance by Rod Sterling as a heart attack on legs. But we’ll get there.

The movie is based on the best-seller book about the experiences of the Lutz family, who bought a brand-new house in Amityville, New York, where a mass murder had been committed the year before and are now experiencing hauntings and bizarre visions. Now, the genesis of this book, which was actually based on real-life murders that occurred is far too expensive to cover here, so if you’re interested, there’s Google, my friends. And the veracity of the events that transpired is debatable at best. But the movie tries to spin its yarn as earnest as possible. See, that’s the thing about 70’s cinema, for the most part, it wears its heart at its sleeve. Even in the most cynical movies of that era, there’s a commitment that is sorely lacking nowadays. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst, and sometimes for the laugh-out-loud moments that happen in this flick.

First, is the movie scary just a tiny bit? No. It’s shockingly tame, even for the time and I’m not saying the movie needed to be a bloodbath, but its scares are very timid. “The Conjuring” is not. Although I really liked watching the couple, played by Margot Kidder and James Brolin, and are very believable as a pair, the script does not give them enough room to develop into people I actually cared about. Even when Brolin starts to go insane from the house’s bad juju (“The Shining” before “The Shining”.) I felt absolutely nothing. Maybe the reason the movie’s so “meh” in terms of the horror was that originally this was supposed to be a made-for-TV movie that got bumped halfway into a feature film and they couldn’t make the changes to beef up the horror.

Having said that, I liked the 70s pacing and feel of it. The mood for me was the reason I kept watching, even when the storytelling started to fall apart. And boy does it ever by some truly hilarious bad acting. Almost everyone gets a scene where the director clearly told them to go full Gary Oldman and when that happens, it’s glorious. From Kidder’s eyes bulging out of her skull in shock to Brolin screaming “I’M FALLING APART!”, even the children’s couple aren’t spared from the overacting fever. But the champion is clearly Mr. Sterling as the family’s priest. After being covered in flies by the house (the one sequence which made me queasy, I’ll admit), he truly goes overboard, leaving no scenery unchewed, screaming every line like his vocal cords are about to explode. Man, was he fun to watch.

I also would like to point out that in the finale, where finally they run the hell away, leaving their dog at the house and Brolin stops the car and turns around. Kidder screams out bloody murder “George, NOOOO!”. Whatever the dog did to you lady? Yes, the house is pure evil, but the dog is cute.

At the end of the day, would I recommend this? For modern horror audiences, they’ll barely stay awake. As a relic from the 70s cinema, it’s a very interesting watch, but it’s not a good movie. Although, like I mentioned it truly has some WTF moments that I barely even mentioned in this review (Wait until you get a load of the “demons” roaming around the house) so if you have some friends over, give it a play.

So, the husband’s pimp slaps his wife in a fit of rage. It’s awful. A beat while we take in this truly shocking–Cut to a nun playing basketball. Only in the 70s.

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