When I was a kid, I read Jay Anson's novel, The Amityville Horror, and was terrified. The book was marketed as a true account of the Lutz family's experiences in 112 Ocean Avenue in Long Island (FYI: the house, which still exists, has been re-addressed as 108 Ocean Avenue). The home was the setting of a grisly murder just a year prior, where a crazy dude shot his entire family execution style, so there was certainly reason to believe that something evil was going on in that house. The book was quite successful, so making a horror film based on the tale seemed to be a natural choice.
I never saw the film when it originally came out, but was told by "lucky" kids that it was terrifying. When a schoolmate told me about the unholy pig eyes looking at Margot Kidder through the window, I figured it must have been one of the scariest scenes ever. After being traumatized by The Exorcist and a commercial from Salem's Lot (yep, that scene with the boy floating outside of the window was enough to set me over the edge), my parents were not about to let me watch this one.
So of course, as the years went on, I always figured Amityville was one top notch horror flick. For whatever reason I never got around to watching it, so when I saw it marked down to $7.99 at a mall store, I couldn't resist. I wish I did.
Right away, the film starts out as a laugher. Rod Steiger plays Father Delaney (changed from Father Mancuso in the book...he's Irish now!), who shows up at 112 Ocean Avenue to bless the Lutz home. They're not there when he arrives, so like any good man of the cloth, he just goes inside of their home anyway to do it. Once inside the upstairs bedroom, he becomes overwhelmed with a horrible smell (likely from the director of the film), and is covered with flies. A loud voice commands him to "GET OUT!", so he runs back to his car, and vomits before driving off. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Next, we're treated to a romantic interlude between James Brolin and Margot Kidder. This is one of the few bright spots of the movie, as several leering shots of a half naked Kidder take place. Kidder wears a leg brace through this scene, for no explainable reason. The late 70s mirrored bedroom is a classic piece of funky decorating, but the gold marbling on the mirrors obscures what otherwise might be a nice topless reflection. This was Kidder in her prime, before she started hiding in bushes and mumbling to herself without her dentures.
Another early "scary" incident takes place before a big wedding. Kathy Lutz's brother just lost $1500 in the family room that he had placed in his jacket pocket only minutes before (insert lame Nigerian ghost here).
Then, perhaps out of a desire to put a stop to his shitty acting rather than enact any sort of otherworldly evil, the house strikes back by slamming a window down one of the little boy's hands. The scene is quite hilarious, as the long lingering shot, shown above, lasts for about 5 seconds with his hand in the right spot before the sill comes crashing down.
There's also a mind numbingly terrifying scene of black goo bubbling up from the toilet! What blows my mind is that nobody once calls a plumber. In fact, they pretty much just shut the bathroom door and never look at it again.
Meanwhile, James Brolin is getting more and more weird. He becomes obsessed with chopping wood and keeping a fire burning in the house. Perhaps he's distressed at the news that one day, he'll have to fuck Barbara Streisand.
Actually near the film's end when he enters his kids' bedroom with the axe, you get a glimpse at a cool vintage Shogun Warrior (Dragun if you care) on top of the dresser. Also there's an odd placement of a Connect Four game on the bed. Pretty sneaky, sis!
And when it came time to see the "Evil Pig Eyes" scene, I was devastated in a major way. What could have been a bloodcurdling spooky moment, is just laughable, as the eyes look like 2 red flashlights waving in the distance. The UFO hoax that Greg and Marcia pulled on The Brady Bunch was scarier than this.
The ending is equally hilarious. As the Lutz's finally get it through their thick skulls to leave, they realize they left the dog inside, so George runs back inside to get it. When he gets to the basement, he falls into a pit of black goo, and is rescued by his dog. As you can see from the photo above, he's covered from head to toe with the supernatural tar.
But as you can see from this photo, just seconds later, he's all clean by the time he makes it back to the car!
With no real ending other than just running away from the home, you're left with a pretty unsatisfactory conclusion. I love that bizarre closing line, too! HOLY SHIT, NOT ANOTHER STATE! They forgot to add that they became rich by perpetuating this stupid story.
Ultimately, there's very little "Horror" in The Amityville Horror. What's funny about The Amityville Horror is that it really pioneered a lot of horror movie themes and moments that have become clichés, but other films that came out later did them so much better. Brolin was doing the crazy dad with the axe that wants to kill his family schtick a good year before Nicholson made it famous in The Shining (though I hardly think Kubrick sent spies to the set of Amityville for ideas).
And there's several obvious swipes from Amityville that Poltergeist made as well, with the disturbed daughter who sees evil things before the family can put it together, as well as a tree that attacks them through a bedroom window.
History shows us that the Lutz family's tale was ultimately an elaborate fraud. Anson admitted that he wrote the book only based on tapes the Lutz family made for him and conducted no additional research. The real priest (Father Pecoraro) that the film and book's character is based on claims to have never observed any haunted happenings, as has the chief of police at the time.
THE CINEMATIC LEGACY OF AMITYVILLE
Can you believe that there's actually been 9 SEQUELS to the original 1979 film? There's even an AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE! Ha! You'll notice on the top row, there was a film called AMITYVILLE 3D. When it was released on video, it was still called AMITYVILLE 3D with a hilarious "NOT IN 3D" disclaimer right under the title. Its only a matter of time before HGTV does a special episode of "Trading Spaces" at the home.
THE REAL LIFE AMITYVILLE HORROR read about the murders that started the whole thing, and even see the transcript of the emergency call from the tragic evening of the DeFoe family killings.
AMITYVILLE HORROR MESSAGE BOARD enjoy endless arguments as to whether or not the thing was a hoax.