Dir: Stuart Rosenberg, 1979
The most famous haunted house in history or one of the greatest hoaxes, ever?
In November 1974, Ronald De Feo, Jr. murdered his family at 112 Ocean Avenue.
Just over a year later, George and Kathy Lutz bought the house and moved in with their three children.
28 days later, the Lutz’s fled the house, leaving everything behind, after they claimed that evil spirits tormented them.
The casting isn’t bad. James Brolin looks, vaguely, reminiscent of George Lutz and Margot Kidder is certainly believable as his wife, Kathy.
But, the biggest question is, is it REALLY a true story?
That’s where we have a problem.
Based on Jay Anson’s book of the same name, The Amityville Horror isn’t actually a bad film. There are several creepy scenes and more than a few passing chills, so it’s successful in what a horror is supposed to do.
But, that same question still hangs over the film.
You’re watching the film with that knowledge that it’s supposed to be real and it takes you out of the film.
There are a lot of films, horror or any other genre, that allege to be based on a true story so that question will always be prevalent.
The Amityville Horror, on the other hand, is so famous and the events so wild, that the true story statement overshadows the film.
Like all films based on books, there are differences.
The movie omits, or least plays down, certain events. It’s a very wise move on the part of the filmmakers, as the book is very sensationalist and, to be honest, a bit ridiculous.
Some of the stuff alleged by the Lutz’s is so ridiculous you have to start wondering whether you’re reading a spoof.
I can’t make my mind up about whether the house was truly haunted or not. I believe in ghosts and can give the family the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t on some of the assertions that’s in the book.
The youngest daughter, Missy, made friends with an invisible entity named Jodie that only she could see or hear.
However, the kicker is that Jodie was a pig!
Yeeeeaaah! A talking pig. Just like Babe…only evil.
I’m sorry, but that is a step too far for me.
Thankfully, this element in the film is toned down to just glowing eyes. Doing so creates a sinister tone that the book couldn’t.
Anson’s chronicle of the Lutz’s ordeal reads more as a novel than a recount of a true story.
Throughout the book, there is a secondary plot concerning the priest who came to bless the house, Father Frank Mancuso.
After the attempt to bless the haunted house, Fathe Mancuso was afflicted by several bouts of the flu and pneumonia with a severe reaction that made his hands sore and extremely painful.
Anson states that whenever the ailments cleared up, thinking about the Lutz’s or even talking to George over the phone would bring about a reoccurrence of the illness.
It is alleged that the demonic spirits were able to terrorise the priest in his parish, several miles away.
Again, I have to take it with a pinch of salt.
This secondary plot is eliminated and the character and his fate is greatly altered. Rather than use the priest’s real name, it’s changed to Father DeLaney (played by Rod Steiger).
It’s clear that the screenwriter, Sandor Stern, didn’t particularly subscribe to the true story theory and had no intention of the film as one.
He took the chilling elements and incorporated that into the story and he deserves credit for it.
Regardless of whether you believe the story or not, it’s still worth a watch purely on its own merits.
The 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George bravely stands up to the original with sturdiness and has a few chilling moments of his own.