Look What I Found! – The Amityville Horror (1979)

Newlyweds move into a large house where a mass murder was committed, and experience strange manifestations which drive them away. (IMDB synopsis)

Today’s film is ‘based on true events’! …Yes!
Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. The murders committed by Ronald DeFoe Jr. DID take place; he just up and killed his mother, father and four siblings before going to work. After this, the Lutz family, who took up residence in 112 Ocean Drive after him, experienced numerous paranormal goings-on… apparently. Then Jay Anson wrote about it and then they based a film on that book. Things were bound to change. With films that are ‘based on a true story’, I think a good rule of thumb is to presume that the written narration at the beginning and/or end of said films is the only definitely true thing about them. But still, I’m interested to see what they did with the material they had. Let’s watch The Amityville Horror.

Review:

We see the decidedly creepy 112 Ocean Drive house as children eerily sing ‘La-la la la-la laaaa’. Then an unseen figure fires a shotgun at sleeping family members under cover of loud thunderclaps. Aaaaaaand then we have some reading to do.

‘November 13 1974
Amityville, Long Island
A mother, father and four of their children murdered… no apparent motive’

Checks out so far!
ONE YEAR LATER… a newly married couple are being guided by a female realtor around the house.

sav2a

Their tour of the place is intercut with clips of the killer’s rampage. One of these clips interrupts the realtor, mid-sentence, while she and Mr and Mrs Lutz are climbing the stairs, which is a bit weird. Anyway, I bet these two will be really ticked off when they discover tha-
Oh! OK. They’re aware that there were murders carried out in their soon-to-be home. That’s normally a twist reserved for the middle part of the movie. Anyway, George says that ‘Houses don’t have memories’, and they decide to buy the place. After all, the price HAS been slashed repeatedly.
So the family go and settle in, but all is not well. As Father Delaney comes in to bless the house, he finds that the door to the empty room shuts behind him, bluebottles buzz over his face and neck, and the house itself yells at him to get out. And he does. Yeah, I think I would too.
Other strange occurrences start kicking in, little accidents here and there, and cold draughts coming from the basement (and not the good kind, like Guinness). And it’s about to get a whole lot worse. La-la la la-la laaaa. La.
Going into the film, I soon realised it was going to be a long one at nearly two hours. Still, it gets off to a pleasant start as we’re introduced to the wholesome Lutz family. George Lutz is a strong and dependable stepdad with a magnificent beard and hairdo that rivals MacReady’s from The Thing. And I call it a hairdo because it’s definitely the kind of hair that is done, probably with wallpaper paste.

I don't care who you are; you wish you had this beard.
I don’t care who you are; you wish you had this beard.

Unfortunately for him, he comes under numerous financial struggles, his stepkids are acting up, squid ink starts bubbling up from the toilet bowl and what-have-you. Throughout the movie, poor George becomes steadily more disgruntled, then unapproachably irritable, then a little axe-crazy (with a literal axe). Basically he goes Jack Torrance on the family, which was interesting to see. It’s also a little more unsettling coming from him; with Jack Nicholson, you can believe he’s the type to suddenly lose it and chop up a few people. Also, George’s hair loses its stunning coif. Boooooooo.
Meanwhile, Kathy Lutz is his lovely doting wife. A practicing Christian and mother of three, she goes through a transformation of her own, and a weird one at that. In the first half of the film, the woman wears gingham skirts and long socks, flowers in her hair, ribbons in her hair, pigtails… honest to God, she must think she’s about fourteen years old. In the second half, that childish disposition is still there, as she’s seen crying snottily into her coat sleeves, but she also takes things into her own hands, researching the history of the house and defending her babies against axe attacks.
George and Kathy’s relationship changes over time, too. They go from idealistic and soupy-in-love –
“You make me feel like a kid in the back seat of a car.”
– to arguing and snapping at each oth… wait, what? A kid in the back seat? What does that mean? I thought most kids fought tooth and nail with their siblings to get in the FRONT seat of the car. What a weird thing to say.
Now, the actual spooky happenings in the house are too many and varied to list, but they’re a mixed bag. The walls drip red corn syrup at one point, and that’s plain amusing. But the stuff with the flies, and the ink in the toilet, and Father Delaney suddenly going blind? All that’s pretty cool. It certainly has a profound effect on the family.

“Gurk!”

I don’t know if The Amityville Horror took ideas from other films (or the books that inspired them). I certainly believe that later films took ideas from Amityville. For example, I found strong resemblences to The Shining, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and 1408 (particularly the part where someone gets their hand bitten by a window). Even taking this into account, there are plenty of “What the hell?” horror moments that make you sit up in your chair – or sofa, as the case may be. Or bed, if you’re watching in bed. Or in the bath! Some people take their tablets and rest them on the wire bath rack. Fair play to you; just don’t drop it in the water when you get a jumpscare.
The music is also really well done; it sounds high budget, and was in fact nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score. People have said that the music was originally intended for The Exorcist, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.
As for how truthful all of this is… well, that depends how you feel about supernatural phenomenomenom. Many of the events in the film match the events described in Anson’s book, which was written using tape-recorded accounts from the Lutz family, but there have been lawsuits over the years, and the actors associated with the film have voiced their opinions that it’s hokum. But you, dear reader, you go ahead and believe whatever you like! I’m not here to judge.
Well, I kind of am.

Final Verdict:

A pretty solid film. Although it’s nearly two hours long, there’s not much I’d choose to cut, as it takes time to develop the characters and their growing frustration. If you like The Shining, I think you’ll be able to somewhat appreciate this preceding film. Possibly.

Rating:

6 1/2 jam sandwiches.

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