Monday, 18 July 2011

The Amityville Horror

Year: 1979
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Screenplay: Sandor Stern, based on the book The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton
Running Time: 117 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural

Summary: Amityville, Long Island, 1974: A young man brutally kills his parents and his siblings in a large house by the river.
A year later, George Lutz (Brolin) and his new wife Kathy (Kidder) buy the house, attracted by the low price. They move in with Kathy's three children and start trying to settle down, however they soon become plagued by a variety of bizarre occurances: An upstairs room is infested with flies, black goo oozes out of the toilets, objects mysteriously go missing, certain people become nauseous or overcome with fear in the house or even when they get near it, the family dog is forever scratching at a certain patch of wall in the basement, glowing eyes are seen from the windows in the middle of the night, the youngest daughter (Natasha Ryan) makes an imaginary friend who may be real, and George starts to undergo disturbing changes in personality.
After a disturbing experience in the house, the Lutz family priest Father Delaney (Steiger), becomes convinced that there are demonic forces at work in the house.

Opinions: This film was based on a best-selling horror novel by Jay Anson which detailed the allegedly real-life experiences of a family living in a haunted house. The book's claims to be factual made it very controversial in it's day, and the debate is still ongoing.
Whether or not the film is based on real events isn't really the issue, however. The movie is a fairly turgid spook house ride which goes through all the motions of a traditional haunted house story. The film is badly paced and full of stretches where nothing really happens. In the last half hour or so there is some tension generated, but it's all gone by the frankly ridiculous ending. It never really strikes to life and never manages to generate either scares or any real excitement. On the plus side James Brolin and Margot Kidder both turn in very good performances and when the film does work it is generally down to them. Rod Steiger carbes out massive slices of ham for himself overacting so wildly as the family priest that you can almost see the teethmarks in the scenery.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of the film is the emphasis on the financial consequences of the ghostly goings-on. Stephen King, who discusses the film at length in his 1982 non-fiction book Danse Macabre suggests that part of the reason for the enormous success of the film was the way it tapped into very real economic concerns of the time. I certainly think that he has a point with that. The characters frequently discuss money and business, and in one scene Kathy's brother, who looks all of about 15, is getting married and they lose a large sum of money which they need to pay the caterer's and George practically goes beserk trying to find it, practically tearing the room apart and screaming. As he puts it early in the film "this house'll nickel-and-dime us to death".
At it's core though it is a very traditional haunted house story which could, with very few changes to the plot, be a campfire ghost story, and the Amityville hauntings have already entered modern American folklore. Whatever the reason, for all it's flaws, the film was one of the biggest box office hits of 1979 and spawned to dateseven sequels, and itself was remade in 2005.

"I am not some pink-cheeked seminarian who doesn't know the difference between the supernatural and a bad clam! I am a trained psychotherpaist! I wnet into that house and what I saw there was real, what I felt there was real and what I heard there was real! Now, gentlemen, I have a family in my parish that's at great risk! They're facing real danger."
- Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) staes his case in The Amityville Horror

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityville Horror

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