‘For God’s sake, get out!’
The Amityville Horror is a 1979 American supernatural horror film directed by Stuart Rosenberg from a screenplay by Sandor Stern, based on Jay Anson’s 1977 book of the same name.
The film’s soundtrack score was provided by Lalo Schifrin (Tales of Halloween; Abominable; The Manitou; Eye of the Cat; et al)
The Amityville Horror was remade in 2005.
George and Kathy Lutz move into their dream home, snapped up at a bargain price on the basis of it being the scene of a multiple murder some time previously. Soon, strange things are happening – the walls are bleeding, there’s an infestation of flies that attack a priest, money goes missing and George begins acting very strangely. It turns out that this is less a haunted house and more a gateway to Hell, with a demonic presence that possesses people and makes them want to kill…
When it was originally released in 1979, The Amityville Horror was widely dismissed by critics and horror fans as low-rent tat based on a risible ‘true story’. Nevertheless, it made a fortune and spawned numerous sequels, prequels, remakes and imitators. Not having previously seen the film since the early 1980s, my memory of it was that the critics were right – this was a plodding affair that felt like an overblown TV movie, and not the sort of thing to be the final film bearing the American International Pictures name. However, time has been kind to The Amityville Horror. Obviously, it’s not an undiscovered masterpiece, yet it’s certainly a decent paranormal phenomenon film and one that’s influence can clearly be seen even now.
While the story that this (and Jay Anson’s original novel) is based on is almost certainly nonsense, the film does a good job of playing things very straight, and Stuart Rosenberg’s direction brings a certain tension to what could easily be ridiculous material. It certainly borrows from earlier movies like The Omen, with its set-piece horrors.
Yet, The Amityville Horror also sets up several genre tropes that filmmakers like Lucio Fulci would play on over the next few years, and which remain horror staples – the idea of a house being home to an ancient evil rather than mere ghosts was fairly new at the time. I’d still bristle at the notion that the original The Amityville Horror is any sort of classic. However, it’s a great deal better than it probably should be.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
“Ultimately this first entry manages to be effective but just not that good. Which I know sounds weird, but the film succeeds in creating scares and getting in your head, but when it’s all said and done nothing ever really happens. It just sort of toys with you the entire time, which makes it a fun watch late night with the lights turned out, but nothing more.” Bloody Disgusting
“When the film isn’t tormenting Steiger, it’s concentrating on George going crazy. Unfortunately, as played by James Brolin, George seems to be in a permanently cranky mood even before he and Kathy move into their new home. Once the Lutz’s move into the house you find yourself wondering if George is possessed or if he’s just a jerk? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.” Horror Critic
“Though undeniably spooky in spots, mainly due to the atmospheric direction of Stuart Rosenberg, The Amityville Horror simply can’t escape the overall silliness of its plot. Luckily, the earnest efforts of its solid cast keep the potential for unintentional humour at a minimum, with exception of Steiger’s usual over-the-top histrionics.” James J. Mulay (editor), The Horror Film, Cinebooks, 1989
“Director Rosenberg and an excellent cast (apart from Steiger’s over-acting) create an atmosphere of claustrophobic horror and, while the movie does not attempt to offer explanations, the result is a first-rate haunted house chiller.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
“If one follows King’s lead, it’s easy to contextualize The Amityville Horror as a financial nightmare… Similarly, the movie’s dialogue constantly references financial matters. “Bills have to be paid,” says one character. “The IRS is calling,” warns another. ‘They’ll nickel and dime you to death” is a mantra not just about the bill collectors, perhaps, but a warning about the demons in the house.” John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens, and More, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2013
“Director Stuart Rosenberg crafted an effective horror movie that succeeds largely because the performers take the over-the-top material seriously… The film is taut, tense, and filled with the bizarre, unsettling events chronicled in the book.” James F. Broderick, Now a Terrifying Motion Picture!: Twenty-Five Classic Works of Horror Adapted from Book to Film, McFarland, 2012
” …this is a one-stop shop for all things supernatural horror if you’re into that kind of thing. However, apart from a few stellar moments, this one doesn’t deserve its longstanding appeal…” Really Awful Movies
“In order to be a horror movie, a horror movie needs a real Horror. The creature in Alien was truly gruesome. The case of possession in The Exorcist was profoundly frightening. The problem with The Amityville Horror is that, in a very real sense, there’s nothing there. We watch two hours of people being frightened and dismayed.” Roger Ebert, January 1, 1979
“Tautly directed, but the thin material, and a dreadfully hammy priest by Steiger, effectively wreck what little suspense remains.” Geoff Andrew, Time Out (London)
“The film works best when it implies rather than shows. Of course, we have to take into account that the film is now nearly forty years old but dated special effects aside, it feels that it loses some of its strength as soon as it starts to try and depict red-eyed demons and gateways to hell.” UK Horror Scene
“The plot is standard haunted house stuff with a weak ending and Rod Steiger on hand to chew the scenery as a priest. On the plus side, the house has a feeling of reality to it.” Mike Mayo, Videohound’s Horror Show, Visible Ink Press, 1998
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