Amityville Horror (1979)
Once upon a time the horror film was something special. It contained thrills, chills, suspense and tension. These movies were able to scare the living daylights out of the audience. Lately, this type of movie watered down, sure, some modern horror movies are excellent but for the most part the genre has been overtaken by some really bad examples. It seems that too many young aspirating film makers figure that all they need is a couple of hundred gallons of fake blood, some phony guts and a bevy of young women willing to disrobe on the screen to make a horror film. Mostly gone are the days where there was a concern with a compelling story to hold things together. The old school horror films were able to scare you psychologically as well as on the visceral level.
Currently a lot of studios are re-releasing some of the older films in the relatively new Blu-ray format. This is fantastic for the legion of die hard fans. Not only do you get to add these films to your collection but they look and sound better than they ever did. One of the latest to hit the high definition format is ‘The Amityville Horror’. Best news yet is this release is of the 1979 original. The critical community may not have greatly received this film but fans have made it a true cult classic. It was followed by some seven sequels and a remake in 2005. This places it as one of the most popular horror franchises in cinematic history. The film was independently made and with an initial return of over $86 million was one of the most successful horror Indies around. One of the factors that made this movie resonate so well with audiences is a classic horror film ploy. Here you take something that is normally benign; familiar to everyone watching. In this particular case it is a home not unlike the ones many have lived all their lives. The twist is the house is the incarnation of evil. It is the site of unspeakable horrors visited on any who dare to live there.
The basis for the story here is the best selling novel by Jay Anson published in 1977. Supposedly it is based on true events taking place in a Dutch Colonial house; 112 Ocean Avenue Amityville Long Island, New York. There has been much controversy surrounding the veracity of this account and even a couple of law suits filed over the years. One thing is certain, the house as portrayed on screen is spooky. It has a look of a giant Jack-O-Lantern with the upper two windows glowing like demonic eyes. According to the account George and Kathleen Lutz lived in this house with their three children, Danny, Christopher, and Missy, for only 28 days before fleeing in abject terror. They claimed the house was supernaturally possessed. The house was reported to have been the site of a gruesome murder of a family. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed six members of his own family. Now that must have been one hard sell for the real estate agent. The screenplay responsibilities fell to Sandor Stern. He had quite a few scripts to his name previous and after this; mostly in television series and made for TV movies. The script stays pretty much on the mark with regards to the events shown in the novel. In any case it certainly retains the feel of the book. It builds slowly letting the audience get to know the Lutz family. This is crucial to the success of the movie. The audience is allowed to feel for this family and their plight. Even when they start acting strangely we know that it is the influence of the house and not part of their nature. By presenting the story in this way the viewers can feel that this is not only plausible but it could happen to anyone. This makes this movie much more immediate and personal than any that involves some boogie man creature of pure, dark imagination.
The directorof the movie was Stuart Rosenberg. He had extensive experience, mostly in television, dating back to the early fifties. Along that time he has helmed episodes of some of the classic series of the time including ‘The Defenders’, ‘The Untouchables’ and even a few from ‘The Twilight Zone’. His film work encompasses movies like ‘Voyage of the Damned’ and ‘Cool Hand Luke’. This is a lot more in the way of diversity than most horror directors have put together. The pacing here is extremely good. Rosenberg doesn’t rush things. He allows the situations sufficient time to simmer before he allows them too boil over.
Initially what happens to the family could be written off as normal for an older house. There are sudden chills or odd sounds in the night. Then things go decisively off track. Windows slam, the family begins to show signs of distress. An attack on a family priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) lets the family and audience know that there is something inherently evil about this house. By this time the viewers are sitting on the edge of their seats. By the standards held today and even those that were established back then this is not the most frightening movies around. The potential is never quite meet although Rosenberg comes pretty close. It has to be remembered that this was an independent flick. It had a modest budget and quick shooting schedule. Considering this the film works.
As with any cult classic this film made the cast into icon prototypes for horror films that would come afterwards. James Brolin was already well known as the handsome young doctor Steven Kiley on television’s ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’. There he was just a nice guy that when the audience of the time watched as he slowly exhibited signs to becoming a demonically possessed killer it was a shock. This part demonstrated the range this actor had and helped to re-launch his career in movies. A similar effectwas saw with Margot Kidder. She was already popular for her role as Lois Lane in the Superman franchise. Here she took on a darker role than before and was able to stretch in her craft. One of the best performances was by Steiger as the priest. He was set in his career as a tough guy so when he fled the room in panic it pushed the right buttons with the audience.
The film is fantastic on Blu-ray. I have older copies of this on DVD and there is just no comparison. The video is excellent considering the age of the source material. The audio is in True HD and it is something that has to be heard to believe. You can hear every little creak and moan the house makes. It gives the sensation of being there. The disc includes the new Smart Menu technology with floating menus so you never have to leave the picture. If you don’t have this one get it, you cannot be a true horror fan without it.
Posted 10/08/08 Posted 07/29/2019