The Amityville Horror (1979) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 7

by Jovial Jay

For Sale. Cape Cod style house. Minor damage. Has been repossessed.

The Amityville Horror brings modern conventions of horror to a typical haunted house plot. The resulting film launched a new appreciation for this tried and true type of film.

Before Viewing

Don’t let the pleasant shots of this lovely cottage house in the trailer fool you. The narrator himself sounds creepy enough before the unsettling shots of flies swarming over a priest and weird happenings begin. The Amityville Horror is an experience in terror you will never forget.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

The Amityville Horror (1979)

The Amityville Horror (1979) title card.

After Viewing

In November 1974, a house in Amityville, New York was the site of a vicious murder-suicide by the son of the family. One year later the Lutz’s, George and Kathy (James Brolin & Margot Kidder) agree to purchase the house for their family, even though they know about the murders. George has recently married Kathy who has three younger children, and they feel the price of the house is too good a deal to pass up. On move in day a month later, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) visits the house to perform a blessing at Kathy’s request.

The Lutz’s are out on their boat so the priest gets started. But soon weird things happen like the door blowing closed and hundreds of flies appearing in the room. Father Delaney becomes physically ill and leaves when he hears a voice whisper “Get Out!”  The family returns not realizing the priest was there. George is troubled by the cold temperatures he feels throughout the house. On the fourth day Kathy’s Aunt Helena (Irene Dailey), a nun, visits and also becomes physically ill and cannot stay.

Both parents continue to awaken at 3:15 am for no apparent reason. Sometimes Kathy will have had a nightmare, but George always seems like he’s being awoken. As Father Bolen (Don Stroud) drives Father Delaney back to the house, the brakes on their car go out and they nearly crash. Other weird occurrences happen, like $1500 for a caterer goes missing and Amy’s babysitter Jackie (Amy Wright) gets stuck inside a closet with no lock.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

George and Kathy Lutz are so proud to be homeowners. Too bad the house has other ideas.

Amy (Natasha Ryan), the youngest child, tells Kathy that her imaginary friend Jodie shares secrets about the house with her. Father Delaney tries to warn his superiors of the dangers the house presents, believing it’s possessed by the devil, but is put on leave instead. He soon goes blind with his continued attempts to protect the Lutz’s. A window pane falls and smashes Greg’s (K.C. Martel) hand. A pair of glowing eyes appear outside a window. The family dog barks and  digs endlessly at a stone wall in the basement.

George’s business partner and friend Jeff (Michael Sacks), and his wife Carolyn (Helen Shaver) visit twelve days into the ownership of the house. Carolyn, who is psychically sensitive, feels a presence in the basement and helps George smash a stone wall under the stairs revealing a red room that she claims is a doorway to hell. Later Kathy has a realistic dream that George kills Amy and then herself.

On their final night in the house, after Kathy has researched the events of the murders (which were performed by a man that looks much like George), blood begins to pour from under the stairs and a massive thunderstorm envelops the house. George takes an axe towards his family, but Kathy snaps him out of the trance and they get into the van and leave. Matt (Meeno Peluce) realizes Harry the dog is not with them so George returns into the house to get him. He falls through the stairs into a sludge pit in the red room, but manages to escape with the dog. The family leaves and never returns, says a final title card.

I’m coming apart! Oh, mother of God, I’m coming apart!” – George Lutz

The Amityville Horror (1979)

How does the saying go? You can catch more flies with a priest?

The Amityville Horror comes from a long line of films about haunted houses. From 1950s films like House on Haunted Hill, or the 1963 film The Haunting, or the more modern 1973 thriller The Legend of Hell House, horror movies about spooky happenings in creepy houses has been a solid mainstay in theaters. It wasn’t until the 70s that these types of films went from vengeful ghosts and spirits to the essence of hell itself. Prior to The Amityville Horror there were two other major theatrical releases about ghostly buildings, The Haunting of Julia, and The Evil (in which the building is built over a portal to hell), but they are not really talked about anymore. Instead the rural, familial Amityville Horror is the one ghost film that most everybody knows and remembers.

The recognition this film receives may be based on the heavy marketing done for its release. Based on Jay Anson’s book, which tells the story of the Lutz family and their time in the house where an actual murders were committed by Ronald DeFeo Jr in 1974, the film treats the events as canonical and publicizes the book as its source material. The popularity of the book, which is purportedly based on the real ghostly happenings the Lutz family encountered in buying this home, was based on the fact that this was a series of real occurrences, but time and several stories from people involved has created doubt about the original hauntings. Nonetheless, the public was familiar with the story and tales of weird happenings on the set of this film (which was not filmed at the original house, though it was attempted) and created public awareness during the filming. Others may know about the film from its arms-length list of sequels and remakes that have been made over the last 40 years. At least 10 sequels and a 2005 remake has kept the tales of this ultimately spooky house alive. The story and idea behind the hauntings was also the basis for the film The Conjuring and its numerous spinoffs. The ability this film had to inspire such terror in audiences and create a renewed interest in haunted house stories makes it another entry in the H-Origins category on 31 Days Of Horror. Those are films that serve as original horror stories that spark a string of copycats, or films that reinvent an aspect of the genre giving new life to a tired idea.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

The eternally creepy chair occupied by Jodie and containing the doll that would be identified as Annabelle in future tales.

The Amityville Horror was also part of a string of horror films in the 70s that showcased the devil and fought his presence with Catholic iconography. From The Exorcist to The Omen the idea that Satan was alive and well in suburban America, or at least meddling in politics to put his son in charge, was a new and fertile idea. Here the film makes use of a subplot about a priest who is attempting to bless the house, certain that it is possessed. His rituals and torment are likened to Father Merrin and Father Karras from The Exorcist, but for several reasons this storyline is not as intriguing as what is happening to the Lutz’s. For starters the sequences with Father Delaney are fully separated from the Lutz family. At no time does Rod Steiger interact with either James Brolin or Margot Kidder. They do try to interact on the phone, but never connect (pun intended). This viewing really made it apparent how unnecessary this subplot is, other than to showcase the fact that the evil that lives in the house can reach out and attack Delaney regardless of how far away he is, even if he’s “safe” in a church. The horror elements are stronger and better executed while focusing on the family.

Some people may not find the film particularly scary. It all depends on what fears you might have. For me the film really sends shivers down my spine. The moments of the glowing eyes outside the window or the red room in the basement are some of the most tingling moments. It’s also a great film to watch to see the devolution of George’s character. The madness that overcomes him sets in relatively quickly, changing his pallor and demeanor, having the audience question if he too will be able to commit the same murders as the previous owner. For a horror film however, it has absolute zero killings in it (minus the flashback incident and nightmare sequence). This is something that is not terribly missed, since the tension and ghostly scares are enough to create an adequate feeling horror film. Obviously it’s enough chills that audiences were pleased, and haunted house horror made a big comeback in the 1980s in no small part to The Amityville Horror.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

George is not sure if he’s going crazy or if he’s just having a mental breakdown.

Assorted Musings

  • The second film to take place on Long Island this month, along with Jaws (which one could argue that Amity Island is actually part of Massachusetts).
  • This film also directly influenced the 1982 film Poltergeist which is on the docket for later this month. In both films a haunted house gets the better of the family living in it with the family leaving suddenly and never returning.
  • Stephen King has an interpretation of the film in regard to the conversations of money and bills that often occurs. He argues that this is the real horror in the film.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Privacy Policy