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The Amityville Horror

Distributed By: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

            I have watched quite a few horror films in my lifetime.  Some of these films left me scratching my head wondering how they could have ever been placed in the horror genre.  You know the type – the films that make you laugh more than cringe.  Some horror films caused terrifying nightmares.  Those are the horror films that have done their job – they’ve scared you so much that your subconscious is still not finished with the subject matter.  Thinking back to all of the horror flicks I have watched over the years, none has scared me more than The Amityville Horror.  I’m not talking about the various sequels and remakes of the film.  I’m talking about the original version of the film that first appeared in theaters in 1979. 

            The Amityville Horror was based upon a novel by Jay Anson that claimed to be the true story of the Lutz family, a family driven out of their home at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island, New York by paranormal activity.  The movie starred James Brolin as George Lutz, Margot Kidder as Kathleen Lutz and Rod Steiger as Father Delaney.  The story has been long disputed by paranormal researchers and laymen alike, but one thing holds true – it makes for one heckuva scary film.

            The movie opens innocently enough, with the Lutz family purchasing a home in Amityville for a steal of a price.  The family seems normal enough, with just a small amount of friction, the result of George Lutz adjusting to the role of father after marrying into a ready-made family.  All seems well in the beginning, but there is a reason the Lutz family was able to purchase the home on 112 Ocean Avenue at such a low price.  It would seem that a year ago, a troubled young man had gone on a murderous rampage in the home, killing his mother, father, sisters and brothers.  Knowing the home’s history, Kathy Lutz enlists the aide of a Catholic priest to bless the home.  Unfortunately, the house is not happy with Father Delaney’s attempts to rid the home of evil.  It’s also not very happy with its new occupants.  A series of supernatural events take place which eventually forces the family to move out of the home only 28 days after its purchase.

            Now, of course, the story of a haunted house will sound familiar.  You’re probably saying to yourself, “This has been done so many times.”  However, this haunted house tale is supposedly based upon a true story.  That gives the viewer pause – hmm, I wonder what sort of malevolent history my home has.  When that door slammed shut, was it just the wind as I always tell myself, or was there some other force behind it.  People always say that old homes creak, but are the noises I hear just the house settling, or something more.

            Many horror films employ a great many special effects in an effort to terrify the audience.  The original version of The Amityville Horror does not.  Yes, there are some special effects used, but you must remember that this film was made in the late 1970s.  Special effects were not as sophisticated as they are today.  Instead, the film makers relied on other things to raise the scare factor.  One of the major tactics used was the music.  Supplied by composer Lalo Schifrin, the soundtrack of The Amityville Horror gives me the willies every time I hear it.  The major theme of the film begins innocently enough with children singing a tune.  Laaa-la, laaaa-la, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaaa.  This is repeated over and over, the background music at first reflecting the innocence of the voices, but soon becoming dark and unsettling as the high-pitched voices drone on.  If you can listen to this theme without chills running up and down your spine, you’re made of a hardier stock than most.

            Facial expressions are a big part of the scares in this film.  The audience reacts to the reactions of the characters as they are terrorized by the demons of the home.  We certainly feel the horror expressed by Father Delaney as he vainly makes several attempts to rid the home of evil spirits.  But facial expressions in this case aren’t enough.  James Brolin’s character begins to act strangely – more sullen and angry as the movie progresses.  A happy, handsome face is transformed by the movie’s end into an enraged, pale mask of its former self thanks to some make-up and the talent of James Brolin.

            Darkness, rain and lightning are factors used in many films and The Amityville Horror is no exception.  It’s human nature to fear darkness – to not be able to see what’s in a room or around a bend strikes fear in any heart.  Thus, darkness is used throughout the film to elicit an uneasy feeling in its viewers.  Stormy nights are also a good tool – who doesn’t jump at a sudden flash of lightening or crash of thunder?  Noises – a large part of what makes a horror film unsettling and therefore scary.  But in this film, it’s the unity of sound and visual effects that cause the viewer to become jumpy.  When the horde of flies attacks the priest, the audience is properly disgusted by the sight of so many flies in one place at one time.  It’s simply gross to the viewers, but the sound of those flies buzzing – that’s very unsettling.  If you just heard the sound and never saw the flies, you would still be unsettled, but seeing and hearing them is enough to make you want to climb the rafters.  Windows suddenly slamming shut – the sound may cause you to jump, but the fact that the window slams shut on a young child’s hand, crushing the fingers is what makes the viewer cringe and perhaps cry out.  The scritch-scratch noise of the dog as he whines and yelps, digging at the one section of wall in the basement of the home is grating.  A dog’s whining is often associated with fear and when man’s best friend is fearful of something in the basement, we’re fearful of that hidden basement presence.  And that voice – that malevolent voice screaming at the home occupants and the priest to “Get out!”  Yikes!

            For weeks after watching the 1979 version of The Amityville Horror, I was jumping at every creak and groan of the old apartment we lived in, staring at the cracks in the paint on the walls and half expecting them to erupt with that dark ooze that came out of the Lutz’s walls…the ooze I associated with the deep, dark color of dried blood.  This movie seriously freaked me out the first time I saw it and has had the same effect on me every time I’ve seen it since – I become incredibly jumpy and cognizant of any noise in the house…and that music – yikes!  I’ve seen the 2005 version of the film and I have to say that it pails in comparison.  It doesn’t leave enough up to the imagination and relies too much on special effects.  Sometimes less is more and this is proven by the original 1979 version of the film. 

            I recommend you turn out the lights on Halloween night and pop the 1979 version of The Amityville Horror starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder into your DVD player.  If this film doesn’t send chills up and down your spine from the opening moments until the closing credits, I don’t know what will.

Get The Amityville Horror (1979) at Amazon!

Published by Melissa Minners

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