In 1975, the Lutz family moved into a beautiful home in the Amityville neighborhood of Long Island, but the house came with a dark history: A mass murder took place there a year before the Lutzes’ arrival. According to the best-selling book that Jay Anson wrote about this notorious real-life incident, the Lutzes heard, saw, and smelled a variety of unexplained phenomena, leading them to believe their house was possessed. Anson took a lot of heat for presenting the Lutzes’ account as pure fact, and director Stuart Rosenberg’s sensationalistic movie adaptation pushes things even further. The Amityville Horror has some scary moments, but the scenario is so overwrought—it’s as if the Lutzes took a sublet from Satan—that the picture regularly creeps into unintentional comedy.
The main problem is that George Lutz (James Brolin) and his wife, Kathy (Margot Kidder), seem like the dumbest people ever to cross a movie screen. As soon as they move into their home, they start experiencing weird apparitions and sensations, but instead of gathering their three young children and running for safety, they summon a priest (Rod Steiger) to bless the house. The priest endures a horrific scene while the house traps him in a stifling upstairs room that fills with flies. Yet when the priest tells the Lutzes to vacate the house, they ignore the advice. Just a thought: If the demonic voice in your home says, “Get out,” it’s probably a good idea to comply. But, of course, if the big-screen versions of the Lutzes demonstrated any common sense, the movie would be over very quickly.
Sandor Stern’s silly screenplay tries to weasel around this unworkable plot contrivance by suggesting that George has lost his will to the evil force occupying the house, and Brolin delivers the concept through a performance of embarrassing excess. In his signature moment, a bug-eyed Brolin howls, “Oh, mother of God, I’m coming apart!” Truth be told, Brolin actually outdoes costar Steiger in the bad-acting department, and that’s saying a lot. (As for Kidder, who should have been building on her sassy performance in the 1978 blockbuster Superman, she’s wasted in a vapid victim role.)
Exacerbating its other flaws, The Amityville Horror is fairly dull through most of its running time, even though the production values are pretty good (the ooze dripping from the walls is enjoyably icky) and the wacky highlights are memorable. Nonetheless, lackluster storytelling didn’t stop the picture from becoming a major hit. The Amityville Horror earned nearly $90 million at the box office, and it kicked off a cycle of sequels and remakes that has continued well into the 21st century. Apparently, audiences are as reluctant to vacate the house at 112 Ocean Avenue as the Lutzes were.
The Amityville Horror: FUNKY