*1/2 out of ****
Jay Anson’s “The Amityville Horror” is considered to be one of the most important, controversial, and polarizing pieces of horror literature ever committed to a few hundred pages. At the time of its release and afterwards, it was subject to speculation whilst Anson faced various lawsuits. I haven’t read it in full but I have read excerpts from the book before, and I can already tell you that it’s a more terrifying supposed “real-life” story than this poor, messy film adaptation makes it out to be. Regardless of what you believe and how honest the story being told may actually be, Anson had conjured up an accumulated sense of dread that this 1979 adaptation helmed by Stuart Rosenberg never quite captures.
George (James Brolin) and Cathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) are a young couple who have just purchased a new home that rests by a lake of sorts. The film starts off by showing us horrible things that happened in that house just months earlier; namely a homicide case involving a father killing his entire family in the middle of the night at random with a shotgun. The couple is unaware of these things and until further notices settles down quite nicely with their three children (two boys, one little girl; they also have a much older son who is to be wed soon). The house is quite large and creepy; and you know something’s really up when the daughter has a new imaginary friend and the local priest comes to bless the house and hears a loud, booming voice that tells him not-so-kindly to “Get out!”
The one most affected by the haunting aesthetic of the house is George. His mental state starts to collapse very slowly and he comes down with a cold. He also stops attending work and instead spends hours on end splitting logs outside in the yard; something that a co-worker takes notice of. I only mention the co-worker because his wife, a woman with a peculiar interest in the paranormal, agrees to come to the Lutz residence to do some paranormal investigating after George expresses concern. Perhaps those who died in that house are communicating from beyond the grave, hmm? It wouldn’t anything particularly new, would it?
Everything is in place. You’ve got a large and demeaning house, creepy theme music by Lalo Schifrin with children singing an ominous tune, and a set-up that calls for some seriously surreal and ghostly going-ons. Instead of taking advantage of all these things that are essentially handed to him on a silver platter, Rosenberg decides to essentially direct this one on auto-pilot. It’s not God-awful, annoying direction; but it’s so bland an uninspired that it might as well be either better or worse than, well, that. Even the scenes intended to be scary and strange, like the one with the babysitter getting locked in the closet and another involving two red inhuman eyes being seen outside of the daughter’s bedroom, are practically useless and completely forgettable. The only striking image is the house and the excessive red color tinting that is so frequently employed.
The pacing feels incredibly slow. So slow that I came this close to just giving up on this damned movie. I don’t dislike “The Amityville Horror” because of its pacing – I actually enjoy a good suspense flick – but because it just doesn’t have a good enough story or compelling enough actors (although the leads do their best to give it some zest) to hold up and capture the viewer’s interest. Therefore, it drags on and on and comes off as rather boring. It makes the general mistake of thinking that big special effects will compensate for a lack of talent in the areas of building tension and generating scares. It comes off as neither surreal nor terrifying. Stupid, overlong, and uninteresting is more like it. This is just another textbook example of a studio horror film made with the pretense of being scary in exchange for profit. Well, look where that gets you; in this case, quite a bit of money and in the five dollar bin at Walmart. I personally don’t think I could live with the shame.