The Amityville Horror (1979)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. One short day after watching AIP’s brilliant “the Thing With Two Heads,” I’m now facing off against the Amityville Horror. If you had given me a choice between watching a film where Grier and Ray Milland share a body, or James Brolin goes psycho and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane!) shows a boob, I still would’ve went with the Grier/Milland team. Of course, trying to forget the magic of the Thing…’s dirtbike scene is an impossibility, so this is an exercise in futility anyway. Plus, I already know that Amityville deals with a haunting, and I’m practically allergic to ghost stories.
Even if the film has Superman’s main squeeze showing some skin.
This film would be a lot more effective if we didn’t see the Amityville murders as the credits roll. Nowadays, the whole ordeal behind the haunting would be a big reveal; the mystery keeping people bound to their seats. Here its value diminishes greatly since we know there was a murder, and all the characters know there was a murder. The only person ignorant to the house’s storied past is apparently Father Delaney (Rod Steiger), the priest who shows up uninvited to bless the house.
Which could, in a sense, make this whole haunting partly the priest’s fault. He was the first to experience the supernatural forces: feeling nauseated, being attacked by flies, and hearing a demonic voice tell him to “GET OUT!” Yet Delaney, rather than warn the family about why he can’t purify their residence, just runs away. Granted, he does return later to conduct an exorcism, but a warning at the onset might’ve helped too.
Instead, we’re left dealing with the Lutz’s and their ghost problem. A problem that’s mainly centered around George (James Brolin). George, once a happy newlywed, now wanders around the house after dark wearing only his bathrobe. He also spends a lot of time chopping wood. So, ladies, if your man ever starts dressing slovenly after marrying you, while still making sure you’re prepared for the winter, you might be making love to a hellspawn.
Look at it this way. Perhaps if they had established Kathy (Margot Kidder) and George’s relationship early on. Using, I don’t know, a photo montage of their significant moments together (dates, wedding, etc.) to show us how these characters were before the change comes on, their transformations would stand out more. For all I know, George is just super motivated at unpacking all his stuff and giving the dog midnight walks.
Halfway through the film, and the only physical manifestations of Satan’s presence that we’ve seen are Father Delaney’s fly infestation, and a chronically clogged toilet. Which, given the house’s age, and unpopularity (read: no one has been living there, providing basic upkeep) probably explains the whole fly problem. George sweats a lot too (thinking it’s a perpetual flu virus), but he’s also constantly chopping wood; which is strenuous, sweat-producing, activity.
George eventually does noticeably change, buying a leather jacket and a motorcycle, but that screams “mid-life crisis” a bit more convincingly than “possession.” Especially when the man in question recently married a woman with three kids and bought a huge house that he can ill-afford for his fully formed new family.
The final, conclusive haunting coming when George takes his co-worker, Jeff (Michael Sacks), up on his offer to allow George and Kathy a night out alone. Jeff brings his paranormal-believing, significant other, Carolyn (Helen Shaver), along with him, and she proceeds to freak out. Taking a sledgehammer to the basement’s brick walls quality freak out.
Yet, again, we don’t know this Carolyn, and there’s little evidence that George or Kathy do either. Who knows? Maybe a bit of inconsequential property damage is how Carolyn rolls. Can you really say you know someone until you see them messed up on angel dust?
It was here that I encountered one tiny semblance of hope, or maybe that’s fear, that what I was seeing on-screen could’ve happened. After tearing apart the walls, Carolyn ends her freakout by speaking in a voice that “they [Kathy and George] know.” It’s Father Delaney’s voice, dubbed over Carolyn’s. Which makes sense as far as demonic possessions go. But, at that moment in the film’s timeline, neither Kathy or George had met Delaney yet. Meaning either this film’s entire script was haunted, or horribly fact-checked. Possibly both.
With that little sprinkling of unease paving the way, Amityville’s weirdness now kicks into high gear. (Mind you this is almost two hours into the film.) George falls into the recently excavated haunted poo hole trying to save Harry, the family’s dog. Harry, now safe in George’s shit-encrusted arms, is carried out to the van where the rest of the family is waiting. The end.
Yes, that’s it. Literally two hours of build-up for absolutely no reward. At least Paranormal Activity has the decency to give us a Satanic mass at the end! Here: nothing. George and Kathy abandon the house, never retrieving their possessions if the film’s final text is to be believed.
—More Amityville Madness—