|James Brolin as George Lutz|
|Margot Kidder as Kathleen Lutz|
|Rod Steiger as Father Delaney|
|Don Stroud as Father Bolen|
|The Amityville house lays out the unwelcome mat for Kathy's Aunt Helena (Irene Dailey)|
Propelled by a hope for a replay of the kind of jump-out-of-my-seat thrills Alien served up so plentifully, plus a desire to see what actress Margot Kidder had chosen for her follow-up vehicle to her star-making turn as Lois Lane in the blockbuster Christmas 1978 release Superman: The Movie (still playing in second-run theaters at the time); I stood in a long line on Hollywood Blvd on Friday, July 27th, to catch The Amityville Horror on opening night. The house was packed and the theater was abuzz with the kind of amped-up excitement only an R-rating, “Based on a True Story”-hype, and saturation marketing can produce (“For God’s Sake, Get Out!” screamed posters from billboards and bus shelters all over town).
|This House Pays For Itself|
Kathy's brother (Marc Vahanian) preps for his wedding as the house preps for a little self-help
Although The Amityville Horror was a more polished and technically tricked-out film than I’d come to expect from the traditionally low-rent American International Pictures, for all its sound and fury (a disproportionate amount both coming from the grievously miscalculated performances of Rod Steiger and Helen Shaver) I grew aware of the fact that The Amityville Horror was in no danger of posing any threat to the legacies of The Exorcist or The Omen. The audience I was with seemed to enjoy the film’s low-wattage fright delivery system (regular as clockwork...3:15am to be exact) and didn't seem to mind that the film was serving up equal doses of laughs and frights. I was disappointed, but I was also entertained. I just wish I could remember if any aspects of the film actually scared me. What I do recall is that I returned to see The Amityville Horror the following week with a friend, and his conclusion was that the film was more of a “fun” scary movie (escapist and diverting) than a legitimately frightening one.
|While George obsessively continues to chop logs for the fire,|
Kathy laments the sudden wood shortage in their bedroom
...if you get my cruder meaning.
Because a haunted house/possession story is nothing without religious subtext, our Kathy is Catholic. Or, more precisely, Hollywood Catholic. Which means she doesn’t actually go to church or display any discernible traits of spiritual devoutness, but she does paint Virgin Mary figurines, hang ginormous crucifixes all over the house, has an actual nun in her immediate family, and is given to grocery shopping in a fetish-y Catholic School Girl uniform.
|Fathers Delaney and Bowen, badly in need of a St. Christopher medal|
The horror gauntlet is thrown down via a series of mysterious-to-life-threatening events which place the Lutzes in a race against time, the forces of evil, and their own thick-headedness. And if the objectives of these forces are conveyed in the vaguest terms possible (Revenge? Demonic possession? The endless reenactment of a violent past?), rest assured that the scope and severity of these paranormal assaults (Gates of hell? Native-American burial ground? Devil-worship? Bad juju?) are mind-bogglingly elastic, inconsistent, and convenient to plot contrivance.
|While Kathy & George stare aghast at the front door that's been mysteriously blown off its hinges,|
viewers get to stare at James Brolin's cobblers
|Creepy Amy (Natasha Ryan) consults with Jody, her invisible friend|
The overall effect is of The Amityville Horror being something of a goulash horror creation. Everything but the kitchen sink (or bile-spilling toilet) seems to have been thrown into this mechanical mix of sure-fire horror standbys. Nothing wrong with that, but the film is so overcrowded with disparate ideas that it ends up with a ton of loose threads and setups introduced that fail to pay off. Happily, the whole undertaking manages to be repetitious without ever really being boring, so the film ends up as being inoffensively watchable as one of those Creature Features horror programmers aired on TV when I was a kid.
|Rod Steiger, praying for an Oscar nomination|
|Nauseous, sweating profusely, covered in flies, and witness to a door opening all by itself, |
Father Delaney has second thoughts about priests making house calls