Get Out of Amityville! (Amityville Week Pt. 1)
The Lutz family is looking for a break. Husband George (James Brolin) runs a semi-successful business but it’s always on the edge of falling apart. His wife Kathy (Margot Kidder) is trying to keep the kids and family together. They look at a house for sale in Amityville, one that’s perfect for their needs and available at a great price. The fact that it’s too good to be true is just that: a little while ago, the son of the family that lived there systematically gunned down his parents and siblings on a stormy night of mass murder. He was caught and convicted. The house went up for sale, but nobody wanted to live where something so horrible had happened. Except for the Lutz’s; they decide to give it a go. Of course, this was one of the worst mistakes of their lives, as they soon find the house is haunted by a malevolent entity that curses a visiting priest (Rod Steiger), makes money vanish into thin air, appears as an imaginary friend to the young daughter, and is slowing driving George bonkers. In the end, the family find out they live on a gateway to Hell, and they must flee for their lives. Or so the supposedly true story goes.
I saw this movie as a kid on network TV. I remember it scaring the bejesus out of me. Later I would read Stephen King’s book, Danse Macabre, where he basically called it a piece of shit. I was offended and agreed to disagree with the Maestro. Over the years, I saw it again and again as I grew older and soon came to agree with the King. It was a piece of shit. That’s where it’s sat in my mind for a long time: it was an overblown, overhyped turd that for some reason still resonated with a lot of viewers. I decided to revisit the series (the films up until the end of the century) and see if my opinions on the original and the sequels had changed. For the record, I love two and three, and the ones after don’t have much memory of. On this rewatch, I found The Amityville Horror to be cheesy entertainment, not as bad as I remembered, but also way too long. The bits with the priest just don’t need to be there; they mean nothing to the movie except to break up the action at the house. And the film apes a lot of The Exorcist, with the inclusion of the priests and their confab with their superiors, the whole Catholic presence hanging over everything, and the police detective, watching from the shadows, suspecting something foul. Kidder is really good in this, as a strained housewife trying to keep her family together, and Brolin is awesome as he chews the scenery in a Nic Cage-worthy kind of way. He’s terrific. The scares are still pretty vanilla and ham-fisted, but I found myself looking at the movie this time with a more tender heart, like it was a cousin of mine with a simple mind that meant well but sometimes couldn’t get out of his own way.
Is this a classic, worthy of re-discovery? Nah. It’s a pretty decent film that’s overly long that plays like it’s pumped on steroids one moment and then deflated and dull the next. The film looks great, and the sets are terrific, but like the “true story” it’s based on, there’s something hollow here, something not quite right. Still, it’s worth the occasional viewing, and the scene with the flies is classic (“Get out!”) as is the ending, where the family leaves everything behind to flee into a stormy night (an ending so good that Poltergeist had to steal it). So yeah, better than the eventual remake, not as good as the two subsequent sequels, Amityville is a relic from the past that has a lot to offer, even if most of it is empty.