With real estate piping hot these days, it’s easy to see how someone might be enticed by a “fixer upper,” if not the demonic house in The Amityville Horror. Haunted homes in film are pretty numerous, going back to Eerie Tales (Unheimliche Geschichten, 1919) and probably even before that.
Broadly, they can be divided into those where the perspective buyers/renters know what they’re getting into (Amityville, or Burnt Offerings – there’s catch: a lady in the attic you’ll need to look after, no trouble at all!) or not (Sinister, where a crime writer played by Ethan Hawke, discovers his new home’s sinister past on reel-to-reel).
In The Amityville Horror, there’s a dark (and real life-inspired) backstory as to why the sprawling riverside homestead is suddenly on the market, and reasonably priced: a horrific mass murder perpetrated by Ronald DeFeo, Jr (a sicko who shot-gunned four siblings and his parents one early morning in the winter of 1974 in Long Island, New York). This is revealed in truly creepy cutaway asides…
The home buyers are George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin/Margot Kidder), a good-looking duo with lovely kids who are gradually caught up in the bad Mojo from this home.
Like the earlier The Exorcist, there’s ecumenical associations, and one Father Delaney brought in (Rod Steiger). The padre is soon overcome by a strange presence in the home, his face covered with pestilence flies, his hands burned like stigmata after using the phone…
One child wants to go home, another has an imaginary friend, the couple argue about their new purchase (“I’m not going anywhere. You’re the one that wanted a house. This is it, so just shut up!”) the dog smells something odd and otherworldly, a children’s chorus sings something sinister, there’s a creepy raggedy Ann doll, and there’s a cat scare. In short, this is a one-stop shop for all things supernatural horror, if you’re into that kind of thing. However, apart from a few stellar moments, this one doesn’t deserve its longstanding appeal, and somehow Eli Roth is giving it yet another installment.
One bit of fun: Father Bolen is played by Don Stroud, best known to the authors of this site for starring in two obscure, yet badass, Canuck exploitation films, Death Weekend and Search and Destroy).
** (out of 5)
[Check out our podcast discussion of The Amityville Horror!]