“For God’s Sake, Get out!” screams the tagline for 1979’s Amityville Horror. I haven’t seen this little gem since it was originally released. My memory of it had been skewed over the years to one of mundane. At the time, I had been a big fan of the book and was excited (perhaps too much so) to see the film adaptation. When it didn’t live up to the book by Jay Anson, I was left disappointed and underwhelmed. Now, thirty years later and thirty years distant from the source material, I have decided to revisit this classic; and, to my surprise, I really liked what I found.
Stuart Rosenberg, who was responsible for the Paul Newman classics Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Drowning Pool (1975), directed The Amityville Horror for American International Pictures (AIP). The film stars James “The Car” Brolin, Margot “Sisters” Kidder, Rod “The Illustrated Man” Steiger, Don Stroud and Murray “Jaws” Hamilton. You could easily consider the house itself as one of the stars with its trademark twin top-story windows flanking the chimney along the house’s side. Sandor Stern wrote the screenplay from the original book by Jay Anson.
The plot is simple, and with the controversial book’s history, well known. Newlyweds, George and Kathy Lutz purchase a beautiful house in Amityville, New York. The house comes with a history; the previous owners, the Defeos, were murdered violently by their own son, Ronald. The Lutz family soon find themselves haunted by frightening sounds, terrifying visions and dreams and violent accidents – not to mention flies. George suffers the most, having his personality change and actions become both self deprecating and dangerous. Even with the involvement of a local priest, the family cannot exorcise the house and must flee for their lives.
I found the movie more professionally directed and well-crafted than I had remembered, building tension and fear slowly toward the over-the-top conclusion. The soundtrack supports the film and the mood necessary to carry the dread and foreboding the films needs. Rosenberg directs the film as a drama with horror elements found in its lining. When it focuses on the psychological elements and brief hints of terror and haunting is when he succeeds the most: eyes outside the windows, the babysitter trapped inside the closet, both Lutz’ awakening from nightmares screaming. When it comes time to address the out and out horror is when it falters slightly: the blood walls, the erupting floors and exploding doors.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder as George and Kathy Lutz shine in their performances. Brolin’s George Lutz is both sympathetic and frightening all at once as his psyche deteriorates with each passing day. Kidder’s Kathy Lutz is desperate to save her family and her husband and frightened of the outcome if she cannot. Rod Steiger however chews the scenery in most of his scenes, but is superb when he is in the house alone and has to face the horror first hand with the flies and the famous line “Get Out!”
It took thirty years, but I’ve changed my mind on The Amityville Horror. I can now see it as a classic and a truly frightening film. Seeing it again was a pleasant and rewarding surprise and I plan on visiting this masterpiece yet again in the future. Recommended.
7.5 out of 10