A rewatch of The Amityville Horror (1979) reveals a few things: 1) It’s ambitious. Out of the many horror films I’ve seen there are few that try to fit so many concepts into a relatively grounded idea (especially compared to the real-life case of the Lutz family). 2) It’s flawed. For some The Amityville Horror is a classic, a staple of its time. For others – myself included – it comes across as the film which tried so hard to revolutionize the horror genre but utterly missed the mark.
The Amityville Horror is ambitiously unrefined.
But what about the film makes it so special? For starters, this is regarded as the reason we’re all so familiar with the haunting to begin with. The core story of George and Kathy Lutz, their new home, their strained family, and the strange occurrences seem like a well-known topic to fans of the supernatural these days having been the subject of several documentaries, a remake, and a brief mention in The Conjuring 2 (2016). Yet while the film has made the story seem so familiar we’re reminded that much of what we see never really happened: there was never black ooze in the toilets, no blood dripping from the walls. What many take as fact was the effect of this film’s commercial success; we’ve all been duped by how massive this film was, how popular its gimmicks were.
And that is where The Amityville Horror shines. Revisiting this film should prove that, if anything, this film was conceptually interesting. Ooze and blood aside, the take on the imaginary “Jodie” character, the use of macro-photography on the flies, and the weird yet apropos performance from James Brolin come together to make a film that’s ultimately unsettling if not a tad depressing.
In the end, there’s a lot of potential still left in this film. I still feel chills watching George Lutz descend into alienated madness. I still wince everytime I see Daniel’s fingers get stuck in the window, thinking, How many times do we see a child get hurt in horror films today? There’s something so charming about the blatant attempt to infuse terror in a family setting that this feels fresh in some regards, almost akin to elements seen in James Wan’s work but, again, at an unrefined, unpolished level in terms of its editing and execution – the film clocks a two hour runtime with dozens of meaningless conversations and a priest-based story that really seems shoehorned in. Additionally, there are some weird twists in the editing which feel wrong yet are left behind with some intent that is not met for the viewer.
I cannot promise a wonderful ride through the film’s two hour runtime, but nevertheless, I urge you to watch this with a critical eye wondering, What marks did this film miss that would have made it stronger?
The Amityville Horror
dir. Stuart Rosenberg
Screens Friday, 10/7 @11:59PM, Coolidge Corner Theater
Part of the October series: Flick’r Treats