One of the first video sleeves I ever saw was for The Amityville Horror which just so happened to be on one of my favourite video labels, Guild Home Video (the people who have ever seen the opening ident for Guild will know why I love it so much) in one of the first video shops that opened in my area. The eye-popping visuals were so intoxicating as it looked like Margot Kidder was going to be attacked with an axe. After my family rented the movie, I then tracked down Jay Anson’s paperback that the movie is based on.
The film concerns a young family who move into a house where a young man had killed his entire family. And they wonder why the house price was so low.
Cue all manner of haunted house shenanigans- flies, crucifixes being turned upside down, the kids suddenly acquiring imaginary friends, red eyes being seen through the window at night, black ooze overflowing from the toilet…the list is endless.
The Amityville Horror is one of those films that divides my opinion. Sometimes I love it and find it really sinister with an ability to get under my skin. But on other occasions, it feels like every camp and childish haunted house cliche has been poured into a movie that is actually just based on a hoax. I realise that a lot of these ingredients weren’t cliches when the film was released but there are so many ‘scary’ and unnatural things that we see happen in the house (and sometimes outside it) that it feels like the filmmakers over-egged the pudding. The sheer volume of such incidents is so vast that after a while they stop being shocking or horrific.
Saying that though, I love the captions that show how long the family endured the house and its horrors. I always love it when I read the caption ‘The Last Day’. But I always think that if I had been in their situation I would have left a long time before. Like on the first day.
There are some funny moments though- watch out for the vomiting nun and the worst teeth brace you’ll ever see. It looks like some kind of torture device. Apparently, they used wire coathangers to correct wonky teeth back in the day. Who knew.
Also, Margot Kidder seems to have some kind of naughty schoolgirl, proto-Britney Spears vibe going on in this film. She’s all pigtails and short skirts with thigh-length socks. A bit pervy. Keep your fantasies in the bedroom, hun. Her husband is played by James Brolin who is here in uber-bear mode, all beard and flannel shirts. Look out for the scene of him in his tighty whiteys. Also, look at how he becomes more unhinged as the film progresses and how his physical self dramatically changes because of this.
Lalo Schfrin’s score is excellent. On the surface, it sounds like the most cliched theme ever to be written for a film about a haunted house, all children’s voices la-la-la-ing their way through a children’s lullaby. But listen to how with each reprise of this theme throughout the film it’s made more distorted and off-kilter by the use of a water phone and electronic trickery. Also, check out the use of subsonic rumbling sounds that are actually present on the film’s soundtrack too. The music score is a lot more innovative and nuanced than on first listen.
3 stars out of 5