I watched the classic 1979 film The Amityville Horror. I watched in part because the Film Sack podcast recorded an episode about the movie last week. I’d wanted to see it anyway and decided that it was the perfect time.
I have listened to the Film Sack review about this movie before I sat down to write my own review. I regret doing that because it has altered my opinion of the movie. The panel on the show took pleasure in mocking it. I have to somewhat disagree with their overall opinions.
I enjoyed The Amityville Horror. I’ve seen countless movies of the haunted house genre before watching this movie. This film was before my time and I didn’t see it in its day. Despite having seen better movies in this genre in later years, I think it was really good for it’s time. It was fun to watch and it truly spooked me in parts.
I didn’t know a thing about this movie before I started watching it. I didn’t know that Margot Kidder played the role of the wife. My first reaction was a bit of disappointment, but I must say that she did a fine job and I found her to be surprisingly likable throughout the movie. James Brolin, playing the role of the husband, was a good actor as well. He wasn’t all that likable, but his character wasn’t supposed to be.
The acting was really good all around in this movie. I’d like to particularly mention the babysitter with the headgear that got locked in the bedroom closet. She really sold me on her fear. She really did an outstanding job. Whoever that girl was, I hope she went on to star in more movies.
I was not thrilled by the casting of the priests. The lead priest, played by Rod Steiger, was great. He fit the part and acted very well. The others I had a problem with. His partner, played by Don Stroud, was in a lot of TV shows in the 70s. He has played a lot of bad guys, if I recall. He wasn’t the right person to play a priest. He looked like more of a mob guy to me.
The other two priests who were higher up in the church were not cast right at all. Murray Hamilton was one of them. He seems like more of a TV actor than a movie actor, in my opinion. I can’t take him seriously as an authority figure. He looks like a mechanic. John Larch, who I immediately recognized as the prosecuting attorney in Airplane 2, played the role of his partner. I understand that Airplane had not been filmed at the time that The Amityville Horror was made, but seeing that guy in the middle of a scene that was supposed to be serious and dramatic did not work for me. I realize that I am not being fair by making that comparison.
As far as the overall plot is concerned, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere. It is two hours long and it spent all of that time building intensity that ultimately went nowhere. The ending was abrupt. The family drove away from the house in the final scene and the credits rolled. There was no payoff from all of the drama they spent building throughout the movie. I found that to be a bit disappointing. They should have written a more exciting ending and shortened the movie by 15 minutes or more.
I recorded some audio notes while I watched this to compare my thoughts to those on the Film Sick podcast. I’m tempted to share the audio files of notes that I made, but I’ll pass on that for now. Below, I’ll mention a few things that stood out for me.
The scene where the husband sat in a chair next to a dark window was equally predictable and exaggerated. I knew something was going to happen in the window, and sure enough, a black cat flies onto the windowsill out of nowhere with a ridiculously loud shriek. That was horror movie 101. I rolled my eyes at that tired old stunt. I would imagine that was a tired idea even in 1979.
The scene where the nun drives away from the house and stops her car to throw up wasn’t meant to be funny, but I laughed out loud. The sound effect of her barfing was hilariously violent and overdubbed. I paused the movie I was laughing so hard. Surely that was not the intention of the filmmakers.
When the wife comes home from the grocery store to find her madman husband furiously chopping wood in the yard, she asked him to help her carry in a car full of groceries. Together they carry in all of two paper bags with groceries in them. That was all she bought? For a house of five people? I kept wondering where the rest of the groceries were that she needed so much help with.
The scene where the little boys hand gets slammed in the window was painful to watch. They did a good job with that scene. I was under the impression that the kid had to have broken all of his fingers in that moment, but he seemed perfectly fine for the rest of the movie. Go figure.
Who was the weird man who showed up at the front door holding a six-pack of beer? He said he was the neighbor, but he appeared out of nowhere and was never seen again. I don’t understand what that scene was supposed to be about. It never came back around again and it was never explained what he was doing there.
The house was always very dark inside, particularly near the bottom of the stairs. There is a lit chandelier there, but it must have had 1-watt bulbs in it because there was barely enough light for the family to find their way around the house. The scenes shot from the outside of the house made it look completely lit from the inside, but all of the scenes in the house were noticeably dim. I wanted to shout at the screen, “You live in a haunted house! Turn some lights on!”
The special effects were admittedly pretty bad. Thankfully, they made very little use of special effects in the movie. The pig-looking demon with the glowing eyes in the upstairs window looked really bad. They should have taken a different approach in getting that across. That was just bad.
I know that I’ve listed a lot of things wrong with this movie, but overall, I enjoyed watching it. It was entertaining. It’s supposedly based on a true story, but I find it all a bit hard to believe in the real world. That aside, the movie was pretty intense and enjoyable for horror fans. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars on Netflix.
There are several sequels and reboots of this franchise but I am not in a hurry to watch any of them.