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The Amityville Horror (1979)

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg Screenplay by Sandor Stern

   Who doesn’t love a good spook story? Especially one concerning an actual event that the media and whoever else could get their hands on and mold to whichever way they see fit. Those who stick closely to the Horror genre would certainly be able to attest to their fair share of disheartening disappointments. Since throwing in ‘Based on Actual Events’ can only further ones curiosity on the subject. Only to remain curious and upon research, if any at all, find that the actual account was far less dramatic and uneventful.

In the past I’ve usually pinned the original and remake against one another. Usually choosing a set amount of reasons I believed one worked more than the other. However for the Amityville pair I will be using the same 5 reasons, mostly discussing changes from one to the other. Because it is based on events that happened I won’t be doing the sequels, at least, not right away. You can’t have no sequels on a “True” story! But I’ll lay out the ‘just’ of what most know before getting into the actual later. On the night of November 13, 1974 in Long Island at the DeFeo residence, Ronald DeFeo Jr. went throughout his house and murdered each of his family members using a high-powered rifle. Of which he later claimed to have no recollection doing as the Police arrived and after far too many unanswered questions, brought in “Butch” (as he was known by) and charged him. After of which a year had passed, the Lutz family took what they believed to be the deal of a lifetime and settled into the house. With full disclosure on knowing what all had happened. Though they were unable to stay past 28 days with claims of something evil being in the house that dragged them out and thus, the stories began. Or they began the stories, whichever you prefer.

5. The Cast: James Brolin got his acting break in a handful of commercials that initially caught his interest because of the lack of lines needed to memorize. However after signing with an agent and gaining some interest some years later he was asked to read the book on the DeFeo murders by Jay Anson. Margot Kidder admitted to agreeing to do the picture simply for the opportunity of a bigger check, nothing I can certainly fault her for. They both agreed that while the script made for a good ghost story that they didn’t believe in anything actual happening within the house. Though they were always probed for stories of strange occurrences while shooting of which they gladly participated in; give the people what they want! However the house they ended up filming in was located in southern New Jersey. They as well don’t show the children too much throughout, at least not nearly like in the remake. So not a whole lot to say about them there. Leaving the Priest which most, if not all, interactions along with their “psychic friend” never even occurred. But how can you not love the completely ludicrous scene with him in the church or one with Carolyn in the basement? They’re great examples of classic Horror cheesiness at it’s best.

4. The Transitions of the Character from Start to Finish: While viewing the film it’s clear that the family as well as the house go through a change from start to finish. Though this film has an extra 30 minutes worked in, they don’t delve too far into the family’s situation beforehand. Though they were presumably an otherwise happy family that moved into a house they felt brought a whirlwind of promise. Brolin and Kidder were a great pair that certainly make the movie worth watching. They both claimed in being “too dramatic” at times but it also called for it at certain parts. Though Brolin’s look was somewhat menacing to begin with which didn’t make his development seem as much of a stretch. But what a great look it was, for both main Actors. Margot was fantastic at capturing the look of terror when admittedly it wasn’t as easy on set. Though it seemed the Priest had more story line and transitioning than any of the other characters which I frankly could have done without. There just didn’t feel any need to relieve the tension with a fictitious side story that felt unneeded more than anything.

3. How they Captured the Fear of the House: For the remake I heard them speaking on the characteristics of each person but the house is really the main character of the film. At least, that’s how I viewed it. However the opening was enticing in that it showed an otherwise nice home followed by ‘mysterious’ flashes going off. Though perhaps the wounds were still a bit fresh to go all out as they did in the latter film. George and Kathy Lutz claiming to have seen of all things, an evil-looking pig, in windows and throughout the house. Which in 1979 may have made a few people jump but would make today’s audiences flat-out laugh. To hear that while filming Margot herself couldn’t contain her laughter at how they attempted to recreate. Using a stuffed velour pig with glass eyes that would be brought into view and moved around; I mean, really? The slime that couldn’t help but disperse throughout the house was a nice effect but it wasn’t until Brolin falls and is dipped into a pool of the stuff that the effect really worked. Even though that never happened either. 

2. Level of Action Incorporated into the Film: People seem quick to state style over substance in films but I think it’s also important to note the different audiences that each decade has to feed into as well. We’re desensitized little brats who want to be entertained and we know it! It’s just hard to admit at times. So viewing the original may seem a bit uneventful and dramatic at times but that was their style nonetheless. Brolin did a great job of holding that aggression through the film and I must admit to liking his burly beard and crazed look best. There just didn’t seem many opportunities for them to make the film action packed.

1. How the Story Evolved over the Years: I did enjoy the commentary of which was given by Dr. Hans Holzer PH.D. in Parapsychology. Something that will either turn off the audience or intrigue them further. Dr. Holzer was the first person to visit the house after the Lutz family fled and knows the ins and outs of what the family actually went through, stating his own reasoning’s of why the events had occurred to begin with. In 1782 there was another house built at the same location. Though it was the land of which was built on an Indian burial ground that was haunted. Then in 1905 the Indian Chief’s bones had risen to the surface and his skull was broken off and used as nothing more than a toy. Hey, I’d be a little upset too. Which yielded the strange occurrences to begin and they decided to move the house to another spot, where it remains and found that they no longer occurred. Flash forward to 1928 when they built the current house on the empty lot which was inhabited by the DeFeo’s. Once again the instances began and while they consulted two Priest, the first claimed in not being to perform an exorcism on such but that he would bless it. The second claiming to consult a publisher in that it all made for a great story. As far as explaining none of the family members or neighbors being able to hear the shots fired, Dr. Holzer went on to explain that a haunted atmosphere such as the house entailed a magnetic atmosphere. Which the spirit would have been able to control, such an instance, while having taken possession of Ronald.

So take out all of Hollywood and what do you have? Some pissed off bones that really didn’t want a house built on his land. Not so scary when you also consider most of what you witness in the original film never happened or was vastly and dramatically changed to attune your otherwise wandering eye. It may even be extremely difficult to take into consideration the explanations given by such an expert in the field. However if unwilling to accept that there are other forces after death then your academic mind may fill in what it would rather believe. The film is still a classic for those who choose to view it as such and will always make for a good ghost story over anything else.