The Amityville Horror (1979) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

As I write this, a remake is looming on the horizon, so it seems like a good time to look back at the series, starting with this one, the granddaddy of them all.

The original film stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder in the allegedly true tale of the Lutzes, the first family daring enough to move into a house which had once been the location of the DeFeo family killings, six brutal murders committed by the oldest son.

You'd think the Lutzes might have been suspicious when they walked through a monstrous, partially furnished three story house with waterfront property, a boat house, and a guest house, and their real estate agent told them they could obtain the house for any reasonable offer, probably even as a swap for a decent baseball card of Bob "Hurricane" Hazle. As it turns out, they had read about the murders, so they figured that the low price was generated by the history. There's no problem living in a location with a past, says Brolin, because "houses don't have memories." In the movie's version of the tale, he was very wrong. The family moves in without realizing that the house is filled with ... (cue up Richard Burton from the Exorcist sequel ... take it, Dick ....)


According to the DVD box, the house is filled with unspeakable evil, which is just as well, since haunted houses filled with speakable evil require so much more typing to describe it. And luckily for me, the evil was not only unspeakable, but nearly untypeable as well. I can only hint that it involves plenty of raspberry syrup dripping from the walls, toilets that back up with tar, and a giant red-eyed purple hamster in the window. (Right)

Perhaps the legendary "purple people eater"?

Other mysteries ensue. Some members of the family stare at one another in silence. Occasionally a nun or a priest drops by to check the place out, but they end up skedaddling when they look around and sense the unspeakable ...


I guess it's been a mighty long time since 1979, because I simply didn't remember this film doing as well as it did. Turns out it was a monster hit. It was among the top ten in the 1979 box office stats, and is also among the top ten 1979 performers in terms of subsequent rental income. It also spurred two theatrical sequels, four more straight-to-video classics, two TV movies, and now a remake. All in all, a deceptively powerful little franchise.

It is also a franchise filled with very bad movies. The first film weighs in at a mediocre 5.3 at IMDb, and the second one scores 4.0. Those scores are below average, but the first two films seem like Casablanca and The Godfather compared to the rest of the franchise

If the upcoming remake is to be a good movie, it has a long row to hoe. In fact, given the history of the series, even a mediocre movie will have to be considered a major triumph over the source material. On the other hand, the remake is not really subject to the curse of the last six sequels listed above. You see, The Amityville Horror was based on a book which was in turn based on a (supposedly) true story. Once that chapter of reality ended, the real house at 112 Ocean Avenue was filled with normal people living uneventful lives, so there was simply no more "real" material to serve as a basis for sequels. The second movie was actually a prequel based on the original DeFeo murders. The other sequels, however, were just your basic garden-variety exploitation flicks about a haunted house and some demonic possession. Since the upcoming remake will return back to the original "true" story, at least it has some more interesting source material than the sequels.

Just how true was the true story? Not true at all. The Skeptical Enquirer states in no uncertain terms that the "Lutzes admitted that virtually everything in The Amityville Horror was pure fiction." Furthermore, several people have lived in the house since the Lutzes left, and all have confirmed that there is nothing unusual happening there. If you are interested in the background of the original DeFeo murders, Court TV has done its usual excellent job in this regard.

If you are looking for some worthwhile 70s nostalgia in this film, you're lookin' in all the wrong places. This film is really not very good. There are times when I can recall what made a certain film as popular as it once was, but I just can't seem to time-travel back to 1979 and figure out what I or anyone else saw in this one. Given the tremendous box office appeal of the film, something in it must have clicked with its contemporary audiences, but whatever that was, it can not longer be sensed. I suppose this film must have done something first, or perhaps it did something better than it had ever been done up to that point, or maybe people were curious because they were convinced that the events pictured here really happened. I just don't know, but I know it doesn't work any more. All the tension is mismanaged, there are no real effective surprises, and the film just ends with no catharsis of any kind. Certain promising plot points are left totally undeveloped. For example, the wife in this family researches the earlier murders and finds that the picture of the killer is ... her husband. Interesting concept. Is it the same man? Two men possessed by the same evil spirit? Has the spirit of the murderer taken over her husband? Is the similarity simply the wife's imagination? At times her husband seems to be going over to the dark side, but then he snaps back to normal. At the end, he interrupts their escape to return to the haunted house, against the screaming protests of his family. Will he join Satan and all his minions? Hell, no. He rescues the family dog and they all drive off to live in another state. Total anticlimax. Nobody is hurt. There are Jane Austen novels with higher body counts. At least her characters get consumption now and then.

Unspeakable evil sure is overrated if it can't even take out a suburban family and a cute doggie. Maybe the author should have tried the speakable kind. Then at least the family would have had something to discuss over dinner.



  • Disk One: The Amityville Horror widescreen, plus a full-length commentary by a parapsychologist and a documentary.
  • Disk Two: a widescreen and full screen version of Amityville 2: The Possession
  • Disk Three: a widescreen and full screen version of Amityville 3-D
  • Disk Four: a sneak peek at the remake, plus two documentaries from The History Channel



Margot Kidder barely and briefly exposes her nipples beneath a man's shirt. Even though the nudity is minimal, it is sexy.

The Critics Vote ...

  • It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score

The People Vote ...

  • It was among the top ten in the 1979 box office stats, and is also among the top ten 1979 performers in terms of subsequent rental income.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. I'm being generous with that score. It may be a D. In fact, it is a slow moving story with no punchline.

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