Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Amityville Horror, The (1979) - 2/5

When it comes to haunted houses none is more burned into the annals of history than the Amityville House, better known by the public by the moniker "The Amityville Horror." Supposedly based on a true story, the "The Amityville Horror" often gets blasted due to it being based on fact. Now whether you believe the story really happened or not is irrelevant because true horror fans can't deny that this is a fucking great horror story, true or not. Don't believe me? Then read the book as it is one of the most tense and scary stories I have ever read. It's perfect fodder for a hit movie with all the spooky shenanigans and a creepy house with its eye windows peeking out from behind the chimney. Even with a story as scary and tense as "The Amityville Horror" filmmakers were able to deliver a hit film but sadly were far from being able to craft a great, scary movie.

Well we open with a psychotic killer brutally murdering his two parents and siblings. Jump to a few years later and we are introduced to a newlywed, mixed family making a new beginning by buying a beautiful house at a steal of a price. Looking past the murders that occurred there, they soon find that their in the midst of a supernatural frenzy that starts to drive the father stark raving made. Will the family be able to move out before the ghosts or an ax wielding husband make the house their tomb?

"The Amityville Horror" on the surface has all the ingredients for a great film. First we have a strong cast lead by James Brolin and Margot Kidder as our couple and even Rod Steiger overacting as a priest. Second is the score by Lalo Schifrin is absolutely haunting, adding an ominous atmosphere early on in the picture. Third is the production values are good, showing the film had a budget to work with. So what the hell went so wrong? Let's just stay the house is built on weak foundations...

The main problem is the script by Sandor Stern which comes nowhere close to capturing the sheer terror of the novel. Nothing really scary happens making the film really bog down. I'm sorry but black goo coming down the walls and flies covering the windows isn't scary. Those elements provide good build up to scares but they all lead up to no pay off. The one chilling moment is when a demonic voice threatens a priest who attempts to bless the house... that's it! Stern's script also deviates far too often from the novel, adding in ridiculous aspects (like a Priest going blind and a doorway to hell in the basement) while at the same time cutting out scenes that would have terrified (why the hell wasn't the pig demon focused more on?).

With a lame script director Stuart Rosenberg is like a helpless contractor, building a house without a set of blue-prints and only a few scribbles on a piece of paper. The result is the film slowing building up to an extremely disappointing climax. Rosenberg also doesn't go out of his way to make it a visual feast for the eyes as the film has a rather dull, lifeless look about it that could even constitute a made-for-TV production.

"The Amityville Horror", instead of being a harrowing, scary experience just ends up being a bore. With a story this scary and enthralling this film version should have been legendary and if it weren't for it's reputation of being "based on a true story" it would have just faded into obscurity. I'm sorry but there are FAR better, scary and atmospheric haunted house films from the 70s including but not limited to "The Legend of Hell House", "Burnt Offerings" and "The Evil" which sadly get glazed over by people thanks to this films "true" reputation. Needless to say "The Amityville Horror" was a huge box office success which lead to, get this, seven sequels ("Amityville II: The Possession", "Amityville 3-D", "Amityville: The Evil Escapes", "The Amityville Curse", "Amityville 1992: It's About Time", "Amityville: A New Generation" and "Amityville: Dollhouse") as well as a remake 2005 which surprisingly slightly improved the results.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

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