13 August 2010 | random_avenger
The Amityville Horror
After a gruesome mass murder takes place in a big house in a nice neighbourhood, the house is sold for a very affordable price to the Lutzes, an average stepfamily of five. Soon after moving in, strange things start occurring: doors, windows and furniture move by themselves, strange sounds are heard and the family members start behaving oddly. Especially George (James Brolin), the stepfather, becomes sullen and brooding over a couple of weeks, upsetting his wife Kathy (Margot Kidder) and her kids. A local priest (Rod Steiger) also notices something gravely wrong about the house, but doesn't seem to be able to help the Lutzes despite his efforts. As the eerie incidents keep getting more and more distressing, how will the Lutzes cope with the situation?
Based on Jay Anson's book about the experiences of the real-life Lutzes, the movie maintains a somewhat down-to-earth approach to the supposedly true story. It begins so slowly that I was already becoming quite disappointed with it, even though I'm generally supportive of creeping atmosphere in cinema. However, after a while it becomes obvious that it's actually better seen as a character study as opposed to horror: George's menacing change of nature can be seen as a reaction to the stressful life situation he's going through: raising a family, running a business, moving into a new house and getting the bills paid. The bearded James Brolin captures George's emotions very effectively, essentially carrying the whole film with his performance. Rod Steiger's character Father Delaney goes through an even more drastic phase of anxiety and Steiger plays the role with all the necessary intensity, especially during his desperate call for help in a degrading church. Margot Kidder's character receives less attention, but she does her job decently too.
The film quickly leads thoughts to other religious horrors of the era, such as The Omen and The Exorcist, but also bears a resemblance to The Shining, even though the latter only came out after it. A theme of a family man slowly losing his mind and, more obviously, an axe-swinging finale are more fascinatingly handled in Kubrick's film, but The Amityville Horror reaches a decent amount of suspense at its best too. The music by Lalo Schifrin is perfectly in tune with the atmosphere and when it finally starts in the last minutes of the movie, the action looks OK as well. The very ending comes across as rather abrupt though, even though the last shot of the family's car from afar suits the mood well.
In summary, I think The Amityville Horror is a watchable movie, but more so as a character study than a flat out horror. What the film loses in action and gore, it wins back in the actors' performances and music. When watched with this in mind, it may prove out to be an enjoyable experience, even if it's not ultimately quite as great as the horror classics mentioned in the previous paragraph.