1979’s The Amityville Horror is turning 39 years old today! The 1979 film, based on the 1977 novel of the same name brought audiences one of the most debated and controversial haunted houses of all time.
Based on a (Maybe) True Story
While the film is based on Jay Anson’s 1977 novel, The Amityville Horror, the root of the story comes from the real life experiences of the Lutz family. In 1975, the Lutz family moved into their Long Island home, one year after the brutal DeFeo family murders had taken place in the home. After only 28 days the family moved out, citing paranormal activity made the house uninhabitable.
George and Kathy Lutz were eventually introduced to Jay Anson and provided him with recorded tapes of their accounts of their experiences. And thus The Amityville Horror came to life. Being such a fantastically horrific account, the Lutz’s story was almost destined to be movie material.
The film follows the young couple as they move into their new home in Long Island with Kathy’s three children. Strange occurrences begin happening in the home. George Lutz progressively appeared more ill, waking up at 3:15AM every morning, the same time the murders were reported to have occurred. The youngest kid has an imaginary friend named Jody, because of course she does. The babysitter gets locked in a room that doesn’t lock, a priest is attacked by flies in the home, and Kathy’s aunt, a nun, cannot stay in the house and becomes violently ill as soon as she leaves the home. The walls bleed and there is a creepy portal to the spirit world in the basement. All in all, it’s not a great place to live it seems.
An Entertaining Review
While the film opened to mixed reviews, it has remained one of the most successful independent film productions of all time. The film definitely drew a crowd. I always find it interesting to read what Roger Ebert originally thought of films upon their release. I’ve read many of his reviews and this one actually made me laugh. Ebert clearly was not a fan of the film, giving it only one and a half stars. Ebert reasons that the big bad of the horror film didn’t do much for him or the audience, especially when compared to its contemporaries – The Exorcist and Alien.
While Ebert stated he couldn’t say if the events were true or not, they definitely didn’t make for an entertaining movie. Ebert described the events as being “ made into a dreary and terminally depressing series of glum things that happen to the residents of the Ocean Boulevard house.” At the end of the day, Roger Ebert’s conclusion was that “the problem with these folks is that they’ve moved to Long Island. There are lots of neighborhoods in Chicago in which they woulda made a good investment.”
A Spooky Set
Numerous tales of paranormal activity surrounding the film came out during filming and around the time of the film’s release. There was an air of creepiness that surrounded the production. When James Brolin was originally offered the role of George Lutz, he chose to read Jay Anson’s book for research. Brolin apparently read into the early hours of the morning and during a particularly creepy part of the novel, a pair of pants Brolin had hung earlier dropped to the floor. The poor timing of the pants spooked Brolin, prompting him to think maybe there was something to the Lutz’s story.
During production, rumors spread about paranormal activity on the set. However, the film’s stars, James Brolin and Margot Kidder, later revealed it was all a stunt by the studio to stir up excitement. Both actors have since revealed that they do not believe the events that the film were based on were “true”.
The Creepiest Score Ever?
Without a doubt, the film’s score is absolutely terrifying. Similar to creepy lullaby of Rosemary’s Baby or the theme tune of Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror’s opening theme of a woman or child singing is extremely eerie. Even writing about it sort of creeps me out. If you aren’t familiar you really need to check it out. Lalo Schifrin’s score for the film is a haunting melody that stays with you, long after you hear it. For years the score was rumored to be a rejected score originally arranged for The Exorcist, however the composer has always denied this. Lalo Schifrin did originally write music for The Exorcist, which was rejected, however it is distinctively different from this one, still creepy though.
A Crazy Legacy
More than anything, The Amityville Horror brought the story of what the Lutz family experienced under a microscopic lens. There are an astounding 20 films listed in total inspired by this story including the original 1979 film which was the first. While the films amp up the horror and jumpscares for an audience, critics and skeptics have slowly picked apart the family’s tale claiming it was all a hoax.
In 1977, the Lutz’s filed a lawsuit against William Weber (Ronald DeFeo, Jr.’s defense lawyer), as well as several authors and publishers for invasion of privacy and mental distress, claiming $4.5 million in damages. Weber originally offered a book contract to the Lutz’s, which they had refused. However some articles were still published about the events. In reaction to the lawsuit, the defendants actually counter sued for breach of contract. Eventually, the judge dismissed the cases, stating that the book appeared to be completely fictional. In 1979, Weber eventually told press that he knew the story was a hoax as it was made up over several bottles of wine.
Revisiting this film nearly 40 years after its release makes it hard to imagine a world where the story of events in Amityville were not common knowledge. The events surrounding the Lutz family have been so disputed it has really muddied the waters since the book and film were originally released. Looking back, the film is still a good scare, especially for newcomers to the genre. I remember watching The Amityville Horror when I was about 14 or so with my parents. At the time my room was in our basement. I wasn’t really scared while watching the film, but I was when I woke up at 3:15 in the morning. Maybe that is what is special about this film. There is nothing too terrifying that happens, but there is something there that sticks with you.