The Lutz family purchases a beautiful home for a steal, but after moving in, they soon realize they’re getting more than what they bargained for.  Cursed with 3:15 am wake-up calls, a not-so-friendly ghost named Jodie, foul smells, faulty plumbing, and full-blown fly infestation, the Ocean Drive house is indeed haunted.  “Houses” do “have memories,” and beneath this one is a well to hell.   

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Bloody Rundown

Director Stuart Rosenberg created an unsettling, atmospheric gothic film that remains a predominant haunted house horror.  Although panned by some critics, The Amityville Horror, a box-office hit, was nominated for the prestigious Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.  Margot Kidder was also nominated for a Saturn Award for her compelling performance as Kathy Lutz.  Critics argue that the character of George Lutz lacks emotional nuance; however, James Brolin’s portrayal was so realistic that he was unemployed for two years due to the abusive nature of his character.  Luckily, Brolin took a pay reduction for his role in exchange for a 10% gross of the film’s earnings, in which he netted $17 million (with inflation that equates to $56 million today). 

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Rod Steiger’s performance was panned as over-the-top camp by some critics as well.  But, the Academy Award winning actor effectively delivers, garnering sympathy and inciting fright for his circumstances.  His formidable portrayal as Father Delaney, in my opinion, was nothing short of hardcore.   

With their cherub faces, actors Natasha Ryan, K.C. Martel, and Meeno Peluce were beyond impressive in their portrayals as Amy, Greg, and Matt, respectively.  As the awkward teen, Jackie, a role that many would deem as “once-in-a-lifetime,” Amy Wright, through tooth and nail, well, nailed it.  Hers is the type of performance that should be studied by all aspiring actors, tween, teen, and even adult.  Rounding out the talented cast are the renowned Don Stroud as Father Bolen, Murray Hamilton as Father Ryan, John Larch as Father Nuncio, and Helen Shaver as Carolyn. 

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In spite of the film’s mixed reviews, few can dispute that Lalo Schifrin’s remarkably eerie musical score meticulously intensifies the film’s paranormal dread.  He was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award.  (On a side note, Schifrin dismissed the rumor that he reused this particular score after William Friedkin rejected it for The Exorcist (1973).) 

Tame by today’s standards, the nostalgia for the film’s spooky plot and simplistic special effects will never fade.  Based on Jay Anson’s 1977 nonfiction bestseller and written for the screen by Sandor Stern, The Amityville Horror uncovers the harrowing ordeal endured by the Lutz family after moving into their haunted Long Island home.  During their 28-day stay, the family was allegedly plagued with paranormal incidents.  The previous owners and their four children were shot execution style by their deranged son Ronald DeFeo, Jr., who is currently serving life at New York’s Green Haven Correctional Facility.  The locale’s horrifying history dates back to the 17th century.  According to folklore, John Ketcham, a devil worshipper, settled on the land after being exiled from Salem.  Needless to say, the area is ripe for supernatural activity.

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The Amityville Horror has spawned several sequels, a remake, innumerable books and documentaries, as well as lawsuits.  Many claim the entire Lutz account was a hoax; however, some witnesses, including the Lutz son, Daniel, dispute any fraud.  (Daniel Lutz relays his version of the haunting in Eric Walter’s documentary My Amityville Horror (2012).)   Whether or not the film is based on fact or fiction, the legendary haunting of 112 Ocean Avenue continues to captivate, and another sequel, starring the acclaimed Jennifer Jason Leigh, is set for a 2015 release.

Die-Anne’s Diatribe

Whether it’s fake or factual, The Amityville Horror offers some old-school yet timeless scares.

Plot Mutilator

November 13th, 1974 

An adult child murders his parents and four siblings at their home in Amityville, Long Island, at 3:15 am.  The cops and the coroner converge, while Sgt. Gionfriddo lights a large cigar and investigates.

One Year Later

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Newlyweds Kathy and George Lutz purchase the river front property, complete with a boat and garden house, for the bargain price of $80 grand, $40 grand less than its worth.  Although the home’s attic windows resemble “evil eyes,” George assures Kathy that despite the murders, “houses don’t have memories.”

One Month Later

The Lutz family, which includes Kathy’s three children, Amy, Greg, and Matt, from a previous marriage, move into the house.  Naturally, they are Catholics as hauntings never seem to manifest before atheists.  While the family frolics outside, Father Delaney arrives to bless the house.  He hears whispers and ventures into an upstairs room where he tries to open the window to alert the family of his arrival, but the window remains sealed shut.  As he begins to bless the room, a swarm of flies appear and congregate on his face.  The door swings open and a voice ominously yells “Get out!  Get out!”  Father Delaney rushes out of the house and throws-up before speeding off in his car.  That night he tries calling Kathy, but the line is full of static.  The phone receiver then burns Father Delaney’s hand with blisters. 

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George is freezing; the indoor temperature at “72” “feels like 32.”   Kathy believes a draft is coming from basement.  As George investigates, Matt follows and falls down the stairs.  They decide to look into the draft the next day.

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Half-naked and clad in one pink legwarmer, Kathy sashays some ballet moves while looking in her gold vein mirror.  George enters and after exchanging some lovey-dovey sentiments, the two get it on only to be interrupted by Amy who wants “to go home.”  Kathy carries her back to bed and shuts the open window.  At 3:15 that night, George awakens and hears whispers coming from Amy’s room.  He checks Amy’s room and shuts the now open window. He then checks the property with the family dog, Harry, who is chained outside.

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4th Day – Thursday

As Kathy drops a “weeks-worth” of groceries, George is cutting firewood.  After she sneaks up behind him and grabs his ass, George yells “Don’t ever do that—not to a man with an ax in his hand.” 

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Kathy requests his help with the groceries, assuring him that he has “enough wood here to heat the whole south shore.”  He snaps out of it and helps, but inquires as to “who drinks this fancy kind of tea.”  Kathy tells him the tea is for her Aunt Helena, a nun, who is coming over.  George responds, “Give me a break.”  He is very cranky. 

Kathy phones Father Delaney, but Father Bolin answers and tells her that Father Delaney is sick.  He then tells her that Father Delaney went to the house yesterday; but, Kathy insists that he never showed.

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The toilets are overflowing with black tar oil that “stinks.”  Aunt Helena arrives and Matt and Greg reluctantly greet her even though “she always pinches.”  After she squeezes their cherubic cheeks, she struggles to the kitchen, overcome with sickness.  Aunt Helena rushes out of the house and drives off only to pull over and to violently puke.

5th Night – Friday

Kathy is painting and listening to Bach while George is obsessively manning the fire.  Kathy suggests that George sleeps in the next morning, but he cantankerously quips: “I’ve got work to do.  I don’t want to be up to my ass in boxes forever.”  They then go to bed, but George is unable to get it up.  (Perhaps George overextended himself from all that wood cutting.)   

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At 3:15 Kathy awakens from a nightmare, screaming “She was shot in the head.”

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6th Day – Saturday

Father Delaney and Father Bolin are in route to the Lutz home, yet their steering wheel malfunctions, crashing the car.  Meanwhile Kathy’s brother, Jimmy, is in the Lutz living room recounting the $1500 owed to the caterer for his upcoming wedding that night.  He places the money in his pocket.  George appears looking disheveled from his “flu virus,” which also ails Amy.  Jimmy checks his pocket for the money that has now disappeared.  They look throughout the living room to no avail.  As best man, George declares he will write the caterer, who specified for cash only, a check.  Jimmy, George, Kathy, and the two boys rush off to the wedding, leaving Amy with the babysitter.

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Strapped with an orthodontic headgear, brace-face Jackie babysits Amy during what I personally deem as the best scene of the entire film.  Like the TSA, bouncers, rent-a-cops, assistant principals, the attendance lady, middle management, and, well, the list goes on, Jackie, the babysitter, is also overzealous in her fleeting moment of authority.  Teenage Jackie curtly demands “Time for bed!” Amy, who is already tucked into bed, wants to play with her imaginary friend, Jodie.  Jackie then harshly blurts “Now don’t smart off on me!” Amy did not “smart off on Jackie”; indeed, she just conveyed that she wanted to play with Jodie while in bed!  Evidently, Jackie does not realize who she is working for – and that would be Amy!  Jackie then enters Amy’s walk-in closet.  The door slams shut, locking her in, while she cries, a multitude of times, “Amy, open the door.”  Her knuckles bleed from her pounding, saliva spraying from her metal mouth, and when the closet light goes out, she lets out a bloodcurdling scream: “Amy!”  (I, Die-Anne Mondeaux, have no sympathy.)

At Jimmy’s wedding, George fights with the caterer who wants cash as “checks bounce.” George, haggard and ill, then tells Kathy that he wants to “get the kids and split” as he is too sick to make it through the reception.  (I do not understand why George can’t go home alone and why is forcing Kathy to miss the best part of her brother’s wedding.)

They return home and free crying Jackie from Amy’s closet.  Although there is no lock on the closet door, Amy cries “It wouldn’t open!”  Amy explains that Jodie wouldn’t allow her to open the door.  George is pissed.  Amy says “Jodie doesn’t like George,” and I have to agree with Jodie’s sentiments.

George again looks for Jimmy’s lost cash, and screams to the house, “Where the hell is it?”

8th Day – Monday

Father Delaney and Father Bolin meet with Father Ryan and Father Nuncio, their superiors.  They berate Father Delaney, a “trained psychotherapist,” condescending that the Catholic Church is “not in the habit of blaming Satan for every phenomena.” Father Ryan concludes the car’s “mechanical defect” can be blamed on “Detroit a lot faster than the devil.”  They fess Delaney’s claims up to “simple hysteria” and state, “Don’t you think you sound a little medieval.”  Father Delaney assures them he heard voices at the Lutz home, and screams there is a “family in my parish that’s at great risk—they are facing real danger!” 

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Even though they agree they are all “modernists” (in accordance to Vatican II), the argument continues.  Finally, they suggest that Father Delaney takes a “vacation.”         

11th Day – Thursday

While George chops more wood, his business partner, Jeff, and his wife, Carolyn, arrive.  Carolyn is too creeped-out by the house and remains in the car.  Jeff approaches George and divulges he is worried about their failing business.  George is incensed, yet he soon snaps out of his irate demeanor (or perhaps his demonic possession) at the “good news” of Jeff bringing the boat spotlight. 

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Meanwhile, Amy is playing with her dolls outside while her brothers tease her with a rubber spider on a fishing pole from a second-story window.  Amy says, “Stop teasing me!”  The window then slams shut on Matt’s fingers.  (Perhaps Jodie worked her magic again?)  George, Jeff, and Kathy run to the upstairs window and painstakingly try to open it.  Once Matt’s bloody fingers are finally released, they take him to the hospital where they discover that none of his bones are broken. 

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At 3:15 am, George awakens and checks guest room which is swarmed with flies.  Both the front and basement doors burst open.  The police are called to the scene, and suspicious Sgt. Gionfriddo arrives, lighting a large cigar to investigate.

12th Day – Friday

Amy tells her mother that Jodie told her about the dead little boy who used to live in her room.  Later, while home alone, Kathy calls Father Delaney but as he tries to warn her, static interrupts their conversation.  Kathy prays, and a gust of wind envelopes her.  She then hears someone at the kitchen door.  A creepy man, claiming to be a neighbor, declares that he is there to welcome the Lutz family with a six pack of beer.  The phone rings and Kathy answers it only to hear pure static.  She then returns to the kitchen screen door and the “neighbor” has now vanished.  (I’m not sure if the “neighbor” is a demon, an angel, or an actual neighbor.) 

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Meanwhile, George has driven his motorcycle to the town hall and library to investigate the house.  He then goes to the Witches Brew bar to meet Jeff.  The bartender informs George of his uncanny resemblance to the murderer Ronald DeFeo.  Jeff and George proceed to fight over the failing business.  Carolyn meets them at the Brew, and over some brews and wine, they investigate the home’s history.   The land was plotted by a 17th-century devil worshiper, John Ketchum, who was exiled from Salem.  Jeff is too much of a “hardcore rationalist” to believe; however, he does suggest to babysitting the kids while George takes Kathy to dinner to unwind.  They set off to Ocean Drive.

Kathy, in the meantime, enters Amy’s room, who tells her that Jodie fled out her window.  Kathy peers out the window and is bewildered to witness Jodie’s piggish snorts and red eyes. 

The trio return, and with “strong vibes” coming from the basement, Carolyn is now compelled to enter the house.  While George talks to Kathy, Jeff and Carolyn sneak in the basement to find Harry scratching the brick wall with bleeding paws.  (Could Jodie be at work again?)  amit 15

Carolyn feels there are bodies buried behind the wall and begins to tear it down with a sledgehammer. George emerges, and Kathy follows as the wall is dismantled, uncovering a blood-red room with the image of George appearing with devil horns.  Possession temporarily takes hold of Carolyn who shrieks: “Find the well.  It’s the passage to hell! Cover it!”

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After Jeff and Carolyn leave, George and Kathy notice their silver crucifix is blackened and hanging upside in their living room.  They take the cross and attempt to bless the house themselves.  Evidentially, their blessing renders nil.

17th Day – Wednesday

While at the church alter, father Delaney prays.  A statue of an angle crumbles from above and smashes into his eyes.  Father Delaney is blinded.  

18th Night – Thursday

That morning, George once again awakens at 3:15 and trips over a Chinese lion statue in the living room.  He cries out, “What do you want from us?”  Kathy has a nightmare of George killing Amy with an ax. 

19th Day – Friday

Presumably from the statue he tripped over, George’s ankle is covered with a bit mark.  Kathy suggests that they move.  A fight ensues with George hitting Kathy. 

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She then unsuccessfully tries to reach Father Delaney, who is now severely despondent.  Kathy investigates the DeFeo murders on the library’s microfiche and is horrified at the strong resemblance between Ronald DeFeo and George.  Frantic, Kathy hurries home.  

The Last Night

After returning home, Kathy sees George outside with an ax coming toward the house.  She hides the kids in the bathroom.  George enters the home and hacks through the bathroom door with his ax.  Kathy jumps on George’s back; he pushes her to the floor and wields the ax toward her but misses.  He then, once again, snaps out of his possession, and they all attempt to flee the house. 

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The walls and staircase ooze with blood as the house trembles.  Finally, the family escapes.  They pile into the van only to realize they have left Harry.  George drives down the street, stops the car, and runs back into the house to retrieve the dog.  While descending into the basement, George falls through the staircase into the well to hell.  Harry pulls him out with his teeth, and they climb up the staircase, jump through the window, and escape into the car.  The Lutz family drives off never to reclaim their house or belongings, and move to another state.

Moral of the story:  Never buy a house that was the scene of a murder, and never, ever go to bed before 3:15 am.


Deadly Details

Director ∞ Stuart Rosenberg
Producers ∞ Samuel Z. Arkoff, Elliot Geisinger, and Ronald Saland
Screenwriters ∞ Sandor Stern
Based on The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Music ∞ Lalo Schifrin
Cinematographer ∞ Fred J. Koenekamp
Editor ∞ Robert Brown, Jr.
Distributor ∞ American International Pictures
Release Date ∞ July 1979
Running time ∞ 118 minutes
Country ∞ United States
Language ∞ English
Cast ∞
James Brolin as George Lutz 
Margot Kidder as Kathy Lutz 
Rod Steiger as Father Delaney 
Don Stroud as Father Bolen 
Murray Hamilton as Father Ryan 
John Larch as Father Nuncio 
Natasha Ryan as Amy 
K.C. Martel as Greg 
Meeno Peluce as Matt 
Michael Sacks as Jeff 
Helen Shaver as Carolyn 
Amy Wright as Jackie 
Val Avery as Sgt. Gionfriddo 
Irene Dailey as Aunt Helena 
Marc Vahanian as Jimmy 
Elsa Raven as Mrs. Townsend 
Ellen Saland as Bride 
Eddie Barth as Agucci 
Hank Garrett as Bartender 
James Tolkan as Coroner 
Carmine Foresta as Cop at the House 
Peter Maloney as Newspaper Clerk 
Charlie Welch as Carpenter 
J.R. Miller as Boy 
Patty Burtt as Girl 
Michael Hawkins as New York State Trooper 
Richard Hughes as New York State Trooper 
Jim Dukas as Neighbor
Baxter Harris as Cop
Michael Stearns as Policeman 
Jack Krupnick as Dead Father