I remember reading The Amityville Horror when I was at school, as I am very old, and along with The Exorcist, it was the scariest thing I had ever read. Way before it was popular to announce it, The Amityville Horror, written by Jay Anson in 1977, was the first book I read that blatantly told me that what I was about to read was a true story, and of course I believed it.
Then in 1979, they made a film out of it.
You see the book was an absolute best seller and it positively captured the imagination of a worldwide readership. The story of The Lutz family that buys the house in Amityville, New York after a mass murder had been committed there, was a shocking, creepy, unsettling tale made even more terrifying by the fact that this, allegedly, really happened.
The Amityville Horror, directed by Stuart Rosenberg, starred Margot Kidder and James Brolin as George and Kathy Lutz. Rod Steiger plays Father Delaney, who arrives to bless the house but instead is confronted with rooms full of flies, blistering palms and terrible illnesses. The last straw for the good Father is a truly terrifying moment when a disembodied voice tells him to “Get Out”. On the first viewing of this film, the producers used the sound system so well, that when the command occurred in the theater, it resonated throughout the surround system chilling the audience to the bone. That scene is so iconic it has been parodied and copied so many times, but often nobody really remembers where it came from.
Things grow gradually worse for the unlucky family, and as the weeks pass, their young daughter Amy tells of an imaginary pig friend called Jody that visits her, the dog is obsessed with the basement, money goes missing, the babysitter is terrified and locked in a cupboard and all the while George seems to be losing his grasp on everyday life, and wakes at 3.15am every night to visit the boathouse. This time has now become the modern-day stamp for when odd things happen in dodgy YouTube videos.
Kathy does a bit of digging and finds all kinds of weird activities related to the house, including ancient burial grounds and devil worshipers. Do these tropes all seem familiar now? There’s no stone left unturned here, and eventually, things get way out of hand and a final night of blood pouring down the walls and George on an ax rampage seals the fate of the family.
I won’t spoil the ending in case you may not have watched it. There was a weaker 2005 remake, but for me, the original version is still the best. It is a slow burner, but horror fans may be surprised to see a lot of other films taking a lead from this small production.
The critics hated it, but the great cinema-going public loved it, and a $86 million box office showed the power of the horror movie; it was the second highest-grossing film of the year.
Nowadays it has been spliced with The Conjuring universe, but on this anniversary, grab a copy, put it through your soundbar with the lights down low and ask yourself, could this really have happened? (Actually, most signs point to no, but don’t let that spoil it).