Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Amityville" is a horror
Cleveland Press August 14, 1979
The wind is always howling and rain pelts at the windows. There are flashes of lightning. People are suddenly startled by others making sudden appearances and then relax to find they are members of the family.
These are the cliches of horror movies.
"The Amityville Horror" is filled with them.
Readers of Jay Anson's bestseller will recall this as a chronicle of the Lutz family who moved into a house where people had been murdered the year before.
In less than a month, strange happenings in the house drove them away, leaving both house and possessions behind.
The book's documentary flavor, the piling on of detail, the ability to stop and explain had a cumulative effect even if the story never resolved itself.
This effect is missing from the screen version and those not familiar with the story may wonder what all the scariness was about, especially when the movie relies on the previously mentioned trick of people startling each other.
What there is in genuine eeriness is so well telegraphed that the anticipation cancels any surprise.
The script has been fashioned to include a few of the happenings and to provide a new climax at the end which really resolves nothing.
James Brolin is George Lutz, who grows more preoccupied and distant as time goes by. To give us all a feeling of apprehension he keeps sharpening his ax and looking at his family as though they were strangers.
Through it all, Margot Kidder as Kathleen Lutz maintains a fairly even disposition, becoming panicky now and then but shrugging it off and becoming just as sunny as before.
Chandeliers shake, doors are ripped open from the inside, toilets fill up with black ooze when flushed, flies appear mysteriously and bloody goo oozes out of the walls at the end.
Through it all Kathleen explains her husband's behavior as being symptoms of the flu. When, in the middle of the night, she finds him shivering in front of the fireplace, yelling and displaying tooth marks on his ankles, the best she can come up with is: "Honey, are you OK?"
With religious folks the house is much more specific, causing both a priest and a nun to vomit.
The priest hears the house tell him to get out and then he is turned into an invalid for the remainder of the film. Rod Steiger overacts as only Steiger can in the role of the priest.
Aside from a script that had trouble translating the book into film terrrls, the movie also suffers from lackluster direction from Stuart Rosenberg.
It's the kind of direction that relies on cliches and allows actors like Steiger to run away with his role.
In the end, all that the movie version of "The Amityville Horror" is likely to achieve will be the depreciation of values among older houses.