Phone Tag with Priests, Evil Pigs, and Money Stealing Ghosts: Revisiting The Amityville Horror (1979)

This is part of my Horrorathon for Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings (aka MASK). Revisiting is a series where I revisit a horror film I’ve already seen a long time ago to see if I feel the same way about it. I have never been a huge fan of the original The Amityville Horror – will this revisit change my mind? Let’s find out.

James Brolin, Rod Steiger, and Margot Kidder in The Amityville Horror (1979)

From IMDb: Newlyweds move into a large house where a mass murder was committed, and experience strange manifestations which drive them away.

Recap:

The film starts with an exterior shot of the infamous “house with windows that looked like eyes” (a real detail that cannot be copyrighted!). We then hear & see gunshots being fired off inside, and find out a whole family has been shot to death in the middle of the night.

A year later, a newlywed couple, Kathy and George Lutz, is looking at the house and decide to make an offer despite the sordid history.

The real estate agent sits at the kitchen table to fill out some paperwork, but the moment her papers start blowing around as if there’s a gust of wind she wisely nopes the hell out of there.

In the next scene, the Lutz family has moved in, complete with their three children from Kathy’s previous marriage. While they go outside to take a break from organizing, Father Delaney comes over to bless the new house. Since the family can’t hear him ringing the bell, he just makes himself at home and goes upstairs to do the blessing anyway. He is not nearly disturbed enough when the door to the room he is in slams shut. He is accosted by flies and begins to sweat profusely, but still doesn’t leave till the door reopens, and a disembodied voice finally learns to communicate directly by stating “get out!”

And NO he doesn’t – at any point! – wipe the flies off his face!

The priest just…leaves after that. Like doesn’t try to warn the family. Just leaves. He tries to call later by gets disconnected, starting the game of phone tag that lasts the rest of the film. Kathy tries to call him back and another priest says Father Delaney is sick.

The dad goes downstairs to check on something, and one of the kids prat falls down the stairs. It seriously looks so over the top it could be an infomercial for elevators.

George just says “stairs are tricky” and carries the kid back up. I’m just kidding – he totally asks if he is okay too.

Later, George wakes up in the middle of the night all restless. He tries to smoke, but is interrupted by the most egregious cat scare in any film I have ever seen. The next morning we see George looking real terse and sleep deprived while chopping wood.

Meanwhile the daughter Amy mentions her new invisible friend Jody. I’m starting to think George and Kathy would be fine in the house without these meddlesome kids.

Next, the toilets malfunction just in time for Kathy’s sister Helena, a nun, to visit. The visit doesn’t last long because all it takes is a chandelier moving a bit for Helena to nope out of there within a minute, citing that she doesn’t feel well.

Good thing she didn’t ask to use the bathroom first!

Then there’s a weird saturated shot like the Predator is looking at the house for no reason.

The next morning the Blues Brother priests are travelling to the house to try and warn the family they are in danger…

…and their car malfunctions – these evil spirits got some reach! They even hit the “Welcome to Amityville” sign and knock it over while crashing.

The Lutzes prepare for Kathy’s little brother to get married. Kathy’s brother nervously counts the $1500 cash to pay the caterer but then the ghost STEALS IT! What a nasty landlord.

Their youngest, Amy, is staying home with a babysitter during the wedding. The evil spirit then locks Amy’s babysitter in a closet. I can understand stealing the cash, but what did the babysitter do!? Of course Do Nothing Amy just listens to the babysitter frantically pound on the closet door without lifting a finger to help, resulting in the babysitter being locked in the closet for hours till the rest of the family returns. Hopefully the babysitter got hazard pay.

The next day, George’s coworker Jeff and his girlfriend Carolyn pull up to the house because Jeff needs George to sign off on payroll. Carolyn is so instantly repulsed by the house she refuses to get any closer in one of the better moments in the movie.

George gets up in the middle of the night, and finally we get a man walking around in a nightshirt and panties in one of these movies!

The evil spirit blows the front door off the hinges. At this point, I am unsure what the evil spirit wants from the Lutz family other than to be annoying.

The next day, George steals a library book on the paranormal.

Come on George you are paying property taxes! You don’t have to steal that!

Kathy is at home alone, still playing phone tag with Father Delaney, when a rando comes over with a six pack of beer to welcome them to the neighborhood.

I know dude that is what I just said you were doing

Kathy excuses herself to go answer the phone for another round of phone tag, and when she comes back the guy is just gone. I think it is meant to be unnerving, but it really just looks like he shrugged and said “more beer for me” before heading off. And if that is the evil spirit it is really getting sloppy in its delivery.

George meets up with Jeff and Carolyn at a local bar, and the bartender points out that George bears an uncanny resemblance to the murderer from the beginning, something that the town sergeant noticed as well. It’s refreshing to see a white man get unfairly profiled for once, and with stealing a library book the crimes are really racking up.

Carolyn starts skimming the book George stole from the taxpayers of Amityville, and starts throwing together some occult history word salad:

Carolyn: You’re living on some sort of special ground… devil worship… death… sacrifice. There’s one simple rule… Energy cannot be created or destroyed.

The Amityville Horror

They realize the house belonged to a devil worshipping man-witch.

Amazon.com: Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sauce, 15 Oz.: Prime Pantry
Sloppy is a way I would describe this movie’s plot

When they go to the house, Carolyn now seems hypnotized by it. She goes in and starts trying to break a hole in the basement wall where the family dog keeps sniffing, and insists something is behind it. She then decides to sprinkle chef some racist Indian Burial Ground word salad in there:

Carolyn: There was a tribe of Indians called the Shinnecocks, and they used this land as a sort of exposure pen. They put all the crazy people here and left them here to die.

The Amityville Horror

George breaks the wall, and sees an image of his own face for two seconds which is supposed to be scary but just seems random which describes a lot of this film.

Carolyn looks inside the room, and briefly seems possessed or driven to madness in one of the movie’s best scenes:

I think Helen Shaver’s performance is a standout in the film. Yes it borders on overacting (a lot of the film does save for James Brolin and Margot Kidder as the leads), but the way she stretches and distorts her face is really effective, especially as she takes on Father Delaney’s voice and cries that they must destroy the well because it is a passage to hell.

George and Kathy see that the crucifix they hung the first day they moved in is now upside down on the wall. This is accompanied by very dramatic music but all things considered it seems like the least of their issues so far? The evil spirit backed up their toilets and STOLE $1500 dollars already.

George and Kathy attempt a DIY exorcism with the crucifix that I would liken to the same level of “ineffectiveness meets earnestness” as a preteen performing love spell they Googled.

Father Delaney gets quite animated during a practice run of a sermon (I think?) so much so that even his young friend is serving him judgemental looks:

It’s called fashion sweaty look it up

By the end of the practice sermon Father Delaney screams that he has gone blind, and I don’t even think the movie knows if he is being overdramatic or serious.

Kathy finally decides to go talk to Father Delaney herself after George slaps her. Father Bolen lies and says Delaney is on vacation when he is really in a nearly catatonic state. Then the town sergeant, who has a bad feeling about George, has a meeting with Father Bolen that is pointless because this whole subplot is pointless. You never see the sergeant or any of the priests again.

Kathy goes to the library to research the murders that took place in the house, and she ALSO realizes George looks like the murderer. She rushes home in a panic.

George finally grabs his axe and goes after the kids. He also sees a giant evil pig in a window because why not at this point?

At least the giant evil pig doesn’t see him!
Oh shit he saw him! Doesn’t matter because this is another throwaway spook

Kathy saves the kids in the nick of time, but she is randomly old for two seconds while doing so?!

The family decides to flee the house on account of the attempted axe murder, bleeding walls, and localized house earthquake going on.

I like how even the real life Lutzes were like “nah the house didn’t really bleed don’t be silly!”

They are ready to escape, but at this point Do Nothing Amy decides to whine about leaving Harry, the dog, behind. Kathy is ready to leave the dog behind (who’s the real monster here?!), but George goes back for him. George falls through the basement stairs (I guess they really are tricky!) and falls right into the one and only blood-filled well to hell. Harry then bites and growls at George, but George redeems himself by rescuing that good boy and fleeing the property once and for all.

Verdict:

This movie has its moments, but the film’s “everything but the kitchen sink” approach makes it feel sloppy and somewhat incoherent. It’s like they wanted to cram every detail from the the “true” story into the film, and the result feels like listening to a small child tell a long-winded story with no purpose to half the details. “And then there were flies everywhere…and then a statue bit him…and then there was a giant, evil pig…and then the dog barked…”

Nevertheless, its basis on such a sensational “true” story is undoubtedly why it has such an enduring legacy. People are much more skeptical of “based on a true story” now, but it used to have a potent appeal for horror films. And because of its myriad of details and tropes, it was primed to get some sequels that could take the story in all sorts of wacky directions.

I wasn’t really swayed by this viewing, but I do appreciate how all over the place this one is.

And at least it’s good to know I’m not alone in my assessment:

One thought on “Phone Tag with Priests, Evil Pigs, and Money Stealing Ghosts: Revisiting The Amityville Horror (1979)

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