The Amityville Horror: Still A Definitive Haunted House Film

It is one of the most famous haunted houses in the world. Amityville, Long Island, where Ronald DeFeo murdered six members of his family in 1974. One year later the Lutz family movie into the same home. Shortly thereafter, they claimed that they had experienced the paranormal. The same house was the subject of an investigation by Ed and Lorraine Warren (yes, the Warren’s of The Conjuring series) and a bestselling non-fiction book by Jay Anson.

The Amityville Horror was released in theatres on July 27th, 1979. A box office hit, Amityville marked the end of a fantastic decade for horror. It also marked the temporary end of the 1970’s fascination with thes occult. Released on the heels of The Exorcist and The Omen, The Amityville Horror divided critics and fans receiving only a lukewarm critical response. Since its release, The Amityville Horror has been followed by several inferior sequels. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes studio sought to change the franchise’s fortunes with a remake. For this edition of Re-Animated I take a look at the original Amityville Horror and its remake.

The Amityville Horror (1979) Remains a Definitive Haunted House Film

It’s easy to forget now but when The Amityville Horror was first released it was a huge box office success. For horror fans in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Amityville was the definitive haunted house film. Critics drew unfavourable comparisons to other occult-themed 70’s heavyweights. Nonetheless, Amityville pushed the haunted house subgenre forward. Many of the tropes we now recognize were fairly fresh when Amityville haunted theatres.

Many of the tropes we now recognize were fairly fresh when Amityville haunted theatres.

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring James Brolin and the late Margot Kidder, Amityville is a confident haunted house film. Rosenberg builds his scares slowly from the  simple premise. Of course, Amityville doesn’t necessarily define ‘slow burn’. On the contrary, Rosenberg liberally sprinkles the scares across the movie. The actual house itself, with its ‘evil window eyes’, is probably the most memorable haunted house in horror film history. Lalo Schifrin’s Oscar-nominated score also greatly assists in maintaining persistent dread.

The Familiar Still Haunts in The Amityville Horror

Many of Amityville’s best moments are now overly used tropes. But Rosenberg knew how to package and deliver them without it feeling contrived or heavy-handed. The unseen voice speaking ‘ get out’ is truly creepy. All of the confrontations between religion and Satanic evil are compelling. Rod Steiger’s priest may chew the scenery a little too much but his ‘bees scene’ is still a classic.

Much of Amityville’s success also relies on James Brolin’s slow breakdown. Brolin brought a lot of intensity to his role. His physical and mental deterioration adds to the film’s build-up when there’s no overt scares happening. Younger audiences will find the ending to be rather anti-climatic. In addition, The Amityville Horror doesn’t quite measure up to other haunted house films like The Haunting or Poltergeist, but it was an important evolution in the subgenre that remains inherently watchable.

The Amityville Horror (2005) Remake Should Have Been Foreclosed

Another Michael Bay-produced horror remake from the 2000’s, The Amityville Horror was a modest box office success. Wisely opting to ignore the convoluted sequels, this Amityville is a straight-up remake. Many of the 2000’s horror remakes, like The Stepfather and Prom Night, were bland efforts that stripped the original movies of their horror credentials. In contrast, the Amityville remake is anything but bland. Director Andrew Douglas has turned up the dial … on everything. Douglas seems to assume that bigger, louder, and faster is better.

Director Andrew Douglas has turned up the dial … on everything. Douglas seems to think that bigger, louder, and faster is better.

Unfortunately, ‘more’ isn’t always better. If there’s one word that would most accurately describe this remake it would be ‘obnoxious’. Things start off promising with an intense, frenetically edited re-creation of the Ronald DeFeo Jr murders. From the opening minutes, Amityville establishes that it will be a more briskly paced version suitable for a younger audience. There’s even a few good jumps in the opening 30 minutes. Douglas dangles hope that the remake may at least be mindlessly fun.

The Amityille Horror Remake is an Asbestos-Filled Nightmare

Wth nothing new to add to the legend, Douglas bludgeons youwith an onslaught of stimulation. The Amityville Horror remake is loud, with a score that never seems to stop. Douglas firmly believes that really loud noises are the same thing as atmosphere. The ADHD-editing style is almost incessant with the climax risking the possibility of inducing seizures. Ryan Reynolds is buffer than James Brolin. Even the babysitter has been ridiculously ‘sexed up’ from the headgear braces-wearing girl in the original.

It’s almost as though Douglas had no confidence in the story and screenplay. He’s like a poor magician trying to divert his audience’s attention with slights of hand. We’re treated to unnecessary slow-motion moments. Nearly every haunted house trope, from bleeding walls to upside down crucifixes, make an appearance. If there’s a scene that really shows Douglas’ misunderstanding of how to generate suspense, it’s the wood-chopping scene. Amityville is edited with so many cuts and a relentless score that the scene has all of its tension steamrolled.

At the film’s halfway point, Douglas treats us to one genuinely suspenseful moment. A young Chloe Grace-Moretz walks precariously along the house’s rooftop. It is perhaps the only true white-knuckle moment in the remake. But the remake’s climax is an over-cooked mess that will be more likely to give you a headache than a nightmare.

Genuine Fear Can’t Be Renovated

Even if the original The Amityville Horror isn’tyour favourite horror films, it’s a masterpiece compared to the remake. If you’re a fan of The Simpsons, The Amityville Horror remake may remind you of ‘Poochie the Dog’. It’s a loud and obnoxious creation devoid of any real substance. Somehow the creative forces behind the 2005 film managed to drain anything scary out of the legend. Until The Conjuring universe re-visits that house in Amityville, the 1979 original remains the definitive version.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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