Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror; horror, USA, 1979; D: Stuart Rosenberg, S: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton

Amytville, New York. An unknown assassin storms a house at night and shoots a mother, father and their four children in their beds. A year later, the empty house is sold to a new couple, George and Kathy, who move there with their three kids. Kathy is uneasy about living on a "murder location", but George brushes it off as superstition. A priest, Delaney, arrives to the house to bless it, but gets sick and has to escape from it. Strange things start happening in the house: their daughter Amy claims she is talking to an invisible girl, Jody; a window falls and injures the hand of one of the boys; noises are heard outside during the night. A friend, Carolyn, claims that the house is built on the land of former devil worshippers, and cracks open a wall in the basement, finding a chamber inside with red walls. One night, a storm and blood coming from the walls cause George and Kathy to pick up their kids and run away from the house.

Allegedly based on true events—though obviously over-exaggerated and over-dramatized for the sake of sensationalism in order to attract the audience—"The Amytville Horror" achieved what it set out to do, and became the second highest grossing movie of the year at the American Box office. Looking from today's perspective, the movie is hardly a classic, yet it has some flair because the 20th century horror films were done obviously differently than 21st century horrors which rely only on quick editing, jump scares and frenetic banalities: for one, this 'haunted hause' flick has some cozy mood established thanks to a slow burning pace which allows the storyline to set itself up, as well as likeable characters and some emotions. "Amytville" seems to be surprisingly thematically close to Kubrick's "The Shining", since both have the same concept of a family feeling persecuted by ghosts of a building in which murders occurred, causing the father to lose his sanity—and here he also uses an axe to attack his family. At best, "Amytville" has some scary moments of inspiration (for instance, the quiet, calm entrance of the saleslady with George and Kathy into the bedroom by opening the door, is followed by the dark, threatening 'jump cut' to a flashback of the killer opening the door of the same bedroom and shooting at the family sleeping in bed), yet at worst, some of them seem forced or ludicrous, especially in the unintentionally comical sequences involving priest Delaney, which came dangerously close to a caricature (the scene of Delaney spotting hundreds of flies on the window; the scene of pieces of a statue of an angel in church crumbling and falling down from the ceiling). The ending is kind of abrupt, yet "Amytville" is able to sufficiently craft a good mood of fear and threat without turning too bloody or too disgusting.


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