Franchise Review: The Amityville Horror

Newlyweds and their three kids move into a large house where a mass murder was committed. They start to experience strange, inexplicable manifestations which have strong effects on everyone living or visiting the house.

When you mention “The Amityville Horror” I automatically think Horror classic. This is because ever since I was young I have had a fascination with this franchise.

You see for me this was one of the first films that I watched were I was made aware that it was ‘based on a true story’, which to my young mind meant “Everything I’m seeing is real and actually happened”. So, as you can imagine this completely terrified my young imaginative mind.

Sure I know different now but it doesn’t change the fact that this film traumatised my young naïve self. This didn’t stop me from researching the story though and thus began my fascination with “The Amityville Horror”, little did I know what I was in for, but enough about me.

James Brolin puts in a masterful performance that still gives me goose bumps to this day, he truly stole the films spotlight. Margot Kidder, despite going on record stating that she hated the film, also put in a great performance. Other cast members also did a great job which makes for great viewing.

Director Stuart Rosenberg delivers such a shocking feature that is thick with atmosphere that it’s sometimes hard to watch (in a good way). I must also give kudos to Cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp who gave us some gave us such amazing scenes that you can see inspired many later films.

“The Amityville Horror” may seem very dated when viewed today but there’s no doubting it’s status as a Horror classic.

Miscellaneous facts about the film:

Because the movie was made on a relatively modest budget, James Brolin took less money up front but with a promise of 10% of the gross sales after its release. After the movie became an unexpected blockbuster (at that time it was in the top ten of all time), he eventually received about $17 million. If adjusted for inflation that would be equivalent to a little over 55 million in 2014 dollars.

Even though James Brolin became friendly with George Lutz and his children, he was highly doubtful of their story.

Like James Brolin, star Margot Kidder also went on record saying she didn’t believe the Amityville story either.

Honey was rubbed on Rod Steiger’s head to draw the flies to him.

James Brolin was hesitant when he was first offered the role of George Lutz. He was told that there was no script and that he must obtain a copy of Jay Anson’s novel and read it as soon as possible. Brolin started the book one evening at seven o’clock and was still reading at two o’clock in the morning. He had hung a pair of his pants up in the room earlier and at a really “tense” part in the book, the pants fell down from wherever they had been hanging. Brolin jumped out of his chair, nearly crashing his head into the ceiling. It was then that Brolin said, “There’s something to this story.” He agreed to do the movie.

James Brolin’s brother was actually used for the image of the bearded man seen appearing from the ‘red room’ in the cellar. The studio wanted someone who bore a close resemblance to Brolin and discovered he had a brother who shared a strong resemblance to the star. Brolin’s brother was fitted with a fake beard for the part.

The outdoor scenes of the movie were not filmed in Amityville, Long Island, but rather Toms River, New Jersey. Local police and ambulance workers played extras.

At the time of its release the film was one of the highest grossing independent films of all time and American International Pictures’ biggest hit.

(at around 20 mins) While washing the dishes, Margot Kidder’s character is heard humming the love theme from Superman (1978) which she starred in as Lois Lane.

In 1979, attorney William Weber (Ronald DeFeo’s defense attorney) filed a lawsuit against George Lutz and Kathy Lutz, charging them with fraud and breach of contract. He alleged that they reneged on an agreement to collaborate with Weber on the book (and subsequent movie). In an interview with the Associated Press, Weber admitted that he and the Lutzes had concocted the horror story scam “…over many bottles of wine.”

Stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder visited the real Amityville house as part of a publicity junket.

In hopes of creating more publicity for the film the studio would concoct stories of “weird” occurrences on the set of the film.

The first major write-up of the alleged events was in “Good Housekeeping” magazine. The article came out before Jay Anson’s “The Amityville Horror”. The two accounts disagree on a number of points.

Shot in seven weeks.

While shooting the scene where Kathy Lutz is startled by the red eyes in the window, director Stuart Rosenberg wasn’t impressed by Margot Kidder’s reaction. According to Kidder, Rosenberg then tried to hold up a “a day-glo orange stuffed velour pig with glass eyes” in an attempt to startle Kidder. She said the result was only hysterical laughter, not fear.

The church in the movie is St. Peter’s church in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, about 20 miles north of the movie house in Toms River. They also used the park across the street from the church, Pleasure Park, for the priest playing basketball scene. They used local kids as players, and had to ask them to take it easy and let the priest get the ball from time to time.

Cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp admitted to having a hard time filming the scenes with the flies, as he claimed to be scared of insects. He says that whenever he was to film a scene with a close-up facial shot of a fly right in the camera, he would look away or close his eyes and hope for a good shot. He also lost nearly 30 pounds because he refused to eat, saying the flies made him lose his appetite.

Toms River (NJ) Volunteer Fire Company #1 was used to provide the “rain” during one of the exterior scenes. If you look closely, you can see that it is sunny and not “raining” in the background, the next street over.

Harrison Ford was in consideration for the role of George Lutz after the unexpected success of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). Burt Reynolds, James Caan, and Christopher Reeve were also considered for the role.

Margot Kidder went on record with her friends that she hated the film.

For years rumours have circulated that the movie was to be filmed in the actual house in Amityville, NY, but the production team was too frightened to film inside the house. The reality is the town of Amityville denied American International Pictures permission to film any scenes whatsoever in Amityville in an attempt to distance themselves from any publicity. Therefore, AIP found a two-story Dutch-Colonial home in Toms River, NJ, in which to film the exteriors. A third-floor facade was added, along with the crescent moon windows on both sides of the house. Almost all interior scenes were filmed at MGM studios in Culver City, CA. A few interior scenes were filmed inside the actual Toms River house, including the scene when George returns from the boathouse in the middle of the night, then walks onto the sun porch to light a cigarette. In that scene you can see there’s no wallpaper and no door in the living room, whereas on the soundstage the living room has wallpaper and a door near the bookshelf.

James Brolin said he didn’t get a job for two years after doing this movie because of the cruelty of his character: however, he starred in Night of the Juggler (1980) a year later, High Risk (1981) the year after that and two made-for-TV movies in 1982.

When Ron DeFeo Jr. was questioned as to why he murdered his family, his response was, “The voices told me to.”

The Finnish title translates to “For God’s sake, get out!” which was the prominent tagline on the original movie poster. This may indicate that whoever were responsible for coming up with the Finnish title mistook the tagline for the title.

The basement featured in this movie, is shown to be a dark and creepy dungeon like room. In reality, the real home in Amityville has a finished basement that was used as a rec room when the DeFeo family lived in the home. The other portion of the basement is used as a laundry room and storage area. The original house also had a swimming pool at one time, until a newer set of owners had it filled in.

The film was originally planned to be a made-for-TV production for CBS until executive producer Samuel Z. Arkoff bought the rights after reading Jay Anson’s book in one sitting.

Jay Anson, who wrote the book “The Amityville Horror”, actually wrote out a screenplay for this film but the producers turned it down. Eventually they found Sandor Stern and liked his take on it so he was hired for the job.

While the DeFeo family murders are obviously a major plot point for the film, for whatever reason they are never actually referenced by name.

Contrary to popular belief, Lalo Schifrin’s score for this film was not the legendary rejected score composed for The Exorcist (1973). The rejected “Exorcist” score has subsequently been released on CD and is completely different in every respect.

Amy’s “imaginary” friend Jodie, implied to be the youngest daughter of the deceased family and later revealed to be the demonic pig seen in the window, is a fictional character. Ronald DeFeo Jr. had a younger sister in real life, Allison DeFeo, who was 13 years old at the time of her death. Jodie was taken from the same novel that inspired this film, which had to change the family’s name for legal reasons.

Producer Ronald Saland was originally going to direct the movie, but after Samuel Z. Arkoff became involved in the product, Saland was persuaded to step aside in favour of the more experienced Stuart Rosenberg.

To protect the identities of the real life Lutz children, their names were changed for this film.

Margot Kidder was cast on the strength of her performance in Superman (1978), a film in which her co-star Brolin auditioned for the title role. Christopher Reeve who played Superman, was considered for Brolin’s role in this film.

Trailer narrated by Percy Rodrigues.

George’s motorcycle is a Yamaha XS750 Special.

This film takes place in the small town of Amityville. Murray Hamilton previously appeared in Jaws, which takes place in Amity, another small town.

Ellen Saland, who plays Jimmy’s newlywed wife, is the daughter of producer Ronald Saland.

Final film of Irene Dailey.

Rod Steiger would play a priest 20 years later in End of Days (1999).

The true story behind the movie has a special relationship with two modern horror films, The Conjuring (2013) and Annabelle (2014). The Warrens, Ed and Loraine, were also involved with the investigation of the real house, and served as Demonology Advisors for Amityville II: The Possession (1982). Oddly enough, Amy’s doll is a Raggedy Ann, which is what the real Annabelle is.

The film never makes it clear what was happening to Carolyn once she finally saw the red room in the basement of the house. It was commonly believed among fans and viewers that she was experiencing possession. Helen Shaver, who plays Carolyn, is often asked the question and answers that she wasn’t experiencing a demonic possession, but rather a sensory overload. Carolyn is a clairvoyant, and sensitive to the supernatural, so she was experiencing the pain, torture, and sadness of all the souls trapped in hell being thrown at her all at once, as the red room is said to be the entrance to hell. She covered her ears in the scene because she could hear the screams of agony belonging to all the punished souls in hell, causing her a sensory overload.

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