Disclaimer: This review is of the edited TV 14 version of the film. All thoughts written below should be addressed accordingly as a review of the unedited version would likely be even more negative.
The Amityville Horror is a film that you could probably judge from the title and know what to expect. I came into the film with reasonably low expectations and it still managed to crash way below them. This title is filled with red herrings and uninteresting characters to distract you from the fact that not much really happens in this film. If you haven’t seen it, now’s your chance to quickly back away to spare yourself some time.
The plot involves George and Kathy as they decide to move to a new house. They are pretty strapped for cash, but they really want a new house. Unfortunately, that’s just how it is in the modern world. The house is really beat up and the previous occupants were participants in a gruesome act, but the new owners don’t mind. They quickly pay up and the real estate agent was probably thrilled that someone finally fell for her tricks. The heroes settle in with their 3 kids and things seem to be going smoothly. Then, mysterious things start to happen and the heroes realize that the house may be tougher than it looks.
Well, there are many placed to start with this film. Let’s talk about the characters first. George is a pretty terrible lead and his “strength of character” is nonexistent. All it takes is an artificial chill that the spirit produces to start corrupting him. He loses his temper constantly and yells at the dog just to provide him with some amount of “toughness” for his character. It really just makes him look petty and even worse. I wasn’t rooting for him almost from the second that he appeared. He is distracted by romance, but not enough so that he can resist the influence of the dark spirits. Feeling cold isn’t fun, but his mind deteriorates way too quickly through this feeling. He continues to crack as the film goes on. He gets a heroic scene towards the end to try and redeem his character, but that was basically impossible by that point. It helps his character to be sure, but it’s simply too late for him.
Kathy is the main heroine and she doesn’t really look much better. SHe keeps on telling George that they shouldn’t get the house, but then she relents and they move in. From then on, she basically just has to watch as George goes crazy and she can’t really do anything about it. In the climax, she decides to fight, but it’s one of the worst attempts of all time. She gives up after a few seconds and she really showed no combat experience. That’s all right, but anyone can throw a punch and I would expect a much better fight out of someone who’s fighting for several lives. That was pretty poor form and she never became likable as the film went on.
The film plays out as a reverse slasher in the sense that the spirit picks off everyone one by one, but it doesn’t typically finish them off. It just gives them a scare so they will leave the house. Failure to comply with it will result in a car crash or permanent paralysis. Sometimes both. It’s a unique approach I suppose, but you do have to wonder what the point of it all is. The spirit gets some character development towards the end, but it’s very slight.
The film also really wanted to push the “Even God can’t save you now” angle. I suppose that it can be seen as the ultimate scare since you would really be doomed. Ignoring that this scenario would never even be possible, it just goes very far to show this. The heroes put up a mini statue of the cross and the spirit makes sure to burn it. Later on, the Father at one of the churches comes over to bless the house and the spirit overwhelms him with a powerful curse. We see him try to leave a Bible, but the spirit forces him to pick it back up and run away. Later on, he tries to go back, but the spirit just takes out his car and essentially ends his life since he’s almost brain dead at this point. Most Hollywood/mainstream films like to point out that demons and spirits can be alive while the same isn’t true for Angels and God. It’s a film so they can always mess with the rules that way, but it makes the whole thing pretty lopsided. The film is also trying to claim that it’s from a true story although I suppose that we all knew better about 15 minutes into the film. Demons are real so some horror stories are probably real, but this is one of the tales that was probably just made up for a quick buck and their 5 minutes of fame.
Another negative would be the George getting corrupted part. It’s so overdone and it’s one of the worst horror plots. Give us a supernatural enemy who can’t be stopped (Which is bad enough) but let’s at least give the main characters some determination and a will to fight back. Seeing him turn on everyone is just not enjoyable and it’s an easy way out of using special effects or good writing. The hit towards the end was basically the cliff that the film went over since he was no longer redeemable although he may have already passed that part earlier.
The film is not the most violent horror film that you’ll encounter. There are only a handful of scenes, but one of them is particularly brutal as one of the main characters has a dream. It’s enough that you could instantly guess that this film was a little stronger than your average summer blockbuster and it didn’t do any wonders for the film. Violence against noncombatants always ends up appearing as a negative compared to fighting violence. See, a fighter getting injured is way different than a pedestrian getting hit since they are prepared for two vastly different roles.
The kids are also pretty bad characters. The girl has an imaginary friend once again who turns out to be the spirit of the house. It explains that it wants them to stay in the house forever so that’s basically why it wants George to destroy them all. Or, so it would seem. The spirit is evidently strong enough to destroy them all on his own, but I guess it wants things to end up just like how they did last time. It mostly seems to have power over the mind, but its abilities have a real impact on the human world so it’s not just simple telepathy. Most likely it has advanced reality warping abilities since that’s a favorite for most horror writers. You don’t have to do any work, just make it able to do literally anything and you can call it a day.
I’d say that the film is actually more grotesque than scary. The film came out decades ago so you can mostly anticipate everything that it’s going to do, which is why it can be tough to be scared. The grotesque part goes back to the flies, which were some of the worst scenes in the film. One thing that I’ve never liked are insect scares since it’s just about insects crawling all over somebody so you can imagine the worst. It was a painfully bad scene as they attack the Father and force him out of the house. The guy takes his time leaving even though an ordinary person would have dashed out. The spirit continues to torment the guy with boils and such since the guy keeps trying to warn the heroes of the imminent danger.
The other scary scene would likely be when the babysitter is trapped in the closet. You’re supposed to be extra worried for her since she already has braces so everything is a little tougher for her. It’s really more unpleasant and sad to watch than it is scary and the lights turn off, but we already know that the spirit refuses to destroy anyone. It just wants to scare them over and over again until George cracks and does the work for him. The Babysitter literally had no point in the story. She was just there to get taken down.
The heroes have a dog and he’s probably the only positive thing that I can say about the whole experience. There is a little dog violence unfortunately as he scratches at a wall so hard that his paws bleed. Luckily, the film redeemed itself by saving the dog at the end so he wouldn’t have to bring the film down even more. It’s a shame that the other characters wanted to leave him (Kathy did anyway) but I would expect no less from her. George went back, which was good since it shows that he could have been a good character if not for the mind control.
The soundtrack was better than your average horror film so I guess that’s another positive. Considering when it came out, it’s surprisingly fast paced at times and it’s decently memorable. A horror film having a soundtrack in the first place is pretty surprising and it being a good one even more so. If only we had some good scenes to go along with it.
The spirit’s true form is only shown twice, but he seems like a decently tough demon. He’s pretty large, but he can probably shape shift at will so he will likely look different each time. He would have been a little cooler if he had fought some more, but the budget probably wasn’t there yet unless they used a suit like in the old Godzilla films. That would have been pretty interesting.
Some plot lines never really get time to develop either since the film didn’t know where it was going. We have the Detective who tries to act tough and sneaks around for clues, but he never ends up doing anything. He just abruptly disappears and ends up playing no role in the story. He was just there for filler, nothing more. Another woman is possessed by the spirits and tells them that the well is a gateway to Hell. Okay…I think we could have guessed that when we saw the endless tar coming out of it. What does that have to do with anything? The heroes never decide to close the well and the info didn’t help anyone out. I’m guessing that the original climax would have had the heroes plug it up, but maybe it was written out due to time constraints and a rapidly falling budget.
Overall, The Amityville Horror is not a film that you’ll want to check out anytime soon. The monster design is pretty good and the soundtrack is good as well, but everything else about the film really hit rock bottom. There was only 1 or 2 jump scenes and neither of them worked since we weren’t watching the film in super 3D in the dead of night with speakers that make you shiver with loud noises. The gross scenes will just make you back up a little and George’s plot is extremely wince worthy. The film also gives the Father way too cruel of a fate just so it could make a point that wouldn’t help the film anyway. Burning the cross and effectively destroying the Father…we get the point. (We also can’t forget making the Nun so sick that she has to end up leaving the house almost immediately) It’s hard to tell which negatives pushed my buttons the most to deserve a 1 since there were so many of them and they just kept adding up and up and up. Ah well, at least it was a pretty easy decision. I had the rating set before the film had even ended. While you’re steering clear of this film, just play a scary game like Dirge of Cerberus or take the opposite effect and take this time to rent Megaman Battle Network 5. Either way, you’ll be better off as this film goes into Sucker Punch levels of terrible. If you do watch the film, you should try to make a list of plots and characters that ended up not adding anything to the film.