The Amityville Horror (1979)
I can’t believe that I’d somehow never seen this one as it’s right up my street and was a big success at the time. Having seen the remake which I’ll mention in a moment, I realised I needed to see the original too for reference.
George and Kathy go to view a large house in Amityville – which has appeared on the market well under value. The reason? Some time ago the house was the scene of the mass murder of a whole family. Deciding the deal is too good to pass up, and that houses are just inanimate things anyway, they purchase and move in. And that’s when it all starts going wrong.
The local priest takes ill after visiting the house, the dog is acting strangely, George is behaving erratically and looking unwell, and their daughter Amy now has an imaginary friend. The situation escalates with the house having an ever stronger grip on George, and by the end of the film the family flee the house never to return.
The couple are played by James Brolin and Margot Kidder (famously mostly for the original Superman films) – and they’re great but aside from the priest the rest of the cast were carved from the same tree.
I honestly found the film a bit drawn out, there were several scenes you could easily lose without affecting the story or character development in the slightest, and some of George’s turns for the worse seem really forced. On the other hand the scene where he makes his son hold logs being chopped was actually very tense – overall it’s a mixed bag. If you’re going to watch both versions of this film like I did, I think you’ll want to start with this one.
In the context of its peers from the period this is a fine ghost story, but .. someone remade it.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
Remakes, remakes… Sometimes they’re not bad. Some are even good (for example Dawn Of The Dead), and some are just wretched (for example Rollerball – possibly the worst remake I have ever seen, as well as a terrible film in its own right).
The Amityville Horror is an example of one of the better ones. It’s a more streamlined version of the story, the pacing is better and less is left to the imagination. Culling some of the less interesting characters was definitely a move in the right direction. Good casting too, Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George (who seems to have a knack of popping up in solid horror flicks, check Triangle out) play the couple, and it was a nice surprise seeing Philip Baker Hall (you NEED to see Hard Eight) playing the priest.
It’s definitely a nastier film, George definitely goes on more of a downward spiral than in the original but it actually gives him a little consistency which was lacking. There are a few strong scenes and perhaps it’s a little overdone in places like many modern horror films, but overall it’s actually a lot more enjoyable I found. On the other hand a couple of the iconic scenes are sorely missed, and probably for budgetary reasons.
Just watch them both.