Thursday, October 27, 2022

H22 #26 The Amityville Horror (1979)

George Lutz (James Brolin) wields the cross against evil forces, a common image in '70s horror.

Based on the "true story" 1977 novel by Jan Anson and the countless urban legends to emerge from the Amityville Murders that occurred on November 13, 1974. The highly questionable saga of the Lutz family who moved into the Long Island house after the killing provided the material for the film.

Released in the summer of 1979, James Brolin and Margot Kidder starred as George and Kathy Lutz. I'm a fan of the film, in fact, it's one my favorite haunted house films. It pairs nicely with The Shining, even though the styles of both movies are different, they complement each other. While Kubrick's obsessions are on full display in The Shining, Amityville is all about middle class anxieties of the late 1970s.

These anxieties center around the purchasing a house. As many have noted, Stephen King and John Kenneth Muir of specific note, there are constant occurrences and dialogue revolving around money. George constantly complains about costs from groceries to the heating bill, while the IRS has questions about his business expenses. Kathy's brother loses a bunch of cash before his wedding. Owning a house brings many expenses and becomes an incessant source of tension. How can a nuclear family survive when burdened with taxes, rising energy costs, and stagflation?

Family decline was paralleled by organized religion's waning influence. With so much financial pressure many families still clung to the church for guidance and stability. Rod Steiger camps it up as Father Delaney. When he arrives to Christen the house, he's attacked by flies and later becomes seriously ill. Later when driving the breaks of his car go out, clearly the clergy are targets and unlike the priests in The Exorcist, are totally ineffectual against the supernatural.

Lastly, there's the fragile institution of marriage. It's of note, emphasized more in the book, that Kathy is divorced, and her kids are from a previous marriage, adding extra pressures on George who suddenly must take on a stepfather role. The divorce rate skyrocketed in the 1970s in part due to the gains of Second Wave Feminism. Changing gender roles are very much in the subtext, and the cultural debate over the meaning of marriage plays heavily into the Lutz story. 

The cocktail of horror goofiness and pop sociology in The Amityville Horror make it a staple of the Halloween season - and think twice before buying a fixer upper. Is anything more terrifying than bad plumbing? 

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