The Amityville Horror
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In 1974, Ronald Defeo Jr. shot to death his parents and four siblings in their Amityville, N.Y., house. Afterward, he claimed that voices had told him to commit the murders. About a year later, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the house and quickly moved out again in a few weeks.
That much of this story seems to be fact.
Seeing an opportunity in the public’s fascination with the grisly murders, Jay Anson’s 1977 book embellished the Lutzes’ story to create the now infamous haunted house saga. That spawned a 1979 film and a handful of sequels. And now, to quote another '70s horror franchise, “It’s baa-aack.”
In this remake, George Lutz has just married the widowed Kathy, joining her family of two sons and a daughter. Although it will stretch them financially, George and Kathy buy the house in Amityville, priced low due to the murders. Almost immediately, they start noticing strange things—doors and windows that seem to open by themselves, disturbing visions and little Chelsea’s “imaginary” friend Jodie.
Worse, formerly nice-guy George starts getting harsh with Kathy and the kids. He’s sick all the time. And he spends a lot of his day in the creepy basement. When her daughter is endangered and things go badly for the Catholic priest who comes to bless the house, Kathy knows they have to “get out!” But George won’t let them.
Evil is portrayed as genuinely evil. (No balance is presented, though. I'll discuss that more in the "Conclusion.") Kathy refuses to give up on her husband, even while he's under an extremely negative influence. Kathy puts her children's safety above her own. And I guess you couldsay that haunted house movies might spur the economy by motivating spooked homebuyers to lean toward new construction instead of buyingexisting homes with “a history.”
Dark evil. Possessions. Occult images. Preternatural phenomena. Kathy goes to a local Catholic priest for help. But when he comes to bless the house, the holy water sizzles on whatever it touches, a door closes inverting a doorknob with a cross on it and he is attacked by a swarm of flies. He flees in terror.
Eventually, we learn that the property was used in the 1600s by a Reverend Ketchum as a mission for Indians, whom he secretly imprisoned, tortured and killed. The priest explains that Ketchum slit his own throat in the basement to ensure that his spirit would never leave. George apparently becomes possessed by Ketchum’s spirit.
When asked what he prayed for before bed, little Michael tells his mom he can’t say or his wish won’t come true. Billy, 12, says praying doesn’t work because he prayed for his dad not to die. Mom replies that some things happen for reasons we can’t understand. Later, when Chelsea says Jodie was going to “show me Daddy,” her mom tells her that Daddy is in heaven with the angels.
George and Kathy are seen in bed together fooling around (fully clothed). Later, they’re shown having sex (with some movement). Kathy is partially nude, seen topless briefly from the side and longer from the back.
A teenage babysitter wears a small, cleavage-revealing halter top. While lying on Billy's bed, she asks the tweenager if he “Frenches,” explaining it is kissing with tongues. He says no.
The movie opens with a depiction of the original crime, made more disturbing by the fact it actually happened. Blood gushes and splatters as we watch Ronald Defeo Jr. shoot five of his family members in their beds as they sleep. He finds his youngest sister (maybe 6 years old) hiding in her closet, tells her he loves her, and we hear the fatal shot. The crime scenes, including shots of Jodie’s dead body, are flashed onscreen throughout the film.
George sees glimpses of Jodie hanging dead in a noose. Chelsea (who is about Jodie’s age) interacts with the girl’s ghost, whose ashen, veiny face has a prominent bullet hole in the forehead. George dreams that he sees himself shooting the boys in their beds with a shotgun. Blood flows from the walls, and a gruesome, bleeding face appears next to Michael’s in a jump cut. Jodie is seen held struggling to the ceiling by disembodied arms. Later, Jodie torments the babysitter by locking her in a closet, appearing to her and forcing her to put her finger in the bullet hole in her head. The sitter has a mental breakdown.
Little Chelsea is led by Jodie to the high top of the house’s roof, forcing George and Kathy to risk their own lives to save her as she jumps. Confused by a vision, George kills a dog with an axe, with bloody results. Later, George forces a terrified Billy to hold logs as he splits them with the same axe.
George is grabbed by disembodied arms in the bathtub, pulling him down. He has visions of Rev. Ketchum’s torture chambers, including images of men with backs splayed open on an altar, lips stapled shut, etc. George eventually “sees” Ketchum slit his own throat, spurting large amounts of blood all over George’s body. Fully possessed, George attacks the family, trying to kill his wife with the propeller of a speed boat, by choking her, and eventually by swinging an axe at her and at Billy. (In his mind, he sees himself hit her with the axe.) Billy and Kathy both hit George with blunt objects. George falls from a roof. Toward the end of the movie, we’re “treated” to a speed-cut montage of all the most gruesome, bloody images in the film.
Crude or Profane Language
Harsh language includes close to 10 uses each of the f-word and "d--n" (including multiple uses of “g--d--n”). Also heard fewer than five times each: the s-word and “p---ed off.” A little girl is rebuked by her mom for repeating the word “a--hole.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
George and Kathy drink wine with dinner at a restaurant. The babysitter smokes from a bong.
Other Negative Elements
The original book and film of The Amityville Horror undoubtedly benefited from the idea that it was a firsthand account of an actual haunting. After all, the crime was real, the Lutzes are real people, and they did move in and out of the house in a matter of days. Just facts enough to give the story some credibility—25 years ago.
Since then, the supernatural aspects of the tale have been thoroughly debunked as hoax and discredited by key players. Even the investigations of so-called “paranormal researchers” failed to turn up anything tantalizing. George Lutz, at least, seems to be sticking to the original story, but without much support. Knowing this, writer Scott Kosar and director Andrew Douglas must have decided that they’d need lots more blood, scary images and violence to attract a new audience.
And they do pile it on. So much so that their Amityville becomes little more than a series of artificially scary supernatural and bloody moments. Why build suspense when you can just show another gruesome special effect? Admittedly, some of those moments are effective at inducing fear, but it’s all eventually numbing, especially since we know exactly where the story is headed from the start.
More disturbing is the way Kosar and Douglas put children in harm’s way for entertainment purposes. In re-creating the original killings, four children are murdered with a shotgun, one as she pleads for her life. It might be one thing if the film was wrestling with the gravity of that kind of violence in some way. But as a boilerplate horrorfest, Amityville trivializes those real-world deaths. And it turns one of the murdered children into a supernatural killer herself. The Lutzes’ kids are threatened repeatedly as well, to give the audience more thrills.
As is often the case with modern horror films, the positive side of the supernatural world offers little hope of help. Michael’s childlike faith in God is portrayed as superstition, and Billy’s faith remains lost after the death of his dad. The priest’s faith and God are shown as completely ineffectual against the dark power of the house, while the demented Rev. Ketchum remains undefeated in his evil spiritual power 400 years after his own death.
The Lutzes’ story may have been proven false, but the real danger of spiritual evil is not in moving around the furniture in the middle of the night. Satan’s greatest weapon remains deceiving people about the true character of God. Any film that waters down respect for God’s power over evil (along with respect for human life) “just for fun” can’t hurt those efforts.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ryan Reynolds as George Lutz; Melissa George as Kathy Lutz; Jesse James as Billy Lutz; Jimmy Bennett as Michael Lutz; Chloë Grace Moretz as Chelsea Lutz; Rachel Nichols as Lisa; Philip Baker Hall as Father Callaway
Andrew Douglas ( )