At seven years old in 1979, I can tell you that I was beyond terrified of The Amityville Horror, putting my hands over my ears and screaming every time the TV commercial came on as if the ghosts could come through the TV — keep in mind, Poltergeist was 3 years away — and get me.
Based on Jay Anson’s 1977 supposedly true book of the cultural phenomenon that was the house at 112 Ocean Avenue, this movie was originally going to be a made-for-TV movie. Instead, it became a major box office hit.
In the early morning hours on November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family with a shotgun. A year later, the Lutz family — James Brolin and Margot Kidder, along with their kids Greg (K.C. Martel), Amy and Matt (Meeno Peluce, who is the half-brother of Soleil Moon Frye and was in Don’t Go Near the Park) — move in and quite literally, all hell breaks loose (“yea, evil is as evil does and who / Yea, who but me could write this book of cruel”).
Rod Steiger, Don Stroud and John Larch play the priests who are ill-equipped to deal with whatever demons reside here. Yes, in the years since The Exorcist, the clergy has lost much of its ability to stop the fallen angels that make walls bleed and turn nice dads like Babs’ hubby into axe-carrying madmen. Poor Rod — this Hollywood royalty had his forehead smeared with honey so that bugs would crawl all over him.
Somehow, this sort of boring haunted house film launched a cottage industry. Even more surprising is the fact that it’s directed by Stuart Rosenberg, the same man who made the electric Cool Hand Luke.
Of all the movies they released, this movie remains American International Pictures’ biggest hit.
Because the movie had a low budget, James Brolin took less money up front but with a promise of 10% of the gross sales. He eventually received about $17 million, which if we adjust for inflation means he made $60 million dollars on this movie. Man, this Satan racket pays off. I love that Brolin complained that he didn’t get another role for two years. Dude — you made insane money on this one.
Ed and Loraine Warren, those lovable carnies, were involved with the investigation of the real house and somehow turned that into roles as the Demonology Advisors for Amityville II: The Possession, which is a much better movie than this one.
BONUS: You can hear us discuss The Amityville Horror on our podcast.