Cult Movie: Haunted house tale The Amityville Horror seems plain creaky 40 years on

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityville Horror
Ralph McLean

THE box office bounty brought about by the likes of The Exorcist and The Omen meant that the 70s was the golden age for mainstream movies about demonic possession and evil entities threatening the welfare of clean-cut middle America.

Usually helmed by directors who didn't really care for horror as a genre and produced for the kind of respectable budgets that suggested they were somehow 'serious' movies rather than cheap exploitative tat, such efforts were everywhere in that glummest of post-war decades.

The Amityville Horror arrived at the tail end of that cycle in 1979 and clicked with cinema audiences so well that any number of increasingly crass follow-ups, prequels and remakes were trotted out for years afterwards.

Oddly enough though, we don't look back on director Stuart Rosenberg's tale of an ordinary family who take up a cut-price offer to move into a big house with a bloody past only to find that it is actually a porthole to hell itself with anywhere near the same love and affection that we reserve for other macabre money-making exercises of the era.

Watching the latest DVD release of the film from Second Sight it's all too easy to see why.

While it may induce shivers of memory from those of a certain age, Amityville just doesn't deliver the diabolical goods when called upon to do so. Sure, there are magical moments, such as the sight of walls bleeding and flies attacking a poor old priest, but iconic as those scenes are, the film still struggles to convince on any real level.

As a general rule of thumb, any film that feels the need to tag the line “based on a true story” on to its soul is one that should be shovelled into the nearest celluloid scrapheap. Amityville prided itself on being based on a novel by Jay Anson that claimed to be the true tale of a family who unwittingly uncover a gateway to hell while trying to secure themselves a new home.

That the 'true story' is a now discredited as a tale of supernatural mumbo jumbo only adds to the sense of wild, ungrounded sensationalism that surrounds the whole thing.

Its second problem is the fact that it looks like a bog standard made-for-TV drama dressed up as a chilling paranormal thriller.

James Brolin and Margot Kidder are fine as George and Kathy Lutz, the haunted-house purchasers. But as we watch George descend into madness under the malevolent influence of the building – a descent that predates the cinematic release of Jack Nicholson's similar journey into insanity in The Shining, by the way, although Kubrick's cold-hearted masterpiece was in production at the same time – it's hard to care much as the plot plods by and the supernatural set pieces arrive with increasing regularity.

Drab and dated, The Amityville Horror may have sold well in 79 but it hardly pays the rent today.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 to get full access