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The Amityville Horror
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Amityville Horror is a 1979 horror movie about a family who moves into a house that holds some very dark secrets. This horror movie sticks closer to the "slow-burn suspense" side of things rather than being full of gore, but there are some moments of blood and death: A man walks from room to room in the house killing his family with a shotgun, and there's blood and dead bodies in bed. When the new family moves in, the mom has nightmares of her kids getting killed by an ax murderer. Most of the scares are of the "sudden startle" variety: a black cat shrieking in a window seemingly out of nowhere, for instance, or the sudden appearance of someone or something. It has lots of creepy imagery -- often religious in nature -- but also bleeding walls, flames, flies, and doors that open, close, and lock on their own. While scary for its time, the movie hasn't aged well, as so many of the horror tropes now taken for granted are used in abundance, and many of the special effects look ludicrous. There's some minor profanity -- including a little girl who calls her brother a "smart-ass" -- and some cigarette smoking.
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What's the story?
In 1974, a family of six were murdered in their beds for seemingly no reason in a large rural home, setting off the chain of events in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. Some years later, George (James Brolin) and Kathy (Margot Kidder) Lutz move into this home with three children from Kathy's prior marriage. When Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) arrives to bless the house, he enters on his own volition while the Lutzes play in the backyard. As he explores the home, he's driven away by demonic voices, doors shutting on their own, and a plague of flies. Upon returning to the rectory, he attempts to call the Lutzes, but the call cuts off into static and the phone is too painful to hold as he is overcome with blisters on his hands and violent pains in his stomach. Similar bad experiences and forebodings overcome Kathy's aunt, a nun, and the wife of the co-owner of George's business. Meanwhile, George grows increasingly sullen -- feeling cold all the time, he takes to obsessively chopping wood and sharpening his ax. The youngest girl, Amy, begins to spend time with a sinister imaginary friend named Jody. Strange and unpleasant events continue to occur. As they begin to look into the house's dark history, the family dog makes a discovery in the basement as he sniffs and tries to dig in a certain spot. Upon knocking the basement wall down with a sledgehammer, George and Kathy discover that their home contains a passage that is a gateway to hell. As the terror increases, the Lutzes must find a way to escape their home before becoming its latest in a long line of victims.
Is it any good?
While probably scary for its time, this horror film hasn't aged well. Many of the attempts at scares or suspense feel forced or have become common horror movie tropes by this point. The gratuitousness of it all is as cheesy as the dated special effects. Viewed decades later, The Amityville Horror comes off in style and tone as a pale imitation of the "true story" premise of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, of the religious overtones of The Exorcist, and of the descent of a father into madness in The Shining (and there's even a scene where the father uses an ax to break down a door).
Despite all the forced moments shoehorned in to keep the audience at the edge of their seats, the last 15 minutes manage to generate enough action and uncertainty to at least provide a satisfying and entertaining conclusion. But the journey to get there is so filled with side stories that don't really go anywhere, main storylines that fizzle out or don't get resolved, and overall inconsistency, it's hard to enjoy this beyond the cheese-appeal of a '70s horror movie enjoyed as a pop culture relic.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about horror movies. How does The Amityville Horror try to scare the audience? How does this compare with other horror movies?
The music in the movie was nominated for an Academy Award. How do horror movies use music to heighten the suspense, the buildup, and the payoff when the moment of terror happens to the characters? What would be lost (or gained) if music weren't used in horror movies?
How was religious imagery used in the movie? What did that add to the story and the suspense?