The Amityville Horror (1979 film)

The Amityville Horror is a 1979 American supernatural horror film directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder as a young couple who purchase a home haunted by combative supernatural forces. The film is based on Jay Anson's 1977 book of the same name. The story is based on the alleged experiences of the Lutz family who bought a new home in Amityville, New York, where a mass murder had been committed the year before. It is the first film based on the Amityville horror.

The Amityville Horror
Amityville poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStuart Rosenberg
Screenplay bySandor Stern
Based onThe Amityville Horror
by Jay Anson
Produced by
  • Elliot Geisinger
  • Ronald Saland[1]
CinematographyFred J. Koenekamp
Edited byRobert Brown Jr.
Music byLalo Schifrin
  • Cinema 77
  • Professional Films, Inc.[2]
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
  • July 27, 1979 (1979-07-27)
Running time
118 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.7 million[4][5]
Box office$86.4 million[6]

Upon its release in the summer of 1979, The Amityville Horror was a major commercial success for American International Pictures, grossing over $80 million in the United States and going on to become one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time. It received mostly negative reviews from critics, though some film scholars have considered it a classic of the horror genre.[a]

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score by composer Lalo Schifrin and Kidder also earned a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress. A remake was produced in 2005.


In the early morning hours on November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murders his entire family with a shotgun at their home of 112 Ocean Avenue. in Amityville, New York.

One year later, George and Kathy Lutz, a young married couple, move into the property. George appears not to be strong of faith, but Kathy is a Catholic in name at least. She has three children from her prior marriage: Greg, Matt, and Amy. The couple turn to Father Delaney to quickly bless the home, but Delaney encounters troubles in trying to bless the home, including a room full of flies, out of season; violent stomach sickness; and later, blisters on his palm when trying to make a phone call to Kathy at their home. The experience eventually stops when a door is opened, A voice demands Delaney to leave the property and rushes out of the house, and he decides to continue helping the Lutz family. Delaney is later involved in a car accident resulting from mysterious malfunctions, and he becomes frustrated at the lack of support from his superiors in the diocese. He ultimately appears to lose faith, becoming blind and having a breakdown.

Kathy's aunt, a nun, comes by the house one afternoon, but becomes violently ill. George begins to be more sullen and angry over perceived cold in the house, and obsesses with splitting logs and keeping the fireplace stoked. Before Kathy's brother's engagement party one night, $1,500 to be used for the caterer inexplicably goes missing in the house. Meanwhile, the babysitter watching Amy for the evening is locked inside a bedroom closet by an unseen force. Further unexplained incidents occur when one of the two boys suffers a crushed hand when a sash window falls on it, and Amy having an imaginary friend, Jody, who seems to be of a malevolent nature. Kathy catches a glimpse of two red, swine-like eyes outside the daughter's second-story bedroom window. Even the family dog, Harry, scratches obsessively (causing his paws to bleed) at a brick wall in the basement.

George's land surveying business begins to suffer with his lack of attendance, and his business partner, Jeff, grows concerned. Jeff's wife, Carolyn, very sensitive to the paranormal, is both repulsed and intrigued by the things she feels when at the house. While in the basement of the house, Carolyn begins demolishing a wall with a hammer, revealing a small room behind the wall. Discovering the damage, George takes down the rest of the wall, observing a small room with red walls. Carolyn, in terror, shrieks that they have found "the passage... to hell!" – only her voice now sounds like Father Delaney's voice.

Throughout the strange incidents, Kathy observes George's persistent waking up at 3:15 a.m., feeling he must go check on the boathouse. She also has nightmares, in which she is given details about the killings of the home's prior family. Research at the library and county records office suggest that the house is built atop a Shinnecock burial ground and that a known Satanic worshipper named John Ketchum had once lived on the land. She also discovers the news clippings about the DeFeo murders and notices Ronald DeFeo's striking resemblance to George.

Finally, the paranormal events culminate one stormy night. Blood oozes from the walls and down the staircase; Jody, appearing as a large, red-eyed pig, is seen through a window; and George attempts to kill the children with an axe, but regains his wits after Kathy disrupts him. After falling through the basement stairs into a pit of black sludge while rescuing Harry, George and the rest of the family drive away, abandoning their home and belongings. A final intertitle reads: "George and Kathleen Lutz and their family never reclaimed their house or their personal belongings. Today they live in another state."




Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff purchased the rights to the novel by Jay Anson, which was a commercial success upon its publication in 1977.[7] Anson himself wrote a screenplay based on his work, but the script was rejected by Arkoff, and screenwriter Sandor Stern was assigned to write an entirely new script.[7] Initially, the film had been conceived as a made-for-television film.[7]


The house exteriors were shot at a home in Toms River, New Jersey after public officials refused to allow filming at the real home (pictured here).

Brolin was hesitant when first offered the role of George Lutz.[8] At the time of his casting, the script was unfinished, and so Brolin obtained a copy of Anson's novel to read. Brolin started the book and read until two o'clock in the morning. He had hung up a pair of his pants in the room earlier and during an especially tense passage of the book, the pants fell to the floor. Brolin jumped from his chair in fright. It was then that Brolin decided to do the film, convinced that the material would make an effective film.[8]

Kidder was cast in the role of Kathy Lutz after her breakthrough performance as Lois Lane in Superman the year prior.[8]


The on-location scenes of The Amityville Horror were filmed at a private residence in Toms River, New Jersey, which had been converted to look like the 112 Ocean Avenue home after authorities in Amityville denied permission for filming on the actual location.[7] Exterior scenes were also filmed in Toms River and Point Pleasant Beach. Local police and ambulance workers would play extras in the film, while the Toms River Volunteer Fire Company was used to provide the rain during several scenes. Indoor shots were filmed at the MGM studio lot in Los Angeles, California.[8][9]

The film shoot was widely publicized in national media when the studio attempted to concoct stories of "unusual" occurrences on the set (not dissimilar from what was claimed to have occurred during the filming of The Exorcist).[10] According to Brolin, he and Kidder were both asked by the studio and the press, "'Is there weird stuff going on?'... and we were looking for stuff now. We'd have liked to tell them, 'Oh yeah, you wouldn't believe the stuff that happened yesterday—my lunch fell off the table in my lap.'"[8]


Lalo Schifrin's score for The Amityville Horror was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, but lost out to the score for A Little Romance by Georges Delerue. It is sometimes claimed that this score was the one rejected in 1973 for The Exorcist, but Schifrin has denied this in interviews.[11]



In promotion for the film's premiere, stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder visited the actual home at 112 Ocean Avenue, accompanied by the press.[8] Brolin would later reflect that the actual home was much more "condensed" than the location where the film was shot.[8] Both Brolin and Kidder were skeptics of the claims made in the book; "I didn't buy that this really had happened," Kidder would say in a 2005 interview.[8] During the press junkets promoting the film, when asked whether she believed the Lutzes' claims, Kidder purportedly turned to the producers, who responded: "We'll never tell."[8]

In an interview from 2005, Margot Kidder made clear that "the producers told us we should say all these terrible things happened on the set. It was all bullshit. Nothing happened, but it was funny."[12]

Theatrical runEdit

The Amityville Horror had an invitational premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on July 24[13] and was released in Los Angeles and New York on July 27, 1979.[2]


Box officeEdit

The Amityville Horror premiered in the United States on July 27, 1979. It was one of the most successful films produced by an independent studio at the time and was the most profitable AIP release since The Born Losers (1968).[6][14][better source needed][15] The film opened in 748 theatres, grossing $7,843,467 for the weekend.[6] It grossed over $13.3 million for the week from 810 theatres, the second best opening week of the year (to that date) after Moonraker's $14.7 million and AIP's largest ever.[16] The film grossed a total of $86,432,520 at the U.S. and Canadian box office, making it the second-highest-grossing film of 1979.[17] It was the highest-grossing independent film of all time until 1990, when it was surpassed by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.[10]

Critical responseEdit

In his review at the time, Roger Ebert described the film as "dreary and terminally depressing".[18] An anonymous review in People said Rod Steiger was overacting and that the film was "ridiculous."[19] Tim Pulleine of the Monthly Film Bulletin declared that the film "proves the most satisfying excursion into no-frills spine-chilling for some time." and that "The film is constantly well played and provides Rod Steiger with his best opportunity in ages for all-stops-out bravura."[1] John Simon of the National Review described The Amityville Horror as 'dreadful'.[20]

From a retrospective review historian James F. Broderick praised it, writing: "Director Stuart Rosenberg crafted an effective horror movie that succeeds largely because the performers take the over-the-top material seriously... The film is taut, tense, and filled with the bizarre, unsettling events chronicled in the book."[7] In a 2013 assessment, John Kenneth Muir called The Amityville Horror a "blunt and effective horror film," also noting author Stephen King's analysis of the film's subtext revolving around financial turmoil among the family: "If one follows King's lead, it's easy to contextualize The Amityville Horror as a financial nightmare... Similarly, the movie's dialogue constantly references financial matters. "Bills have to be paid," says one character. "The IRS is calling," warns another. 'They'll nickel and dime you to death" is a mantra not just about the bill collectors, perhaps, but a warning about the demons in the house."[21] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 30% with its consensus reading, "Dull and disappointing, the best that can be said for The Amityville Horror is that it set a low bar for its many sequels and remakes".


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[22] Best Original Score Lalo Schifrin Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[23] Best Original Score Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Horror Film Nominated
Best Actress Margot Kidder Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst Picture Dishonourable Mention
Worst Director Stuart Rosenberg Dishonourable Mention
Worst Actor James Brolin Nominated
Worst Actress Margot Kidder Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor Rod Steiger Dishonourable Mention
Worst Supporting Actress Helen Shaver Nominated
Worst Screenplay Sandor Stern Dishonourable Mention
Worst On-Screen Couple James Brolin and Margot Kidder Nominated

Legal disputesEdit

The film resulted in several lawsuits.[24]

Film FranchiseEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In Now a Terrifying Motion Picture!: Twenty-Five Classic Works of Horror Adapted from Book to Film (2012), film scholar James F. Broderick notes that the film continues to make critics' lists of the best horror films of all time.[7]


  1. ^ a b Pulleine, Tim (January 1980). "Amityville Horror, The". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 47 no. 552. British Film Institute. p. 3.
  2. ^ a b "The Amityville Horror". American Film Institute. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  3. ^ "THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (X)". British Board of Film Classification. August 16, 1979. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  4. ^ Arkoff & Turbo 1992, p. 228.
  5. ^ Smith 2009, p. 13.
  6. ^ a b c "The Amityville Horror (1979)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Broderick 2012, p. 17.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Brolin, James; Kidder, Margot (2005). For God's Sake, Get Out! (DVD) |format= requires |url= (help) (Documentary film). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
  9. ^ Stark, Ian J. (May 29, 2017). "TV shows, movies set on Long Island but not filmed here". Newsday. Retrieved July 9, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Miller, John M. "The Amityville Horror". Turner Classic Movies. In the Know. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  11. ^ Carlsson, Mikael. "Amityville Horror, The". Archived from the original on December 7, 2008.
  12. ^ "Margot Kidder interview". THE FLASHBACK FILES. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  13. ^ "New York Sound Track". Variety. June 13, 1979. p. 26.
  14. ^ The Amityville Horror (1979) at IMDb
  15. ^ "The Shining (1980)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  16. ^ "'Amityville' In One Week Equals 'First Bite' Tally For 3 Weeks". Variety. August 8, 1979. p. 30.
  17. ^ Francis 2013, p. 189.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1979). "Movie Review: The Amityville Horror (1979)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  19. ^ "Picks and Pans Review: The Amityville Horror". People. September 3, 1979. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  20. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 18.
  21. ^ Muir 2013, p. 322.
  22. ^ "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on November 10, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
  23. ^ "The Amityville Horror – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  24. ^ Kernan, Michael (September 16, 1979). "The Calamityville Horror". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 31, 2017.


External linksEdit