The Amityville Horror (1979): A Haunted House Classic


Inspired partly by truth, the original Amityville Horror is an outlandish supernatural tale. Let’s look at why it’s considered a classic of the genre!

November 13, 1974: The Real Life Atrocity

Before looking at the movie itself, let’s address the big question: How much of The Amityville Horror is based on real life? As it turns out, much of the story is fictionalized. Nevertheless, there actually is a place called Amityville, New York, and Ronald DeFeo Jr. truly did murder his entire family at 112 Ocean Avenue in 1974 — which is horror fodder, to be sure.

However, the supernatural experiences claimed by the Lutz family (and Jay Anson’s original book) are widely considered bedunked, for a wide variety of reasons — conflicting accounts, outlandish claims, accusations of profit-generating sensationalism, etc. There’s also the fact that, since the Lutzes left, others living at the “Amityville Horror house” haven’t experienced any supernatural phenomena.

On top of that, Ronald DeFeo Jr. has switched around accounts of his murders. He’s claimed variously that it was self defense, that his sister Dawn started it, and/or that it was a Mafia-style hit. Now, this last claim is actually interesting, because it sounds vaguely plausible. Apparently, Ronald’s great uncle, Peter DeFeo, really was a member of the Genovese crime family. One wonders what that movie might have been like.

In any case, there is no apparent supernatural explanation for what he did, or anything that occurred afterwards. Still, it is arguably a legendary “haunted house” — a fate enjoyed by many tragic locations.  The legend lives on due to superstition, box office and book sales, and the power of imagination.

The Film’s Power

Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) coping with a little insect problem. (The Amityville Horror)

Specific murders aside, people like the idea of a haunted property, or at least a place with an evil past. The Amityville Horror is all about that! When Kathy and George Lutz (Margot Kidder and James Brolin) move into a new place, viewers expect — dare I say, want — things to go haywire. It ups the dramatic stakes when kids are involved. In this case, it’s Greg (K. C. Martel), Matt (Meeno Peluce), and Amy (Natasha Ryan).

There’s another basic element at work.  Viewers will probably think, “My life isn’t perfect, but at least my place isn’t that bad!” You might live in a run-down shack, but it’s probably not haunted by demon-pigs with glowing red eyes, right? (Apologies if I’m wrong about that.) It probably gets into every new homeowner’s fear that their new place will be a nightmare, rather than a dream home.

“Hey, honey, I think the house is trying to tell us something.” (The Amityville Horror).

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Also, like with The Exorcist, you have the whole God vs. the Devil dynamic. After the Lutzes get Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) to bless the place, he has all sorts of problems. He has run-ins with swarms of flies, gets sick to his stomach, receives hand blisters.  Then — get this — the dang demons even tamper with his car’s steering and brakes! While most of us would get flypaper, Pepto-Bismol, band-aids and an auto mechanic, Father Delaney turns to utter despair and loses his faith.

The idea of a building as a conduit to unseen, malevolent forces is either scary or funny. Imagine looking out your bedroom window to see glowing demon eyes. Also, what is that noise in the basement? And who can ignore that smell? Classic!

What are your thoughts on The Amityville Horror? Don’t be afraid to tell us!

Seen The Amityville Horror? Think its an absolute classic? Let the other scary spirits know what you think in the comment section below.