The Iconic horror / suspense / thrillers of the 1970s

ImageThe Exorcist 1973

Jaws 1975

Carrie 1976

Halloween 1978

Alien 1979

Amityville Horror 1979

 too bad the shining was released in 1980!

The last on the list, Amityville Horror struck me as a ‘real’ horror story – something to really be afraid of. Perhaps it’s because my mother found it easier to just scare me out of wanting to watch horror films than to forbid them. So, she let me see enough of several to be afraid and probably told me that, of course Amityville was real. “They’re real people aren’t they?”

Amityville is the story of a house – the horror house – in the town of Amityville on Long Island, New York. It’s a story that encompasses several generations of the house’s dwellers from the first Americans, who used the location as a place to rid themselves of unwanted animals and people, through the colonial period of Reverend Ketchum, to the recent past with the DeFeo family murders and finally up to ‘present’ day, as the Lutz family takes advantage of the unnaturally depressed listing price and moves in to start a new life.

I’ve recently been obsessed with the Amityville story… it’s a great example of the ‘haunted house’ genre. And coming just a few years after Jaws, it borrows from some of the eerie sense of New England being an old place (by American standards) with secrets and rules for how things are done.

There are a couple of ways one can approach Amityville.

  1. Based on a True Story
    1. ImageThe DeFeo family really was slaughtered in that house by Ronnie. The Lutz family really did buy the house at a steal for ~$80,000 (depending on how you translate that value you could be in the range of $2.5M today) and then leave 28 days later. My mom was right about all that. But this doesn’t mean that the supernatural is real – just someone thinks it is.

                                               i.     They may actually believe their own story. In this case, the ‘facts’ lie in their actions and how they interpreted their situation, possibly building on one another’s fear until it finally reached a crescendo at four weeks.

                                              ii.     They may have willfully perpetrated the hoax due to any number of reasons. The book spends a decent amount of time talking about the lost cash that Kathy Lutz’ brother brought into the house and promptly lost. It also details the problems this caused and the tax entanglements that George’s business was caught in. Financial problems can make even the best people resort to unsavory solutions.

                                            iii.     Someone could have been pulling this hoax on them – kids, unwelcoming neighbors. There is a constant reminder of the class difference that exists between the Lutz’ and the other families in the neighborhood. The murders so conveniently provide a background for harassment.

  1. If we do care about the ‘real’ story, we should probably let the book stand as the best researched compilation of how things occurred. The first film bases itself on this book and then the second film bases itself on the original version with editing for new special effects and added violence.


  1. A Good Story
    1. This story has it all, an old house, generations of evil on the site (hauntings typically are place-bound), depth without falling into confusion and a perfect house. The windows of the old Dutch Colonial even give the house a perfectly menacing visage.
    2. This story has several ghosts, which is kind of unusual.

                                               i.     Rev Ketcham – portrayed as an evil torturing monster in life and taking the form of the house itself in the films (genius).

                                              ii.     The unofficial burial ground where the first Americans left the sick and frail to die of exposure. Could this provide the evil spirits that took control of Ketcham?

                                            iii.     The Defeos – although we don’t get a lot of them aside from Ronnie (who isn’t dead and was presumably possessed himself.. that’s confusing isn’t it?) and the youngest child (a son in real life, but portrayed as a little girl in the film. This youngest child, Jodie, is actually the spirit of a pig in the book, but works better as a girl for the film.

                                            iv.     As a tale of two ghosts, Amityville seems to pit Ketcham as the real evil in the house, while Jodie is a lonely and sometimes cruel victim who wants company.

I like the ‘just a good story’ angle. Who cares about the truth? There are no devils and demons, so it’s either a hoax or a mass delusion – not things that fascinate me. But I do like ghost stories, so that’s how I watch this.

 Some notes about the acting and casting.

  • ImageJames Brolin is a perfect Charles Manson figure, Hansom but buried in 1970s beard and long hair. He portrays a fairly compelling …. What? Anti-hero? And – he looks like a real human being


  • ImageRyan Reynolds, who appears to do a good job as a brooding imitation of Brolin, but falls flat when forced to act as anything else. Not to mention he’s a bit too GQ for a mass murderer.


  • Margot Kidder is a good choice of attractive, but not unreasonably so. She’s also smart enough to be an interesting character, but at the same time vapid enough to be a true horror heroine.


  • Melissa George plays the role pretty well. Although she’s not my type, I still think she’s a little too pretty for the part in a very casting-for-the-masses-conscious way.

For both leads, I favor the 1979 cast, but can’t argue with the 2005 castings.

My major criticism of the remake… more than anything else, I can’t forgive the ‘dream sequence’ when George kills Kathy in the remake. It was such a surprise that I actually sat up and leaned in. ‘This is something different!’ But making it a vision is worse than just leaving it out. It’s as if Michael Bay had a moment of daring, couldn’t help filming it, and then backed off.

I had to stop the original film in the middle, but I’ll finish that shortly and may add more fawning over it later.


One comment on “The Iconic horror / suspense / thrillers of the 1970s

  1. […] ones from the 70s and 80s – and writing reviews on my other blog, the now-incorrectly titled, 100FilmsIn100Days. So perhaps, we’ll see a little of that nice Dutch Colonial on Long Island from time to […]

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