The Amityville Horror (1979)

R | 117 mins | Horror | 1979

Director:

Stuart Rosenberg

Writer:

Sandor Stern

Cinematographer:

Fred Koenekamp

Production Designer:

Kim Swados

Production Companies:

Cinema 77, Professional Films, Inc.
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HISTORY


       On 6 Feb 1978, a Var news item announced that American International Pictures (AIP) purchased the film rights to author Jay Anson’s allegedly non-fiction, bestselling account of the Lutz family’s trials, The Amityville Horror (1977). Var noted that Ronald Saland was set to co-produce the picture for Professional Films, Inc. with partner Elliot Geisinger. The Amityville Horror was their first feature film as co-producers. An 8 Mar 1978 DV article reported that the film rights for The Amityville Horror , Anson’s first book, sold to AIP for over $200,000. Anson was introduced to the Lutz family by his friend and Prentice-Hall Books editor Tam Mossman, and, after writing two chapters, Anson secured a contract with Prentice-Hall that gave him theatrical and television rights to the property. Having developed a fifteen-year relationship with Saland and Geisinger as a documentary film writer, Anson sold Professional Films the rights to his book before their deal with AIP. DV noted that it was the first time AIP paid such a high price for literary rights and the film’s budget was set at $5 million. A 16 Mar 1978 HR brief stated director Stuart Rosenberg was signed to the production, which was set to begin late spring 1978, and on 20 Mar 1978, a DV news item reported that Laird Koenig was hired to rewrite Anson’s script. Sandor Stern, however, received sole writing credit in the film.
       A 30 Aug 1978 Var news item announced James Brolin was cast to star and principal photography ... More Less


       On 6 Feb 1978, a Var news item announced that American International Pictures (AIP) purchased the film rights to author Jay Anson’s allegedly non-fiction, bestselling account of the Lutz family’s trials, The Amityville Horror (1977). Var noted that Ronald Saland was set to co-produce the picture for Professional Films, Inc. with partner Elliot Geisinger. The Amityville Horror was their first feature film as co-producers. An 8 Mar 1978 DV article reported that the film rights for The Amityville Horror , Anson’s first book, sold to AIP for over $200,000. Anson was introduced to the Lutz family by his friend and Prentice-Hall Books editor Tam Mossman, and, after writing two chapters, Anson secured a contract with Prentice-Hall that gave him theatrical and television rights to the property. Having developed a fifteen-year relationship with Saland and Geisinger as a documentary film writer, Anson sold Professional Films the rights to his book before their deal with AIP. DV noted that it was the first time AIP paid such a high price for literary rights and the film’s budget was set at $5 million. A 16 Mar 1978 HR brief stated director Stuart Rosenberg was signed to the production, which was set to begin late spring 1978, and on 20 Mar 1978, a DV news item reported that Laird Koenig was hired to rewrite Anson’s script. Sandor Stern, however, received sole writing credit in the film.
       A 30 Aug 1978 Var news item announced James Brolin was cast to star and principal photography was slated to begin Oct 1978. Although the exact start date of the production is undetermined, a 16 Nov 1978 HR brief stated that the crew was moving that week from East Coast locations to sets at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios in Culver City, CA, and on 8 Jan 1979, HR reported that filming had completed “a week under schedule.” A 26 Nov 1978 LAT article reported that the film was shot on location in Toms River, NJ, instead of Amityville, NY, because Amityville residents were “reluctant to encourage added publicity” and the house did not have a layout appropriate for filming. The Dutch colonial house in Tom’s River was rented for $12,000 and 38 locals were selected as extras out of 2,000 people who auditioned.
       During production, Prentice-Hall was sued for $1.1 million by the residents of the Lutz’s former Amityville home, the Cromartys, who complained that Anson’s book was “completely untrue” and never fact-checked, according to a 15 Nov 1978 WSJ article. The family, who had been “’harassed’” by crowds of people gathered at their home expecting to witness supernatural phenomena, protested Prentice-Hall’s decision to publish the book with the title The Amityville Horror: A True Story . Although Ronald DeFeo, Jr. killed his parents and siblings at 108 Ocean Avenue (which was changed from 112 Ocean Avenue at the Cromartys’s request to protect their privacy), the Cromartys contended there was no tangible evidence of paranormal activities at the location. Anson told LAT that he agreed to work on the project only “after he corroborated the tale with the family priest” for evidence, but he preferred to leave the decision about its believability to his readers. A 1 Dec 1980 New York article reported that the Cromartys teamed with producer Martin Poll and journalist Steve Dunleavy to create their response to the Lutz’s claims in a film entitled The Amityville Horror Hoax but the picture was never released.
       Saland told LAT that the film attempted to diverge from the book by focusing more on the Amityville community and personal relationships among the characters. Instead of claiming the events depicted in the film actually happened, Geisinger related that they “’may be true or imagined. But this world is a strange place… and we hope people will at least feel this.’” The Lutzes, who negotiated for an equal share with Anson in the book’s profits, had no financial stake in the film, although Anson told LAT that they “received a consultation fee.”
       As reported in a 20 Nov 1978 Box news item, the film marked “record-breaking” foreign distribution deals for AIP, with “the highest territorial guarantees” in their twenty-five year history. Notably, Nippon Herald purchased rights to distribute the film in Japan and Southeast Asia and the New Constantine Co. made a “top deal” for Germany. On the same day, DV reported that Anson, Rosenberg and the films producers were discussing a sequel on the film’s set on Stage 26 at MGM.
       A 29 Jun 1979 NYT news item announced that the film was premiering at a gala event at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, NY, on 24 Jul 1979 to launch a retrospective of 38 AIP films. On 31 Jul 1979, DV reported that the film grossed $7,843,467 in its first three days of distribution in the U.S. and Canada, marking the largest opening to date for an AIP film. The article added that it was also the “biggest opening weekend for any major release this summer” and even out-grossed the blockbuster Superman (1978, see entry) which was released earlier in the year. An AIP representative noted that the film was largely attended by young adults despite its R-rating and there was evidence of “repeat business,” where viewers returned several times. He added that AIP spent $3.3 million on publicity and advertisements. On 15 Aug 1979, Var reported that the film had grossed over $20 million and by 7 Sep 1979, according to HR , profits for The Amityville Horror topped $50 million.
       As noted in a 27 Feb 1980 HR news item, AIP announced its purchase of the film rights to author Hans Holzer’s prequel to the film, Murder in Amityville which was released in 1982 with the title Amityville II: The Possession (see entry). In the same news item, HR reported the Lutz’s intention of selling a script for a sequel to The Amityville Horror entitled Unwanted Company , written by James Betts. The film was never released. As noted in a 12 Jul 1989 Var article, the Lutzes retained rights to any sequels of the story and sued Orion Pictures and producer Dino De Laurentiis for the release of both Amityville II: The Possession and Amityville 3-D (1983, see entry). Although their case was initially dismissed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the ruling was later reversed by a California Appeals Court in Jul 1989 and the Lutzes were given the right to a trial. A 24 Oct 2003 DV news item announced producers Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller were remaking The Amityville Horror with MGM. DV noted that although “the story was widely criticized as being fake,” it “hatched seven sequels.” However, only three were released theatrically, including Bay, Form and Fuller’s The Amityville Horror (2005, see entry).
       In an 18 Apr 2005 People article, George Lutz argued that his story was true despite claims that his family fabricated their account for financial gain. However, DeFeo’s former lawyer, William Weber, told People that he helped the Lutzes “concoct the fantastical details in anticipation of a lucrative book deal.” Weber sued the family when they left him out of the book negotiations. Lutz reported that he was involved in at least fourteen lawsuits since 1976, but he stressed that they were only to uphold his family’s integrity, not to make money. He claimed that the book and film provided the family with only $300,000.
       The 1979 film was released to mixed, but generally negative reviews.

       The film begins with the following written statement: “November 13, 1974, Amityville, Long Island. A mother, father and four of their children murdered… No apparent motive.” Throughout the film, captions display the number of days the Lutz family lived in the house and the day of the week. At the end of the film, a written epilogue reads: “George and Kathleen Lutz and their family never reclaimed their house or their personal belongings. Today they live in another state.” The following statement appears after the end credits: “This motion picture is based on the book The Amityville Horror . Certain characters and events have been changed to heighten dramatic effect.”


The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Gabe Auyeung, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, with Diane Jakacki as academic advisor.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
20 Nov 1978.
---
Box Office
18 Aug 1979
p. 18.
Daily Variety
6 Feb 1978.
---
Daily Variety
8 Mar 1978
p. 10.
Daily Variety
20 Mar 1978.
---
Daily Variety
20 Nov 1978.
---
Daily Variety
30 Nov 1978.
---
Daily Variety
27 Jul 1979.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1979
p. 1, 20.
Daily Variety
24 Oct 2003
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jan 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1979
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1980
p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
26 Nov 1978
p. 55.
Los Angeles Times
27 Jul 1979
p. 1.
New York
1 Dec 1980.
---
New York Times
29 Jun 1979.
---
New York Times
27 Jul 1979
p. 9.
Newsweek
13 Aug 1979
p. 75.
People
18 Apr 2005
pp. 115-16.
Time
17 Sep 1979.
---
Variety
6 Feb 1978.
---
Variety
30 Aug 1978.
---
Variety
1 Aug 1979
p. 20.
Variety
15 Aug 1979.
---
Variety
12 Jul 1989.
---
WSJ
15 Nov 1978.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres/Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Gaffer
Key grip
Photog equip by
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Addl editing
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Assoc ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Set dec
COSTUMES
Men's ward
Women's ward
MUSIC
Mus ed
Scoring mixer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
Creative sd services by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Visual eff by
Titles & opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec in charge of prod
Casting
Casting
Casting
Animal trainer
Unit controller
Prod controller
Loc auditor
Transportation
Prod coord
Prod secy
Post prod supv
STAND INS
Stunt driver
Stunt driver
Stunt driver
Stunt double
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (Englewood Cliffs, 1977).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 27 July 1979
Copyright Claimant:
American International Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
23 August 1979
Copyright Number:
PA42581
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Movielab, Inc.
Duration(in mins):
117
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25653
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

The sounds of a shotgun ring through a house in Amityville, New York, during a thunderstorm. At the crime scene, Sgt. Gionfriddo learns the family was murdered at approximately 3:15 a.m. One year later, newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz meet a real estate agent at the house. Although Kathy is uncomfortable living where a young man killed his family, George insists they won’t find a better deal and they go through with the sale. While moving in, George tells Kathy that he wishes his stepchildren would start referring to him as their father and hangs a crucifix in the living room. As the couple plays outside with the children, Father Delaney visits to bless the house. In the entry hall, he hears a young girl's laughter and follows the sound upstairs into a bedroom. After seeing the family below, Father Delaney notices flies collecting on the window and is overcome by illness. Praying for peace within the house, Father Delaney begins to choke and flies cover his face as he hears the words “Get out.” As the Lutzes enjoy their motorboat on the nearby harbor, Father Delaney flees the house, incapacitated. That evening, he tries to call Kathy, but she is unable to hear him. Still unwell, Father Delaney goes into the bathroom and runs water over his hand only to discover several lacerations. Back at the house, George becomes ill and hostile. Later, the couple makes love but they are interrupted by young Amy, who cries that she wants to go home. As Kathy puts her daughter back to bed, the rocking chair in her ... +


The sounds of a shotgun ring through a house in Amityville, New York, during a thunderstorm. At the crime scene, Sgt. Gionfriddo learns the family was murdered at approximately 3:15 a.m. One year later, newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz meet a real estate agent at the house. Although Kathy is uncomfortable living where a young man killed his family, George insists they won’t find a better deal and they go through with the sale. While moving in, George tells Kathy that he wishes his stepchildren would start referring to him as their father and hangs a crucifix in the living room. As the couple plays outside with the children, Father Delaney visits to bless the house. In the entry hall, he hears a young girl's laughter and follows the sound upstairs into a bedroom. After seeing the family below, Father Delaney notices flies collecting on the window and is overcome by illness. Praying for peace within the house, Father Delaney begins to choke and flies cover his face as he hears the words “Get out.” As the Lutzes enjoy their motorboat on the nearby harbor, Father Delaney flees the house, incapacitated. That evening, he tries to call Kathy, but she is unable to hear him. Still unwell, Father Delaney goes into the bathroom and runs water over his hand only to discover several lacerations. Back at the house, George becomes ill and hostile. Later, the couple makes love but they are interrupted by young Amy, who cries that she wants to go home. As Kathy puts her daughter back to bed, the rocking chair in her room sways on its own. At 3:15 a.m., George is disturbed from his sleep and surveys the property. The next day, his hostility grows. Sensing something amiss in the house, Kathy calls Father Delaney, but he is still ill and unable to speak with her. To her surprise, Kathy learns from Father Bolen that Delaney had been to the house the day before. Later, when Aunt Helena, a nun, arrives to visit the family, black sludge fills the toilets. As the nun waits in the entry hall, she falls ill and insists on leaving. The following night, Kathy awakens suddenly at 3:15 a.m., screaming “She was shot in the head!” When Father Delaney regains strength, he insists that Father Bolen drive him back to the house, but the car speeds out of control and crashes. Meanwhile, the Lutzes prepare for the wedding of Jimmy, Kathy’s brother. Jimmy counts his cash payment for the catering but the money mysteriously disappears. George offers to remedy the situation by writing a check. While George, Kathy, and the boys go to the wedding, Amy is left at home with Jackie, the baby sitter, because she, too, has been ill. As Jackie puts Amy to bed, the rocking chair sways and Jackie becomes locked in the closet. Amy is unresponsive to Jackie’s screams. At the wedding, George becomes even sicker and the family returns home early to find Jackie in the closet, hysterical. When Amy tells her parents that her imaginary friend, Jody, would not let her open the door, George becomes furious at his stepchildren’s lack of discipline. Amy says that Jody doesn’t like George. The next day, Father Delaney reports to his superior, Father Ryan, that the house is plagued by the devil, but the priest reprimands him for questioning the church. When Father Delaney begs the priest to help the Lutzes, he is forced to go on a vacation. Back at the house, George is visited by his business partner, Jeff, but his wife, Carolyn, is spooked and refuses to go inside. As George sharpens an axe threateningly, Jeff inquires about his lapse of responsibilities. Meanwhile, the boys tease Amy by dangling a toy spider above her and the window pane shuts on one the their hands. George and Jeff come running, but they are unable to pry it open. That night at 3:15 a.m., George wakes to discover flies swarming around the window in Amy's room and he is unable to open it. At the same time, the front door swings open. George returns to Amy’s room to find the flies gone and the window easily adjustable. When Sgt. Gionfriddo arrives, he notices the basement door was broken from the inside and doubts the damage was caused by a burglar, but George insists someone tried to break in. Sometime later, Amy tells her mother that Jody talks about the boy who died in her room. George steals a book about the occult from the library. Meanwhile, Kathy calls Father Delaney in desperation, but when he finally picks up the phone, he is unable to breathe. George meets Jeff for a drink and the bartender remarks on the similarity between George and the young man who killed his family. The young man was sitting on the same barstool when he was arrested and looked just like George. When Jeff reprimands George for being negligent with their business, George knocks him over with a slap to the face, then apologizes and reports on the strange occurrences at his new home. Back at the house, Kathy hears Amy singing a prayer in her room. When she checks on her daughter, Amy says that Jody left through the window and Kathy looks outside to see two red eyes. Meanwhile, at the bar, Jeff and Carolyn look at the library book and Carolyn discovers the Lutz’s house was built by a man accused of occultism during the Salem Witch Trials. The couple follows George home and Carolyn insists there is something in the basement. Finding the Lutz’s dog digging at the basement wall, Carolyn explains that Native Americans used the grounds in the area to abandon their mentally ill clansmen and concludes that people are buried beneath the house. Using a pickaxe, she chips away the wall and George opens a porthole for demons to enter the mortal world. He sees a ghostly reflection of his face in the red room. Possessed by the voice of Father Delaney, Carolyn screams for the passage to hell to be covered while back at the parish, Father Delaney is seized with anxiety. Kathy and George soon discover their crucifix has been turned upside down and remove it from the wall to exorcise the house. Meanwhile, Sgt. Gionfriddo keeps surveillance. The next day at church, Father Delaney emphatically prays for God’s help, but a statue above him crumbles and falls on his face, leaving him blind. The following night at 3:15 a.m., George awakens and warns the demons to leave. As Kathy sleeps, she has a vision of George murdering Amy with an axe and screams. George’s condition worsens the next morning and Kathy finds puncture wounds on his ankles. When they argue about leaving the house, George slaps her face. Kathy goes to find Father Delaney but Father Bolen sends her away. Meanwhile, Sgt. Gionfriddo, who is trailing Kathy, follows Father Bolen. The officer questions Father Bolen about Delaney, but he is uncooperative. Kathy looks at newspaper microfilm from the day after the Amityville murders and sees that the killer looks exactly like George. As she rushes back to the house in the wake of a storm, George sharpens his axe. That evening, he creeps through the house wielding the axe as blood trickles down the walls. Kathy barricades the children in the bathroom and when he tries to break down the door, she jumps on him and he snaps out of his delusion. Lightning strikes and the house begins to crumble as the family escapes. While they drive away, however, Amy begs George to go back to save the dog. Despite Kathy’s protests, George runs through the thunderstorm to the basement, where he falls into a pit of black sludge. Back at the van, Amy smiles. The dog pulls George from the hole but the front door shuts them inside. After escaping through a window, George and the dog return to the van and the family leaves the house forever. +

GENRE
Genre:


Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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