By Richard Winters
My Rating: 1 out of 10
4-Word Review: Their house is haunted.
Kathy and George Lutz (Margot Kidder, James Brolin) move into a large home that just a year earlier was the place of a gruesome homicide of six people. Though the idea of living where these murders occurred is unsettling they cannot beat the home’s price, so they take the offer. Soon there are bizarre occurrences and George begins to behave like he is becoming possessed convincing the young family that the place is haunted and they need to move out before it is too late.
The film is based on the Jay Anson novel, which was centered on the supposedly true events of the Lutz family who moved into a home known as ‘High Hopes’ that had previously been occupied by the DeFeos who were slaughtered at the hands of their oldest son Ronald in November of 1974. The Lutzs lived in the home from December of 1975 until they ‘abandoned’ it in January of 1976. Since that time many other people have lived there and none have reported any paranormal activity. The home, which was built in 1924, had no unusual events occur in it for the 50 years previous to the DeFeo tragedy either making me and many others speculate that the Lutzs made it all up because why else would they be subjected to the hauntings and none of the others.
(The actual house as it appeared in 1974)
In either case the movie isn’t very good and at many points is quite laughable. The film would’ve worked better had it been structured as a pseudo-documentary where interviews with the characters could’ve be spliced into the reenactments, which would’ve avoided it from seeming so mechanical and coming off like a formulaic scare-a-minute like it does here. The so-called frights are over-the-top from the start and there’s such a barrage of them that by the time you get to the finale, which should be the scariest point of the film, it becomes almost anti-climactic.
The overblown facial reactions of the actors had me laughing out loud at many spots particularly Brolin’s feeble attempts to channel a Charles Manson-like persona and Amy Wright getting locked in a closet. She plays a teen babysitter who walks around wearing one of those garish dental headgears and made me believe that the spirits locked her in there simply because they felt she looked too stupid. Kiddor’s constant shocked expressions at Brolin’s increasingly edgy responses becomes tiring and the part where Brolin shouts at the evil spirts that “This is my house!” had me thinking the spirits should’ve responded with “No it isn’t, it’s the banks!”
Rod Steiger’s priest impression is the Achilles heel. I realize there was a priest in the book, but since then that same priest as disputed the events described in the story, so it should’ve gotten downplayed. I didn’t like the supernatural events occurring outside of the home like when Steiger and Don Stroud are driving in their car and having it mysteriously breakdown. The house is the centerpiece and all scares should take place there otherwise it ceases to be a haunted house film at all and instead just another pedestrian story dealing with evil spirits that can manifest anywhere.
How some could find this scary is a mystery. I first watched it 30 years ago and thought it was tacky then and consider it even more so now. Just because it has managed to spawn a lot of sequels doesn’t make it ‘a classic’ and I feel it would be better suited for rifftrax of Mystery Science Theater.
My Rating: 1 out of 10
Released: July 27, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Studio: American International Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region A/1, B/2) Amazon Video, YouTube