Category Archives: #30DaysOfFright

The Man Who Haunted Himself #30DaysOfFright

himself4Roger Moore. James Bond, The Saint, that raised eyebrow.

But between his time as Simon Templar and Her Majesty’s finest Sir Roger gave us one of his finest performance – it is in fact his favourite film featuring himself. This was as faraway from his future 007 persona as you could get. His name was Pelham…Harold Pelham.

With its early 70s London setting I often see it as a companion piece of sorts to what I regard as Hitchcock’s last hurrah, Frenzy, also set in the Capital. interestingly enough a version of The Man Who Haunted Himself made it onto Alfred Hitchcock Presents in under the title of The Case of Mr Pelham, the title of the book on which the film is based.

Things start of cheery enough with typical shots of a untypically moustached Moore driving round the sites of London with some really rather upbeat music. Then, almost without warning it is the turn of the strange as Pelham (Moore) takes his belt off and races down the M4 with maniacal grin and scant regard for those all around him.

himself2He then has the mother of all crashes and finds himself in an operating theatre as they fight to save his life. At one point two heartbeats appear on the heart rate monitor as the surgeons battle to save him thus unwittingly unleashing a second Mr Pelham on the world, a devilish, charismatic, womanising version, yet both men seem to inhabit the same world and interact with the same people, including work colleagues and lovers.

Whilst the original Pelham is mild and your Mr Average, the new version is, just like his sports car, souped up and supercharged. Ironically at one point Pelham discusses a merger, but he see it as a takeover, which is exactly the battle that rages within Roger Moore, is it a merger or a takeover?

himself1I suppose in a way you could see it as a 70s version of Face Off, minus the slow mo action and doves of course. Although highly stylised in that early 70s manner – cue jaunty camera angles, crash zooms and dubious rear screen projection but it adds to the whole atmosphere of the piece.

For those who thought Moore was just adept at punning whilst saving the world they will be pleasantly surprised at his dark side, and whilst we saw flashes of that in Bond, such as the harder edged Bond in For Your Eyes Only kicking a car off a cliff and flicking a man from his tie to his death in The Spy Who Loved Me.

We share the original Pelham’s panic when a whole host of people claim he has been in one place when he has been in other, inviting friends round when he hadn’t, all of which creates some excellent pacing as the actual Pelham begins to question his sanity when an increasing amount of people have seen ‘him’ when it is actually his doppelgänger.

himself7At certain points the audience even begins to question which is which and the pace of the film never really lets up as we eventually head onto a collision course with two Pelham’s finally meeting, giving a whole new meaning to double 0 heaven. It is an excellent tension raiser as we really feel the hysteria that Moore brings to the role and makes us ask ourselves, what would we do if it happened to us?

Bursting into his Gentlemen’s club, looking for the imposter impersonating him, Moore’s brow becomes more sweaty – we, like Moore are never really sure if it is an impostor or not. Gradually, the awful truth becomes clear. When he died on the operating table and had to be resuscitated, a doppelgänger (or “alter ego”) was released…. and now the real Pelham and his sinister double are locked in a life-and-death struggle against each other.

himself6The role(s) of Pelham ranks as a career best role for Moore who really makes us believe that he is two people, just as Sam Rockwell did in Moon.

Dated, of course, but there is no denying that this film has a certain vibe about it that is sure to see it remade in the near future. One can only hope it is someone like Christopher Nolan in the Director’s chair, who covered similar ground in both Memento and The Prestige.

himself5A supernatural tale with a sting in its tale the film had one more dark surprise to unleash, Basil Dearden, the director, died shortly after completing filming, dying in a car crash in a place that was in the ‘exact’ same location that a major character dies in the film.

An incredible coincidence and a sad loss, but Dearden’s legacy was this film that deserves to be discovered and seen by a wider audience, even though part of me is pleased that it is still something of a hidden gem.

The film can be caught in the UK regularly haunting the Horror Channel or on a great Bluray/DVD combi that also features a commentary from Harold Pelham himself (Sir Roger Moore)…or is it?

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Poltergeist #30DaysOfFright

polt1A young family finds they have paranormal activity within their home, it’s a poltergeist (meaning noisy spirit in German).What starts off as something playful soon descends into terror as the children are attacked in their rooms. The daughter, Carol Anne, is taken by the spirits and makes contact via the television – in the film’s most iconic moment – can she be saved and can the family stop themselves being dragged to the afterlife?

What sets Poltergeist apart from most haunted house movies is that it is set in a nice house, in a nice neighbourhood and everything looks normal. There is no Scooby-Doo haunted mansion vibe, no evil eyes like the Amityville house. It could be our house or yours, and that is its power.

polt2We are the Freeling family and that is what Spielberg does best, take an ordinary person or family and put them in an extraordinary situation. Just look at Chief Brody from Jaws, Roy Neary from Close Encounters or David Mann from Duel.

To many Poltergeist was Spielberg’s darkness to E.T.’s light, they both came out in the same month in the US in 1982. He served as writer on this and Executive Producer, although it has oft been mooted he had a closer hand in direction as well, rather than Texas Chainsaw-helmer Tobe Hooper. But that is a whole other blog entry.

All horror films should of course be watched with the lights off but Poltergeist loves the darkness, especially when the strobing effects kick-in. Fittingly, it really drags you into the television.

polt3The good thing is that since the advent of 24 hour television, whether that be rolling news or rolling balls around a roulette wheel, you will never again wake up with a Poltergeist television. There’ll never be that snow dancing shadows madly across your walls.

So the original Poltergeist seems more nostalgic and further away than ever. The film starts on that typical Spielberg world of safety and harmony, the suburbs, and actually the first half has plenty of sunny and light moments. Even the Poltergeist activity is initially treated as a joke and something to have fun with, the moving kitchen chairs for instance. Carol Anne states it is the TV people; I certainly never had that problem with Radio Rentals!

But that is what is great about this film, haunted houses don’t have to be scary and there doesn’t have to be fork lighting. Their home could be our home and that is what makes it so effective, and it’s the same with the more recent haunted house films, such as Insidious and The Conjuring.

There are signposts aplenty though, even the remote control cars that cause the man hulking beer to come off his bike in the opening scene are a precursor of things to come with toys coming to life and causing chaos. The dead budgie, Tweetie, even in its coffin cigar box it warns us of the shape of things to come when it is unearthed by a digger for the swimming pool.

There are even clues on the television, in an early scene the old Spencer Tracey film A Guy Named Joe plays on TV, there are already ghosts in the machine as it’s about a man who dies and comes back as a ghost. It was of remade by Spielberg seven years later as Always.

polt4Robbie and Carol Anne’s room is cool, full of Star Wars posters and toys, although I’m not sure about the Alien poster. The film really taps into those childhood terrors of open closets, things under the bed, thunderstorms, clowns and ominous trees tapping on your window. Ten fold, it could also be seen as an extension of a similar scene in Close Encounters when Barry’s toys come to life as aliens – and again some glorious light, a Spielberg staple – envelop the room and also bring toys to life.

A bit like the spirits at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, at first they beautiful, the spirit from the television that dances round the room before leaving its ectoplasm all over the bedroom wall is as haunting as it is enchanting. 

This is echoed in the sublime score by Jerry Goldsmith, beautiful but creepy, magically dark, especially the haunting dips in sound.

But then the spirits turn with fearful effect. That ruddy tree outside the bedroom window though, the impending thunderstorm marching closer not further away, it still gives palpitations. Then, the tree grabs the son, it’s startling and surreal, but it’s just misdirection so that Carol Anne can be sucked into the closet and to the other side. From here on in as ludicrous as things get, by and large you go with it simply because you are wrapped up in the emotion.

polt-9Crucially, it’s the performance from the mum and dad that really ground it and their efforts to do anything to get their daughter back, it’s the little things like her mum, JoBeth Williams, thrilled to be smelling her daughter after a blast of air travels through her and Craig T. Nelson (Patrick Wilson being a great substitute in the very Poltergeist-like Insidious) forced to get angry with Carol Anne to tell her to do as she is told or he’ll be forced to spank her. Amid all this supernatural fantasy is real, heart-wrenching drama

about a family with a ‘kidnapped daughter’, it just happens to be by a ghost. They are the emotional core of the film.

polt5And when they finally get Carol Anne back it is less smoke and mirrors and more wind machines and fantastic lights displaced by fish tanks. It’s dizzying, effective and so simple. This rescue is headed up by movie-stealing Zelda Rubinstein, who played Tangina, the spirit guide who pronounces the house is clean; she isn’t in the film half as much as you think she is. It is only for about ten minutes duration, but she leaves a lasting impression on both the family and the audience.

After that rescue the Freelings prepare to move out, of course, it turning out that the whole estate had been built on a graveyard, the headstones had been moved but not the bodies and Carol Anne – a beautiful and natural performance by Heather O’Rourke – was the focus of the spirits as she had been born in the house.

After all that went before, they and we think it is all over, and as they pack and play in their rooms they discover it is not. A great ending to the film, complete with mum being dragged up her bedroom wall and ceiling Fred Astaire style and some unwelcome guests in the unfinished pool, but I don’t buy the family not just leaving, and even if I did I certainly wouldn’t be letting my kids play in the room where one of them went missing and another was attacked by a tree. It was the clown that got him this time.

polt6As the dead explode from the ground in their caskets, to great effect, the Freelings do escape; thankfully complete with dog, E Buzz, by the way is a great dog actor as well with some brilliant expressions. Checking into a motel, this time they aren’t taking any chances and leave the TV outside. It’s a wryly observed ending to a satisfying and emotionally exhausting tour de force of emotions and effects.

Whether it’s a product of the publicity machine or not, Poltergeist came with that horror film staple, the curse. They said it happened with The Omen, with The Exorcist and now this. 

polt-7Rumours were rife that actual skeletons were used in the swimming pool scene and the murder of one of its stars prior to release didn’t help matters, nor did major players dying after parts 2 and 3. The remake seems to have bucked that particular trend – unless you count its death at the box office.

You know what though; I enjoyed the updating, such as the family having little choice in moving to the once aspirational suburbs. It didn’t add anything particularly new or did anything better but I certainly found it suitably creepy if not as visually memorable as the original.

Final Destination #30DaysOfFright

fd7Flight 180, a packed passenger plane, explodes minutes after take-off from JFK killing everyone on board. Everyone accept a small group of passengers who find themselves ejected from the plane after one claims to have had a premonition of the impending disaster.

Now, those lucky few are dying in mysterious circumstances, is it just an accident or is death trying to catch up with them?

Final Destination is an amazing title (it was originally Flight 180) and concept for a horror film. If it sounds like a pitch for an episode of The X-Files, that’s because that is exactly what it started out as.

This unproduced episode was picked up by New Line Cinema, the house that Freddy built, and soon a new horror franchise was born. Talking of The X-Files, the film was written by Mulder and Scully alumnus, James Wong and Glen Morgan, and is also the big screen directorial debut of Wong. He’s no stranger to the odd though having helmed numerous episodes of both The X-Files and its darker sibling, Millennium.

Final Destination flies in the slipstream of the smart and knowing writing of Scream, its deaths however lend more of a debt of gratitude to The Omen films, was it just a nasty accident or something more?

Death is the ultimate villain; it can strike anywhere and can use anything and everything at its disposal. It is also unstoppable so no matter how far you run it will eventually catch up with you. There’s no challenging it to a game of Twister or Battleships to get out of this one.

fd2In horror film terms you also don’t get much more perfect than Death, none of that bogeyman returning due to some oversight. It’s relentless, something which the likes of It Follows cleverly taps into.

The deaths, all inventive, range from the horrendous slip and strangle in the shower (who hasn’t nearly slipped to their death when in the shower in the house on their own) to the frankly Itchy and Scratchy-like death of the teacher in her house featuring a block of knives, kettle, cracked vodka glass and dodgy computer.

fdThat initial plane premonition really grips you from the off and has to be in the running for the most jaw-dropping plane disaster sequences ever realised on film that makes Alive look like a flight in the park. I don’t think I blinked during that scene.

And the cleverness doesn’t stop with the fiery end to the vision, once the group are arguing in the airport we see the plane explode in the distance with the sound wave and smashing glass hitting them seconds later.

And the devil really is in the detail in this film, from the sprinkling of portents of doom that range from John Denver playing in the airport toilet, he died in a plane crash, to a baggage cart that reads 666 to name but two.

fd4The biggest shout out death wise must go to the bus hit though, brilliant, because although you expect it, it hits you with such speed and force that your jump is coiled tighter than ever. A death so audience rousing that the filmmakers had to add in a few extra moments of tablets dissolving in the next scene so that they could compose themselves.

And the names of all those striving to divert death are all nods to famous horror movie directors and actors, Browning (as in Todd, Director of Dracula), Hitchcock (as in Alfred, Director of Psycho), Chaney (as in Lon, star of The Phantom of The Opera) and Murnau (as in F.W., Director of Nosferatu).

fd3Tony Todd (Candyman himself) has a nice but brief turn as a mortician, the suitably named Bludworth, he essentially embodies the character of death and tells the teens the rules of death. I’ll see you soon, he proclaims at the end of the scene and indeed he does appear in the parts 2, 3 and 5. In part 3 he is the ironically the voice of the devil, on a theme park ride.

The deaths may all seem implausible, but you only have to flick through the strange deaths pages of the Fortean Times to see that sometimes real life deaths are often stranger than fiction.

In echoes of The Omen’s original marketing campaign – if something bad happened to you today, perhaps it was The Omen. I now get that Final Destination effect whenever I’m behind a tractor with bales of hay, a van with lots of scaffolding poles (as happened directly after watching Final Destination 2). 

fd6My wife was even less amused when we were about to catch our flight back home from JFK and I noticed a class of high school students travelling on the same flight. It’s just like Final Destination I proclaimed. Death didn’t follow me but a death stare certainly did.

We haven’t seen a new Final Destination for a few years, franchise wise it was a dream as it theory could go on as long as there were inventive deaths and opening scenes of disaster. But don’t be fooled into thinking Death has gone, it’s merely dormant, biding its time. 

Gremlins #30DaysOfFright

grem1To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

grem5An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in The Time Machine.

grem6It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 80’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

grem4For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness. And it is creepy as hell.

grem3The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene culminating in death by microwave.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Walas (who went onto win an Oscar for the effects on The Fly) are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical, touching and scary in equal measure.

grem7It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future.

grem2Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

 

The Appointment #30DaysOfFright

ed2In horror terms Edward Woodward shall forever be associated with The Wicker Man, and quite rightly so. But the Croydon-born classically trained actor, who at 16 was the youngest ever person to gain a place at RADA, also featured in another, lesser known British horror film that deserves to be discovered by an audience anew, The Appointment (1981).

It’s a film full of striking visuals that perhaps best evokes ‘Don’t Look Now’ and fantastic camera work that reminds one of the steadicam shots in ‘The Shining’. The film leans more to the arty side of horror and teases out each plot point, which might be regarded as too slow for some people.

ed4It might take its time but it is certainly intriguing and by its very slow nature feels oddly unnerving. What the film does have from the outset though is a scene that hooks you straight away, a schoolgirl snatched sideways into the woods by an unseen force, which is immensely unnerving and stays with you for a long time.

Like many British horror films it is based more around the horror that you don’t see than the one that you do and with that in mind echoes the Hammer House of Horror or The Twilight Zone and perhaps would have benefitted from being slightly shorter than its 90 minute running time. Oddly, with the parallel of a man driving his car across an unpopulated area it did remind me a little of a quasi-quaint British version of Duel, albeit with supernatural undertones.

ed3Like Dennis Weaver in the Spielberg classic Woodward’s character, Ian Fowler, is in pretty much every shot of the film. After the nerve-jangling opening Fowler breaks the news to his fourteen year-old daughter that he cannot attend the concert she is playing in the next day because he must drive to a conference in London, much to her chagrin. That night he has a dream of dogs leaping onto the hood of his car on the road and causing him to crash – and as he sleeps dogs gather outside the house. The next day as he sets out on the journey, all the elements of the dream start to come true.

It’s a shame that this was Director Lindsay Vickers only foray behind the camera as there really are some wonderful shots and sequences. None is more impressive than the actual car crash which is shot, inside and out, from every conceivable angle. The crash occurs on the winding, desolate roads of Snowdonia when a lorry, with familiar dogs painted on the side follows Woodward and causes him to crash – the attacking dogs of his dream coming true.

ed7We are then met with the extraordinary image of the car teetering up in the air balanced on its front tip, on the very edge of the cliff for a long moment before falling over. It’s certainly not something you’d find in your usual episode of Casualty and on paper I know sounds closer to Wile Coyote, but it really does have to be seen to be believed. All of this is accompanied by an unworldly atonal score. It is a remarkably well sustained piece of atmosphere that hovers uneasily between dream and waking and leaves one never sure where they are.

Does it all make sense? of course it doesn’t but it is all so beautifully done that it doesn’t really matter. The visual/audio effects are incredible with some very Hitchcockian touches throughout that even Brian DePalma would be proud of with the aforementioned car crash scene a masterpiece of surrealism.

ed6The film still has that wonderful cache about it as did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist did before it, both of which did the rounds on chunky pirate videos, as The Appointment is not available on DVD and has to be sought out in dark and musty corners on good old VHS, which I think adds a certain something to it and is the way horror should be seen.

Of course I’ve managed to snag myself a copy, after years of searching, breathing a sigh of relief when the tape did not snap in the video recorder and those images once seen on late night TV some 25 years earlier were brought once again to life. Once seen it is never forgotten, often for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, but this really is one appointment that shouldn’t be missed.

Scream #30DaysOfFright

ghost2Scream didn’t just reinvigorate the horror genre back in 1996 – can it really be 20 years old – it took it to another level. From its shock opening this seminal shocker mixed knowing titters and terror to triumphant effect.

Horror director, Wes Craven, had previously scared us witless The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street and he had already dipped his toe in post-modern horror with Freddy’s New Nightmare, but Scream wouldn’t just rewrite the rule book, it would eat it and spit it all out, defining much of Hollywood’s horror output for the next decade.

scream3Although everyone now knows how the opening sequence of that first film turns out, no one can deny its power and shock seeing it for the first time on the big screen, surely the modern day equivalent of Janet Leigh meeting her maker in Psycho some 36 years earlier.

Shock endings have long been a staple of horror but shock beginnings with such a well-known name and so early on in proceedings, which was a humdinger and justifiably secured its place high in the history of highs in the genre.

It was visceral and I vividly remember the murmurs of uncomfortableness and hushed ‘did that just happen?’ as the smash cut frames of Drew Barrymore could be seen hanging from her parents tree as I sat in that Odeon cinema in Luton. Jesus, they had just killed the little girl from E.T.!

This was the end of the innocence and the birth of a new horror icon, and if that wasn’t enough he went onto slay The Fonze as well.

ghost1With that opening it set its stall out early that this is a horror with a whole new set of horror-savvy rules. Boasting assured direction and writing it was the perfect meeting of minds with the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left, meets the writer of Dawson’s Creek, Kevin Williamson.

The Scream films, all four were helmed by Craven, are essentially like the main character, lean, mean, pull no punches and list anyone and everyone as a possible victim (and suspect for that matter).Was it the dad, the boyfriend, the cop?

There were red herrings aplenty and everyone is a suspect, like a teen Agatha Christie movie, even going so far to use the double killer device from Murder on the Orient Express.

Even after 20 years it is still really fresh and sharp, the dialogue and scenes canter along. As well as expertly crafted in its own right Scream is a bloody love letter to the genre.

There are film references galore throughout, which makes it all the more fun to watch. It covers everything from Psycho to Carrie, a Wes Craven cameo in a Freddy sweater, Halloween on the TV, Friday the 13th, and a cameo by The Exorcist’s Linda Blair as a news reporter to name but a few.

Like those films, Scream has a memorable bogeyman in the form of Ghostface, who quickly established himself as part of the pantheon of iconic horror ghouls.

ghost4These kids aren’t stupid either and they know the rules of horror films, are self-aware. Knowing and clever it doesn’t insult the audience, instead it – like the characters themselves – it outfoxes them. Craven had stepped one foot in that arena with his previous film, Freddy’s New Nightmare where Freddy Krueger stepped into the real world.

The only difference being that Scream takes place in our world also, a world where previous horror films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th exist. All of this is delivered with effective jumps throughout, that teeter between comedy elements and pure frights.

ghost5As Matthew Lillard’s character touted, “These days, you’ve got to have a sequel.” And Scream did, three, all directed by Craven. Scream now lives on rebooted for the new MTV generation, on where else, MTV, where it is currently enjoying its second series.

Like Freddy, Norman and Hannibal before it Scream has joined TV. And it’s in good company with the likes of the continuing American Horror Story, The Walking Dead and the newly launched The Exorcist TV series.

I loved the original Scream trilogy, but was less impressed with the fourth chapter which returned after an 11 year break. It also turned out to be the last film of Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015.

ghost3It’s doubtful we’ll see Scream back on the big screen anytime soon but as Craven showed with Freddy – returning to write Part 3 and direct Part 7 – you can’t keep a good horror franchise down and with horror resetting itself anew every few years and Scream being at its best, a celebration of horror films and trends, you can be sure of a back from the dead ending for this franchise on the big screen.

The Amityville Horror #30DaysOfFright

On January 13th 1976, the Lutz family moved out of their dream home, 112 Ocean Avenue, after only 28 days. 

 That dream became a nightmare best depicted in The Amityville Horror (1979).

THE-AMITYVILLE-HORROR-MOVIE-GREATSI’ll always have a soft spot for the film as it was the first horror film that I ever bought on VHS (Woolies, Mansfield, 1987 if you are interested), a striking cover from The Video Collection showing Margot Kidder facing down a ruddy great axe. A publicity shot as that scene isn’t shown from that angle in the film.

The film, based on the best-selling novel by Jay Anson, was a massive success upon its release, very much taking its horror cues from both The Omen and The Exorcist, and like the latter had the much-loved horror staple of being based on a true story.

amity4 The truth and the half-truths have long been conjecture but it is certainly undeniable that the murders at Amityville and the subsequent stay by the Lutz’s has become the stuff of horror lore, from possession to houses being built on Indian burial grounds and blood running down walls. 

 And that is still what makes it a massively accessible story, its a classic haunted house movie, hokey in places but that is part of the fun of it. 

Oft-imitated? Sure, and you’ve only got to look to the return to haunted house films of late, from Sinister to When The Lights Went Out and The Conjuring to see their enduring appeal.

 All of which are old school in their scares, like Amityville, the latter The Conjuring – also based on true events – even features two paranormal psychics who at the close of the film are heading to their next case, none other than at the house in Amityville. The house, with those unmistakable evil eyes actually features in the opening of The Conjuring 2. 

And talking of the house, that’s where we start with the opening titles over a silhouette of the building featuring a haunting Lalo Schifrin score – allegedly a rejected The Exorcist score but isn’t, however it was used to great effect on the trailer for Pet Sematary and suitably sets the tone.

The film and book would have us believe that the house is evil, it is certainly the star of the film (if not the original house or location)  and its evil eye windows can be seen staring at us throughout the titles and the poster – interestingly enough the windows or the original house were changed to normal rectangular ones to stop people finding it.

Cut to a dark and stormy night, what else. So far so typical house of horror, but amid the lightning outside we see lightning inside, created by gunfire in each of the rooms. Although the family, clearly including children, aren’t named they are the very real DeFeo family, by eldest son, Ronald DeFeo, shot in their beds as they slept on November 13th 1974.

The Lutz’s (played by James Brolin and Margot Kidder) and their children look round the house a year later, shown round by the estate agent who just so happens to be the save the clocktower woman from Back To The Future, funnily enough Strickland from BTTF also plays a coroner in the previous scene.

As the couple are shown round the house it overlaps with scenes of the murders taking place in those rooms, which is really effective. They buy the house for $80,000 and so the film unfolds, slowly burning and building to its climax of exploding windows and walls and stairs that drip blood. 

 It certainly slowly turns the screws in the minds of the characters and the audience and builds pressure cooker-style, exploding like the front door off the house. And whilst everything doesn’t work or make sense it has more than enough images and moments to linger and stay lingering to this day.

You believe Kidder and Brolin as a couple and slowly follow their decent, Rod Steiger also has a memorable turn as Father Delaney, he perhaps has one of the most memorable scenes in the film blessing a room in the house only to interrupted by flies in winter (the films answer to The Omen’s er Doberman) and a hissing malevolent voice telling him to ‘get out!’

 Even if it almost seems as if his character belongs more in The Omen at times. Added to that we have upside crucifixes, invisible friend Jodie, glowing pig eyes, self-rocking chair, dubious cellars and the we forgot the dog moment. 

The debate over whether it is a hoax or true horror rumbles on, but the truth is that this is still a memorable and creepy film.

amity3 Classic? For me it is, although that may be more to do with when I first saw it. Even if you have never seen The Amityville Horror you will have certainly seen a horror film that has taken influence from it. If you have never seen it, or not seen it in years make sure you make the rightmove and give it a viewing.

Just make sure it’s the original and not the insipid 2005 remake.