When I was growing up, our small town library had a French copy of Jay Anson’s “The Amityville Horror” and the summer I was ready to read a ‘big kid book,’ this was the one I picked (for the record, the title is “Amityville: La Maison Du Diable”). It took me all summer to read it and it scared the bejeesus out of me, but in the best possible way: It was spooky, ominous and allegedly based on a true story and I was young enough to believe that, so it got its hooks in me early and never let go. A few years later I managed to get my hands on a VHS copy of this famous adaptation, and I was shocked to see how pedantic the whole thing was. It was just so dramatically inert despite the thematically potent material included in the novel (including a physically abusive stepfather and a religious conversion), while all the spooky stuff from the novel (like the first appearance of Jody, Amy’s not-so-imaginary friend) was just so freaking stupid onscreen. I got around to reading Anson’s book in English as an adult, which made me realize that my appreciation of it was almost entirely dependent on the translation: What sounded sophisticated in French was abrupt and ridiculous in English from the viewpoint of an adult. All of that preamble is to establish the fact that I have a long, peculiar history with “The Amityville Horror,” which is why I decided to give it another shot so many years later. This time, I walked away liking it more than ever before: Removed from my attachment to the novel, the onscreen narrative worked for me a little more this time around, with the aforementioned themes that I found lacking in my first viewing standing out more. There’s definitely a problem with overacting though; James Brolin tries his best but he’s not exactly the most dramatically dexterous actor around, and Margot Kidder is left to do most of the heavy lifting so there’s a whiff of overcompensation to her performance. But neither compare to the one-man camp parade that is Rod Steiger as Father Delaney, shouting all his dialogue like he’s in a new version of, say, “The Omen,” instead of the adaptation of a ludicrously obvious fraud in the form of a mediocre novel about a haunted house that, um, steals wads of cash and has lots of flies in it? It’s just so portentous and unimaginative, so overdone and overcooked that it ends up being unintentionally entertaining.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)