The house that was (is?) possessed is up for sale. In the 70s, this Dutch Colonial chilled the hearts of millions, first through the book The Amityville Horror and then via the 1979 blockbuster of the same name.
Anybody who lived through that decade will vouch that the whole thing was a freakin’ phenomenon. Jay Anson’s book was incredibly successful. It’s also, in a word, garbage. Written on a third-grade reading level, it has a font so big you’d swear it was published by Scholastic Books. Anson’s use of exclamatory sentences make him sound like a housewife describing a horror movie over the phone. (Here’s two of my favorite “shocking” moments, here! and here!) Irregardless, the book sold millions of copies.
Thanks to the book’s Da Vinci Code-like popularity, the film had tons of hype. My mother, brother and I were in the audience opening weekend, July 1979, and I’ll vouch for the communal vibe. (When that cat scared James Brolin, I felt the whole theater jump.) It was BIG.
I guess there was something low-rent about the Lutzes that tapped into a collective vein. They weren’t ambassadors living abroad (The Omen); they weren’t movie stars (The Exorcist); they didn’t live in an awesome Upper West Side apartment (Rosemary’s Baby). No, they were a struggling family who’s suburban home was tearing them apart. Babysitters were tortured, the basement was a gateway to Hell, and the walls bled. All of that scared the fuck out of me.
Shit, I still get upset if I look at the clock in the middle of the night and it’s 3:15. Don’t you? (Honestly, until I was a teenager, I didn’t even like 3:15 in the afternoon.)
So, what’s my Amityville Horror story?
Labor Day weekend, 1992. It was the middle of the night, and I was lost in the middle of Long Island. As is the case with most men driving lost at two in the morning, it was because of a woman. (Let’s leave it at that.) I’d been groping my way, town to town, for a couple of hours, looking for a bar or a diner to pass some time or get my bearings, and saw a sign welcoming me to Amityville.
Finally, my night had a purpose. First, I drove down side streets, certain I could find the house out of sheer geekdom. Once I gave up on that, I found a 7Eleven. Walking in, I said, “Excuse me. I’m looking for—“
“Head down this street three lights.” the bored guy behind the counter said instantly. “Make a right there onto Ocean Avenue, and go two blocks. It’s four houses after that, on your left.”
Wow, I thought, popular place. A few minutes later I was there, my generation’s 1313 Mockingbird Lane. In the dark, it was pretty unspectacular, but I was still scared. Naturally, I wanted to see the windows, aka the Devil’s Eyes, but didn’t dare sneak onto the property. I didn’t want Satan—or the Amityville police—to kick my ass.
Cautiously, I checked my watch. 2:45am. Whew. If it had been 3:15, I would have wet my pants. Speaking of which, I needed to pee like a gladiator, so I relieved myself next to the garbage cans in front of the house. Of course, in the dark, some of that made it onto the cans themselves, which prompted me to say, “Hey, I’m pissing on Satan’s garbage!”
Infantile I know, but what would you do outside a bona fide haunted house?
And now for the requisite clips. First, the “tour” scene from the film. This happens in the first few minutes. Prior to this, we know a young man killed his family in the house, but we didn’t see it happen. Now, George and Kathy Lutz are seeing the house, as prospective owners. Thanks to the combination of hard cuts, jarring music and sound effects, this sequence has always scared the bejesus out of me.
Secondly, I think Lalo Schifrin’s score, with its choir of children’s voices, is as effective as the scores for The Exorcist and The Omen. (Yep, it was running through my head while I pissed in the streets of Amityville.) Here’s the theme song.
The Amityville Horror – Main Theme (2:27, right-click to download)
But just remember one thing…