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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Amityville Horror (1979), directed by Stuart Rosenberg


1. The book, by Jay Anson

What's so great about Lovecraft? I've never quite understood the attraction. I haven't read much of his work -- but that's in large part because what I have read hasn't done a great deal for me. But I believe I may have finally figured it out. All you Lovecraft fans can tell me if I'm on the right track.

The answer -- if it is the answer -- comes from poet  Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He's the cat who, in 1817, coined the term "willing suspension of disbelief."  Except that when he said it, he was talking about his responsibility, as a writer. As we use the term today, of course, it's reader's work.

Pretty big difference -- from some author telling me I  have to accept whatever crap he's peddling, to me saying, no, you have to make me believe it. In other words, you, the author, have to believe it first.

And that's what brings us back to Lovecraft. Cause  whatever you can say about the guy, you can't say he wasn't on board with what he wrote. Is that it? A big part of it anyway? That because he believed it, he was able to make the reader believe it, too?

This is, believe it or not, all tied up with The Amityville Horror. The book. I believe that the suspension of disbelief isn't always enough to explain the effect a particular book may have on the reader.  Sometimes, what happens is, a book meets a reader who is not merely willing to suspend his disbelief, but is actually willing to believe. Even if only for a short time.

When I first read Amityville, I was such a reader. And because of that, it instantly became the scariest book I'd ever read.

2. The original movie

I watched this again yesterday. The first time I saw it was just after it was released. It wasn't, however, the scariest movie I'd ever seen. I did get a chill yesterday, though, when Margot Kidder saw the glowing eyes of her daughter's supposedly imaginary playmate hovering outside her second story window.

I'm guessing everyone knows the story. The Lutz family  buys a rambling house in Amityville, Long Island, on the cheap. It's valued so low because the year before, oldest son Ronald DeFeo, Jr., murdered his entire family there: father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters. "Houses," George Lutz tells his wife, "don't have memories." But this one does. And there's nothing pleasant about them. A priest who comes to the home to bless it hears a voice telling him no uncertain terms to "get out!" Within days, the Lutz family has descended into a nightmare of supernatural menace.

And it's all true!

Well, anyway, the part about Ronald DeFeo is true. And it's true that the Lutz family did buy and live in the house for a brief time. As for the rest...well, let's just say I suspended my disbelief.

Because this is a good horror movie. An opinion just barely shared by the audience, according to Rotten Tomatoes. The critics, by and large, hated it. Roger Ebert, who says in his review that he had a couple of beers with George Lutz in the Los Angeles Airport, didn't like that the evil in the house had no face. He seems to have liked Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting of Hill House, though, so I'm not sure how to take that.

I don't think it's true, anyway. The evil does have a face, the face of the house itself, with those crazy attic windows. I didn't need anymore than that.

Both James Brolin and Margot Kidder are believable as the parents, George and Kathy Lutz. Brolin is particularly good as a man slowly going off the rails. One of the best decisions made by the filmmakers was to keep the special effects to a minimum and let the audience experience the horror through George's transformation. By the end, when Kathy spots him stalking toward the house with an axe in his hands, it's easy to see why she panics.

3. Stephen King's interpretation

The movie was very successful at the box office. King, who didn't like it the first time he saw it, couldn't explain this until he saw it a second time. This time, he says (in Danse Macabre), he saw it with a middle-aged audience, who just kind of sat back and sucked it in. Why? Well, according to King, because all those homeowners in the audience were terrified by the destruction done to the house in the movie. "Think of the bills," he quotes one woman as saying.

It's an interesting theory, but somehow I doubt that it went on to make about a hundred million dollars because of middle-aged homeowners.

4. Poltergeist

I didn't realize until yesterday that Speilberg ripped off The Amityville Horror when he made Poltergeist. That's the genius of Spielberg, I guess, or more probably just my own myopia. Two parents, three children, Indian burial ground -- even the "imaginary" friend of the youngest daughter, which in Poltergeist is the TV that calls to little Carol Ann.