Tagged 1979

The Metaphysical Rage of Broken Marriages in Cronenberg’s The Brood

The Brood. 1979. Directed & Written by David Cronenberg.
Starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald, Cindy Hinds, Susan Hogan, Gary McKeehan, Michael Magee, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Shaw, Larry Solway, Reiner Schwarz, Felix Sillas, & John Ferguson. Canadian Film Development Corporation/Elgin International Films Ltd./Mutual Productions Ltd./Victor Solnicki Productions.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER As one of the crowned jewels of the Canadian film industry, David Cronenberg continually fascinates me as a filmmaker and storyteller. So much of his work deals in body horror, particularly his early films up until the post-2000s. The Brood may be one of his most impressive works of body horror. It tackles several aspects of psychology, as well as the idea that psychological symptoms manifest themselves physically, which they do. However, Cronenberg turns this idea into something gruesome, personal, something macabre and beyond reality. Yet all the while this film treats everything so clinically. Even with the wild sci-fi elements, Cronenberg’s 1979 classic is so painfully honest about its real life aims. Everything he has ever done with body horror is a metaphor; to how we live in this world, how we relate to it, to others, and everything in between. Although taking swipes at the field of psychology in certain respects, The Brood is also about the rift between people that not only causes damage in their relationship but to everyone surrounding them, too. Above all, the rage of this movie stands in for that which two people sometimes experience when their relationship is at odds – an all-encompassing rage that gives birth to nasty things we’d rather believe never existed in us.
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At the Somafree Institute, psychotherapist Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) uses a modern, edgy technique as therapy for his patients: psychoplasmics. He acts out scenarios with his patients, as well as encourages them to let their suppressed emotions express themselves physically. Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is an emotionally troubled woman whose divorce battle with husband Frank (Art Hindle) over the custody of their five-year-old Candice (Cindy Hinds) has become incredibly ugly. Under care of Dr. Raglan, Nola undergoes psychoplasmics treatment. Meanwhile, strange and dangerous things start to happen around the Carveth family. First, Nola’s mother dies. Then her father.
And slowly, Dr. Raglan finally realizes his treatments are the danger giving spark to the fire of Nola’s disturbed mind. As Frank struggles to keep his daughter safe, Nola’s physically embodied rage and repression gives birth to pure terror, which puts everyone close to her in peril.
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I know Cronenberg admittedly wrote this during a fiery divorce. That’s evident. All the same, like literature to truly experience and interpret a work it is not necessary to worry about the author’s own personal life. No matter close and parallel to the work it may seem. While on the surface this is simply a personal drama blown up into the larger, nastier proportions of a horror film, The Brood is a great analogy for the dangers of repression, as well as the danger of improper psychiatry all at once. First of all, considering the Nola Carveth character, she is a damaged woman. Through the plot she is revealed to have suffered physical and mental abuse from her mother, effectively ignored by her father. So part of this whole story is the repression of her womanhood, the silencing of her voice as a woman by her mother, her father denying her of identity through his silence. All this turns to rage and she expresses is to devastating effect via psychoplasmics with Raglan, turning it into an unstoppable force. On one hand, a warning about how repressed feelings and buried emotion can unearth itself in horrific, devastating ways. On the other, there’s Raglan and his cowboy psychotherapy. He plays with peoples lives. Not all psychologists/psychiatrists are like that, obviously. But there are some, like in any profession, whose concern is only for themselves. Raglan pushes and pushes until Nola becomes this completely monstrous thing oozing hate. Similar to how some psychotherapists play fast and loose with the mental health of their patients prescribing too much medication, not the right stuff, using therapy which doesn’t work, and so on. Using the concept of the literal birthing of rage, Cronenberg expresses this dangerous psychotherapy quite well. And from this springs all the terrific horror he imagines onscreen.
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In addition, the rage and the creatures represent the bad blood between a married couple going through an ugly divorce. A situation like that creates a poisonous cloud that can infect many others, not just the two directly concerned parties – it moves to the children, the family, the close friends, the next lovers. So look at it how you will, the premise of this movie works in many different lights. The rage of Nola is symbolic of a host of issues, disturbingly perfect in later shots of the film.
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The performances are solid, particularly from Samantha Eggar and Art Hindle. Oliver Reed is pretty good, too. Hindle plays the concerned, confused husband and father well. He also doesn’t play it over-the-top, which many actors might have done. Instead he’s a calculated and thoughtful character, whose actions come as very natural. I always love him, anyways. But his Frank is solid here. Then there’s Eggar. She plays Nola perfectly. There’s a manic look in her eyes sometimes that’s downright shocking. It still creeps me out now when I think of it. And her delivery is so wonderful. Her performance is a treat all around. She plays well off both Hindle, and especially Reed. Not sure if anybody else could’ve played this role. Something I’ve said before, but here that sentiment is beyond true. Her presence is full of disturbing power, a real classic.
A totally bonkers 5-star film that uses all its force to drive home a metaphorical point about repression, rage, the density of emotion, the dangers of psychology. So many things. Perhaps Cronenberg’s best film, as it works on that level of metaphor, as well as simply on an excellently gruesome level as just a solid horror.

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Fargo – Season 2, Episode 9: “The Castle”

FX’s Fargo
Season 2, Episode 9: “The Castle”
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Steve Blackman & Noah Hawley

* For a review of the previous episode,”Loplop”- click here
* For a review of the finale, “Palindrome” – click here
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With only this episode and the finale “Palindrome” left, Fargo‘s amazing second season is almost ready to clue up. Is war coming? You betcha.
We start closing in on a book and read about more Minnesota tales, specifically the Massacre at Sioux Falls in 1979. Great little narration at the start here – do you recognize the voice? – with illustrated pictures of everyone from Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) to Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst).


Then we switch to real life, back at the gas station where Ed was awhile back. Out of the woods the station attendant sees Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). Before the poor fella can dial the police, Hanzee snipes him with an assault rifle. Dent picks up a bit of hydrogen peroxide and a tiny tube of what looks like model glue, or something similar. In the bathroom he uses these items to close up the wound where Peggy stabbed him at the end of last episode. The narrator proceeds to tell us about the enigma that is Hanzee; no birth record, no link to any tribe, et cetera. He’s a lone wolf, that Hanzee.
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Ed and Peggy are cuffed. Most of the cops in town are there, too. Lou (Patrick Wilson) and Ben Schmidt look pretty baffled, as do Chief Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) and Chief Gibson (Terry Kinney). It’s a typically hilarious chat between the officers and the Blumquists. Eventually Ed lets slip the information concerning Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and the meeting up at Sioux Falls. Can we feel what’s coming? Yer darn tootin’. The worst part is there happens to be corruption inside the police ranks, as noted by one of them officers present. Lou is an army man, plus he knows Milligan and what could happen. But no one else seems onboard with him, he sees the tragedy coming; only Lou seems to understand it’s “dumb luck” that brought Ed and Peggy this far. Hank stays to keep an eye on things, but Lou makes it clear: “This things officially outta control.”
So Captain Jeb Cheney (Wayne Duvall) offers Ed the chance to go meet Milligan. Wearing a wire, too.
I’m loving this episode’s narration, recapping things in a way that doesn’t feel overly expository (even though it is). Just the charm of the British narrator – Mr. Martin Freeman who starred in the first season – it makes things so fun as we get recaps, yet not full, long ones. It’s fresh, and I dig that. As well, there’s that great split-screen technique happening, of which I’m always a fan. They use it a lot in certain scenes. To great effect, though. Mostly, I find it’s a great transitional tool and the filmmakers/writers together use it very well overall on Fargo.


While Lou is off doing his thing, there’s his faithful wife Betsy (Cristian Milioti) at home. And she is not well, having taken a hard fall downstairs where her daughter Molly finds her laying on the floor next to a bunch of shattered glass. Right at the same moment when Lou is calling on the same pay phone where Ed called Milligan, outside the gas station where Hanzee murdered the cashier. Naturally, the ever vigilant Lou spies the broken glass from Hanzee’s bullet. Inside he finds blood on the wall, a dead cashier. What makes things so great is the fact Patrick Wilson does a fantastic job with his performance, right from the first episode. Just the way his breath gets heavier once he sees the brains on the wall, his silent, physical acting speaks wonders.
I have to note this: on the wall when Lou looks around behind the register, there’s a WE ARE NOT ALONE poster, a small thin one. Will we see more to connect with Hank’s seeming alien obsession?


Speaking of Sheriff Larsson, Lou calls over to Hank, along with Schmidt and Chief Gibson, telling them about Hanzee and the red car he’s driving. But they’re on the way to do their nonsense, even if Hank isn’t totally into all that. Lou’s got a bad feeling, rightfully so. Nobody listens, at least Chief Gibson doesn’t. They’re determined to go in there and take the whole operation down, it seems. Pretty foolish.
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Soon as they pull into the motel, escorting the Blumquists inside handcuffed, a scoped sight is visible watching them, unknowing in the parking lot. Captain Cheney and Chief Larsson have a misunderstanding, a little conversation over Lou and his supposed insubordination. Hank is a more sensible man. Then, up across the road perched on a building hidden, Hanzee watches on.
On the Gerhardt ranch, Mama Floyd (Jean Smart) and Bear (Angus Sampson) arrive home. To news from Mr. Dent. He claims Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is still alive. He’s about to betray the Gerhardt clan, in a huge way. Is he part of the Sioux Falls Massacre becoming what it is? He tells Floyd it was all Kansas City – “that Milligan fella.” He starts setting up a confrontation at the motel, which Floyd is silly enough to walk right into herself. She won’t just send men in, she wants to do it her way.
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And at the motel, everyone is lounging, semi-aware; some of them, anyways. Ben Schmidt is kicked back watching movies on television, stuffing his face. The Blumquists are lounging, sort of. Ed is worried. Peggy, for her part, is a little too chipper, and still trying her best to scheme. And at this point, can we really keep saying oh she’s just crazy? I mean, she’s ended up doing some good. Perhaps Ed, at this point (especially with the idiot police around them), might do better listening to her, or following along with whatever she wings at any given time. Who knows. Because I was sure they were done for a couple times already, and still: here they stand.
One of my favourite shots of this ENTIRE SERIES from either Season 1 or Season 2 happens when we’re back with Milligan. Through a little montage of memories, as Mike is driven to his next destination, we see him remember touching Joe Bulo’s (Brad Garrett) hair way back when they met at a hotel restaurant, then later when he touched the hair after he received Joe’s head in a box. Great, great juxtaposition of scenes in this montage. Another excellent show of film making by the crew on this series, as a whole. The music, the editing, the writing, it’s all so damn tight.


Lou is not going to stand by and let things go bad at Sioux Falls. He heads back over the state line, which earlier he’d been escorted across, in order to try preventing more bloodshed. More amazing score here, as Lou goes back through the hotel room where Constance met Hanzee unexpectedly. There are some incredible pieces of music throughout this season, it is another aspect of the aesthetic I’m in love with.
Do you think it’s any coincidence the gung ho Captain Jeb Cheney is named as such? Perhaps a little on the nose, not exactly subtle. Or maybe it is coincidence. I doubt it.
A foreboding sequence sees Lou watching a Gerhardt motorcade drive by. He knows where they’re headed. We’re cut back to scenes of the unsuspecting officers at the motel; Lou calls out over the radio, but the one in the room where Cheney and the others are now sleeping is off, silent. The only one awake and alert is Peggy, who sits on the bed next to her sleeping husband watching a black-and-white movie with the sound turned off.
Chief Gibson and a couple of the officers play cards. He tells them about the best place he ever took a piss; the kitchen sink. Outside, Hanzee, Bear and the Gerhardt henchmen show up, armed to the teeth. Dent sends the troops in as “Sorcerer” by Junction plays, Bear along with about ten men head into the motel. One man outside is stabbed to death. Upstairs, Hank is getting his uniform on, right when the doors are about to be kicked in. As Bear gives the signal, most of the officers are blown clear away; Cheney in particular takes a shotgun blast which knocks him into the wall behind his bed. No sign of Dodd, though; obviously. Hank manages to gun down a couple men, and likewise so does Detective Schmidt: only the latter gets knocked out by Peggy, still trying to save her and Ed’s own skin. The entire motel is lit up with gunfire.
And down in the parking lot, Hanzee looks Floyd right in the eye as she figures out the men inside are all cops, that he did them dirty. Then, he stabs her right in the gut. He and Bear meet eyes across the parking lot right at that very moment, as he screams “Mom!“. But Lou Solverson popsa shot into Bear’s neck – then the beast of a man goes for Lou, they fight barehanded against the pavement. An AMAZINGLY STYLIZED SEQUENCE here with several of Hanzee’s shots being freeze-framed, each of his shots caught in a glare of light. Sadly there’s a gut shot for Hank, too.


Out of the sky then comes what appears to be an extraterrestrial spacecraft. It hovers over the motel, spotlights on the ground. Hanzee, Bear and Lou all freeze and look into it a few moments. This gives enough time to Lou who blows Bear’s head off. And the Blumquists who toss hot coffee, or something, into Hanzee’s eyes, slipping out of the room and out of sight. One last gun duel goes down between Lou and Hanzee, from parking lot to balcony, before the latter takes off into the night.
After the smoke clears, Lou goes to the room where Hank is wounded. Milligan appears when things are all said and done: “Okay then,” he quips then gets into his car again driving off with Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann).


Lou: “Dinner Sunday?
Hank: “Ill be there. In a suit of armour.”


With Hanzee still on the run, Lou still on his toes, what will the Season 2 finale “Palindrome” have in store for us?
Stay tuned and we’ll find out together. See ya then, folks.

Terror Comes Knocking When a Stranger Calls

When a Stranger Calls. 1979. Directed by Fred Walton. Screenplay by Steve Feke & Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Rutanya Alda, Carmen Argenziano, Kirsten Larkin, William Boyett, Charles Durning, Ron O’Neal, Rachel Roberts, Tony Beckley, Colleen Dewhurst, and Michael Champion. Columbia Pictures Corporation/Melvin Simon Productions. Rated R. 97 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Horror

★★★★★
when-a-stranger-calls-3There are many slasher horrors out there – this is not particularly a slasher, but certainly feels like one with the relentless Curt Duncan stalking women in the night, played to eerie perfection by Tony Beckley. So while When a Stranger Calls doesn’t have the big body count, or a bunch of knife murders (et cetera), it does have the familiar feel of a slasher horror movie.
What this Fred Walton-directed dramatic horror has going for it is a keen psychological edge. From the direction, the acting by both Beckley and Carol Kane as the archetypal urban legend babysitter forever immortalized on film, the entire movie is dripping with creepiness, as well as having a few things to say about the views of our society (at least at the time – folding into the 1980s). Regardless if you’re a horror fan or not, this is one classic piece of cinema. To use a tired cliche – it did for babysitting what Jaws did for the ocean. Anyone who’s ever taken care of kids growing up, like myself and lots of other people I know, the fear of being in someone else’s home, alone, with who knows what – or who – just outside the door, it’s all extremely real in When a Stranger Calls. Almost too close for comfort.
1ae4a02f75d54b0ab8fb74fe7fc70fcdJill Johnson (Carol Kane) heads over to the house of Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano/Rutanya Alda). She’s babysitting for the night while they head over for dinner, maybe even a movie afterwards. A little while after Jill starts the night, a mysterious man starts to call her. He continually asks: “Have you checked the children?” Phoning the police, they prove unable to do much for the time being. Soon, Jill finds the man on the phone getting more nasty, violent. When an officer advises her the calls are coming from inside the house, Jill manages to make it outside where Dt. John Clifford (Charles Durning) is already waiting. However, it’s all too late. The children are already dead, at the hands of a madman, a merchant seaman originally from Britain named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley).
Seven years pass, Jill moves on with her life – she’s married, two little kids of her very own. Except now Duncan has escaped from the asylum where he’d been confined. With Clifford on his trail, Duncan wanders the streets. Will he kill again? Question is, really: when was the last time Jill checked her children?

Tony Beckley isn’t the only one acting circles around the usual horror performances here. Both Carol Kane and Charles Durning are fascinating in their own right. But, I can never help boasting about the titular stranger – Curt Duncan.
Beckley is someone I’ve seen in a few other things, not much. Although out of the little I watched, good as the others were, his performance here has got to be the crowning achievement of his career. He takes a role many have played in other movies, from drama to horror. Instead of playing a typical psychopath, there’s something sad and pathetic about this Duncan. Even while you know what he’s done, the horrible things he did to those children, a tiny part of us can see the lonely, child-like thing inside him. I hate Curt Duncan. Yet still I can’t shake parts of him, there’s an essence in him I cannot deny is sympathetic, under all his monstrosity. What it is, I don’t know. Why it affects me, I absolutely understand: Tony Beckley. His mannerisms, his voice at times weird and creepy, others it’s shaky, even the way he walks – all of this has made the character of Duncan into one of the best villains of the 1970s. And I say that considering all genres, not only horror. He is one of those unnerving characters I’ll never be able to shake off.
movie-scene2Right from the first time Beckley utters his iconic, terrifying line, there’s an immediate sense of this film’s excellent score. It has power, quickly the tone of the film is solidified with a dark descent of notes, accompanied by a zoom in close on Kane’s babysitter character. The music is most certainly a big part of the suspense and tension. Like any proper horror, the score is just about iconic as anything else. Composer Dana Kaproff – other credits include 1982’s Death Valley and Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One – has a fantastic ear. The music sort of simmers underneath, then at a few choices moments flares up; loud, brash. It’s an intricate score, moving from quiet to heavy and back again all in such a perfect rhythm with the plot’s movement.
Together with the film’s music, Donald Peterman’s cinematography makes this a gorgeous to look at classic of the late ’70s. Peterman has done a few movies I love, such as SplashStar Trek IV: The Voyage HomePlanes Trains & AutomobilesPoint BreakMr. Saturday Night and Get Shorty. He has a nice visual style. Here in When A Stranger Calls, the movie has that classic look – that beautiful grain of film sorely missed in a good many pictures these days. But it isn’t just that. The whole opening sequence with babysitter Jill, the tight frames and the zoom in, all the dark shadows; the scenes with Curt Duncan where he spends his time both in the shadows and also lurching around like a shadow himself, the rich and deep look of the nighttime exterior shots. Every last inch of this movie is spectacular to look at. Recently I bought a double feature Blu ray with this and Happy Birthday to Me on it; they each look pristine. To watch this on Blu ray, such nice definition, it’s a true treat. Peterman’s work shows so well.
8b4a3441e709One major thing I’ve always found interesting about When a Stranger Calls is the aspect of Clifford investigating Duncan and then deciding to kill the man. It’s a timeless theme, the idea of the lawman having to/wanting to cross sides in order to defeat a criminal. There is no doubt this theme is resonant today, in such an age where boy the criminals and the cops are out of control at times (not all the police; definitely some, though). Moreover, isn’t this something we as citizens can relate to? I mean, much as I like to think the death penalty is pointless, much as I try to say stick the murderers and rapists in a cage and let them rot until death… a part of me would probably, in the moment, feel like blowing their heads off if I were in the position of some police officers. A part of me, right now, thinking about someone hurting/killing a loved one would easily kill that person. So, while I look at Clifford’s decisions to try and go after Duncan with the purpose of killing him, and I say to myself – Oh, he’s a dirty cop… – there’s a side of me wanting to say: go for it. There’s only a certain amount of justice in particular situations at a given moment in time. Some times there’s no justice at all. I can say killing another person is wrong, under any circumstance. But I can also admit there are circumstances under which I would kill another person – one of those very few situations being if a man killed my children, or if I was Clifford and confronted with the sickness and depravity of a man like Duncan. Either way, there’s a strong message at play in When a Stranger Calls and it speaks volumes about how the criminally insane are viewed. A big part of the message is that there are times when everyone can find themselves outside the law. There are times being outside the law can prove necessary, too.
screenshot_1A flawless 5 star classic from 1979. This is one of those horror movies-slash-dramatic thrillers I find most affecting, out of any of the movies I’ve seen. There’s something nasty about Tony Beckley, though, he plays the role of Curt Duncan so effortlessly, like watching a true crazy person before our eyes. Add to his performance Charles Durning and Carol Kane, a couple nice additional smaller ones to boot. Plus, the look and sounds and feel of each frame are downright masterful. Once again, When a Stranger Calls doesn’t have the blood or the slasher body count. On the contrary, it’s the character study of a man with deep psychological wounds, his obsessions, and the people caught up in the whirlwind of his psychosis from the victims to the bystanders to the ones chasing him down. It’s a mad, mad world, and this is one damn mad ride. Always on the top ten of my favourite horror films, especially the ones from the ’70s and ’80s. The Blu ray release I picked up has no special features, but I’m still satisfied simply because of how amazing it looks and how darkly majestic the score sounds in high definition.

The Amityville Horror Never Lets Truth Get in its Way

The Amityville Horror. 1979. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Screenplay by Sandor Stern; based on the book by Jay Anson.
Starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton, John Larch, Natasha Ryan, K.C. Martel, Meeno Peluce, Michael Sacks, Helen Shaver, and Amy Wright. American International Pictures. Rated 14A. 117 minutes. Drama/Horror.

★★★★
tumblr_my6iwqtjYe1qh35m6o1_1280 When it comes to the haunted house movies that go for the possessed angle – the house driving someone crazy or literally possessing them – I still think The Amityville Horror is near the top of my favourites. Different than The Exorcist where that’s a demon, I love this even without all the true story aspects of it, which are likely a hoax as far as I’m concerned. But that’s a discussion for another time.
This movie just creeps me out. I mean, when the priest is in that room with the flies covering his face, then all of a sudden you here it softly first – “Get out” – the priest looks around in awe and it says once more, louder and raspier this time – “GET OUT” – every time I see that part, I know it’s coming, and consistently it freaks me out. Love it! Always enjoy a movie which continually scares me any time I watch it over the years.
Plus, there’s something about the idea of a house’s history affecting the people who live in afterwards that gets to me at my core. Because, although I don’t believe in any life after death, I’m forever sceptical at the same time. I’m always questioning. So, I can’t fully discount that there may be something we don’t know about yet, something that could be proven eventually. For me, watching horror movies is not always about realism. In this type of film, you have to try and remove yourself a little from reality, but at the same time you can still stay slightly grounded. Just imagine, what would you do if a house started driving you crazy? What could you do, really? When I watch horror, I’ll usually try to put myself in the shoes of the characters involved. That’s one reason this movie scares me because if I were in that house with James Brolin going slowly mad, I’d probably have been terrified right to the bone.
TheAmityvilleHorror1The Amityville Horror is based on the, supposedly, true events which transpired in the house of George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) – where years before, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. murdered his family in cold blood as they slept at night. Moving in with their children, the Lutz family find a great new home; spacious, a boathouse out back with a small dock, good land. Once moved into their house, strange things begin to happen. George begins to wake up every morning at 3:15 AM on the dot. The young daughter starts talking about an imaginary little girl named Jodi who actively becomes more and more involved in her life. Even a priest comes to the house trying to bless the place when Kathy sends request, but he is driven from the premises by some evil force, screaming at him, sending him away by any means. Things get worse and worse, and slowly George seems to be sucked into whatever terror lays beyond the veil between the living and the dead.

I think a part of what makes The Amityville Horror work is the family dynamic. When considering the real supposed story, George Lutz (Brolin) is the husband of Kathy (Kidder), but the children are his stepchildren. Apparently he was not exactly the perfect stepfather and he was a bit tough on them. He’s running a business and everything is on him, so while the house exerts its evil influence over George his business begins to suffer. Then Kathy is of course concerned about him, trying to figure out what’s going on. There are so many things at play within the Lutz family. It’s as if the house feeds off any already negative energy or presence within its walls, it uses that to generate more of the negative energy still left over from the past. That’s what makes this movie real interesting for me.
TheAmityvilleHorror2In the early scenes as Brolin and Kidder stroll through the house, there’s some really excellent editing which truly caught me off-guard. I didn’t expect the quick cuts to, what ultimately are, the murders of Butch DeFeo Jr. These are the murders of course that happened in the now haunted house. I love how they’re incorporated here. As I said, some spot-on editing. Great stuff from editor Robert Brown, whose work includes Damien: Omen IIBrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich VillageThe Lost Boys, and Flatliners. Kudos to him for the stuff in this film. He has a real touch for the horror genre, as far as I’m concerned.

All the little touches are creepy. Such as George’s waking up at exactly 3:15 AM. This is supposedly the time when Butch DeFeo killed his family in their beds. So even though the supposed hauntings are inspiration for this, and I don’t believe the real story in so far as I’m concerned, I still find the whole thing utterly unsettling. The movie stands well enough on its own for me.
Still, the part that has always gotten to me the most is the scene when the babysitter gets locked in the closet. Damn, does it ever work on my nerves. I always feel so bad for her because I don’t like closed spaces, so I think if I’d have been locked in there – by a child or a ghost or whoever – I would lose my mind eventually. Plus, the blood on her knuckles, rapping on the door, beating against it; such a vicious image. Then the light goes out, and to this day, no matter how many times I’ve seen it my spine will chill. From bottom to top and back again. Great, spooky stuff!
axe-terrorThe reason my love for this movie endures is the atmosphere. Time and time again I’ve said it: atmosphere and tone, these are things which work for me. If a movie has those and can keep up relatively nicely with a bit of solid dialogue, add in some decent characters and you’ve sold me!
Stuart Rosenberg, as far as I’m concerned, is a classic director. Not everything he did was perfect, but I think he has enough wonderful pictures under his belt we can look back on his career to say it went well. He did some great ones – Brubaker with Robert Redford, Cool Hand Luke including the classic performance of Paul Newman, and The Pope of Greenwich Village featuring Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke in maybe the performances of their careers or at least close to it. So, I’d throw this film on the list. He’s good at crafting tension and suspense, in everything he has done. Most certainly here. There are a ton of moments that have me held close to the screen each time I see the movie. Some of the shots of the Lutz house are downright ominous and foreboding, I absolutely love them. That iconic red filtered shot of the Lutz house from the outside is KILLER! Dig that one, so much.

A particularly favourite shot of mine is at almost the 40 minute mark. George (Brolin) is putting wood in on the fire. The flames are crackling and licking up. You can barely see his features, but the fire casts on his face in a reddish glow; his beard/goatee looks as if it were the devil himself. Then, as he leans back, the glow leaves and he looks like a frightened man, losing his mind. Perfect stuff.
Not only do I love the shot, we get to see a great bit between Kidder and Brolin. The look in Brolin’s eyes is insanely perfect. He is one great actor, man. I’ve always thought that, anyways, aside from this movie. But there is something in his face, a great gift of expression, which works like a charm for the character of George Lutz. While I love a movie like The Shining, I’ve always agreed with Stephen King when he says that Jack Nicholson sort of starts off crazy; I mean, you get that typical Nicholson feel right from the very beginning in the opening car scene. Here, with Brolin’s depiction of George Lutz, it gives the genuine feeling that he is a man who is going crazy. At the beginning he’s definitely a sombre guy – I attribute that mostly to the fact he’s a bit of a serious guy, lots of stuff going on with his business, buying the house, probably how a lot of people might be in the situation. There’s something, however, which changes as time goes on, and as opposed to something like Nicholson’s performance – which I do enjoy – there’s that honest feeling something is going seriously awry in the Lutz house.
large amityville horror blu-ray10Margot Kidder is no slouch either. Ever since seeing Black Christmas and the under-seen/under-appreciated Brian De Palma horror-thriller Sisters I have been in love with this woman! Wonderful, talented actress. She is a true great. Her performance here matches the intensity of Brolin at the right times and we really get the feeling this is a woman who loves her husband, as she tries so hard to help him hold onto reality, but also works to the bone trying to protect her children.
Oh, and Rod Steiger – bad ass. Constant bad ass. I love him in this and I could watch it a hundred times just for his scenes because they’re enough to make you stand up and shout. He’s a classic actor and this is one role that will always, always come up when I think of his name. Solid stuff out of him, as is to be expected. He plays a typical role we’ve seen, a million times since, yet it’s one I would rank up there with Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist. Absolutely.

While I love this horror movie, tons, I’ll only be able to say it’s a 4 out of 5 star film. There are a few points of dialogue I’m not too keen on, mostly when it concerns other characters outside of the Lutz’s themselves. I think at times the script in general could’ve been tighter, mainly to compact things a bit more. Great film, in spite of its dubious “true” roots – still, I tend to find it’s a little longer than it needs to be. I think with Brolin and Kidder, with Steiger thrown in for good measure, this movie didn’t need to be close to 2 hours long. A solid hour and a half would’ve done the job quite proper.
Either way, it is a classic of the genre and will forever be a favourite of mine in the haunted house genre. Near the top. Great performances are what drives the best bits here, as well as good atmosphere and quality editing. Always recommend this to anyone who has to see it.