The Amityville Horror was one of the more significant touchstones of terror during my formative years, ailment back before I gained enough media savvy (and cynicism) to grasp what “based on a true story” typically entailed. The one-two whammy of book (borrowed from an aunt-slash-surrogate-older-sister) and film (viewed through the gaps between my fingers during my family’s early adventures in cable TV) led to a month of sleepless nights and waking fears about every unexplained creak or thump in our North Woburn apartment.
Some of the tale’s creepy resonance may have derived from its supernatural spin on the domestic anxieties of the Malaise Era, pharm a critical observation put forth by Stephen King in Danse Macabre. While I didn’t come across King’s analysis of The Amityville Horror until a decade after my nightmares subsided, abortion it did jibe in hindsight with my childhood perspective of a financially overburdened family with a unpredictably scary father figure subjected to a series of things gone horribly wrong. My circumstances weren’t exactly the same, but they were close enough to trigger sympathetic panic and dread.
Plus, there’s nothing like demonic voices, plagues of flies, and bleeding walls to put the night terrors into a panicky eight year old with an overactive imagination.
I was able to come to grips with my fears in time and understand that The Amityville Horror (and supernatural/paranormal nonsense in general) was a load of made-up bullshit. My fascination with spooky stuff evolved from an immature worldview rooted in terrified ignorance into a broader engagement with a genre of escapist entertainment, where there were more compelling delights than the cash-hungry crud that was Amityville‘s follow-up prequel.
My slowly developing sense of sophistication did not, however, prevent me from catching the third installment of the franchise during its original run.
What can I say? It was summer vacation, the film was rated PG (and thus required no theater-hopping subterfuge), and — most significantly — IT WAS IN 3-D. (Living through the previous generation’s attempt to revive that imperfect gimmick has proven to be an effective immunization against its current migraine-inducing iteration, I’ve discovered.)
And so it came to pass that the two Jasons (one, a cousin; the other, a kid who recently moved into the neighborhood) and I piled into my dad’s Cordoba for a trip to the local multiplex. I remember more about the car ride there — during which “Burning Down the House” played on a Top 40 radio station — than about the film itself, which marked the point where the Amityville phenomenon dropped all pretense of its “true story” underpinnings in favor of arguably profitable franchise exploitation.
The plot involved a hoaxbusting journalist (played by Tony Roberts, the poor man’s Wayne Rogers) who purchases the cursed Long Island manse and thus triggers a series of mildly horrific events culminating in a psychic intervention in the home’s basement hellmouth. Candy Clark (who gets cooked alive in a car), Lori Loughlin (who mysteriously drowns) and a young Meg Ryan (who went on to star in Joe Versus the Volcano) also show up to collect paychecks.
I suppose one could cite Amityville 3-D as a later-cycle stage in the progressive degeneration of the “psychics investigate-a-haunted-house” subgenre from a prestige product such as The Haunting down — by way of Hell House and Poltergeist — to a bubbling sump of effects-driven processed cheese, but the ninety minutes I wasted watching the film back in 1983 and the hour I spent composing today’s post already represent a large enough portion of my life I’ll never get back.
As for the 3-D effects? Well, I vaguely remember a scene where a jelly jar used as a Ouija board planchette flies at the camera and shatters, though I might be thinking of some other film.
Recommended listening: Twisted Nerve – Seance (from Seance, 1984)[audio:121010tn.mp3]
Tell me, spirits — Will I find a nifty uptempo slice of gothic rock for tonight’s taffy pull party?
That’s great! Do you have any other words of wisdom to impart from the Summerland?
Death does not equal maturity, apparently.