Book Vs Movie: The Amityville Horror

It’s time for another addition of Book Vs Movie—and this time we are taking on the granddaddy of “true” horror fiction, The Amityville Horror. Both the book and the subsequent film marked a new turn in horror and both are remembered fondly for their impact to the haunted house genre. Without The Amityville Horror we most likely never would have Poltergeist and we certainly would not have The Conjuring or The Conjuring 2 which has racked up dumpster trucks of cash at the box office, or the seemingly impending universe of Warren films to come. We also wouldn’t have Annabelle but that’s another story altogether.

Which is more important to the genre and has the greater impact? Which one has the most chills and thrills? Join myself and CC as we seek to tackle the OG of modern monster houses.

The Amityville Horror:

Plot

Jayson: There really isn’t a major difference between the book and the movie when it comes to Plot as far as I’m concerned. The story is very straightforward especially by today’s standards of haunted house films. Family moves into new home, home is haunted, family regrets decision, assorted ghost experts come by, family leaves. It’s hard to fault the book or the film for that though since they practically invented those tropes. Certainly there were haunted house stories prior to this one, but most of those were all candelabras and proper floating ghosts. When I think of modern hauntings; strange liquid running from the walls and the faucets, moving furniture, the occupants of the house being changed, I think The Amityville Horror. And to my mind it’s hard not to credit the book for that.

CC: I agree with Jayson, I think that when we, as contemporary fans, imagine haunted houses we think of The Amityville House and in that regards – the book set up situation and the movie just illustrated it in more legitimate terms. The beginning of the book is weighted a little bit with establishing its timeline, but overall I think that the book, being based on (arguably) truthful events does establish the storyline for which the movie follows. Though, I do commend the movie for following the plot of the book relatively closely-the movie isn’t a complete fictionalization of events.

Jayson’s Verdict: Book

CC’s Verdict: Book


 

Characters:

Jayson:

The characters in both the book and the movie they are extremely thin. Perhaps first of all I’d probably should make it clear I’m not a believer in any of the story propped up by the Lutz’s or The Warrens and therefore I feel it necessary to take on this issue strictly as if they were fictitious characters in the novel and not real people. The Lutz’s in the novel to my mind are basically cyphers of the average person. The intent being that these are average people affected by an extremely abnormal situation that could happen to anyone. As a result there isn’t a lot of meat to the characters in the novel, and to my mind that makes them extremely dull.  The idea of Jodi is of course a terrifying one, and used effectively, but even that haunting character can’t save the book from its lack of effective characterization.

Perhaps because I saw the film at a very formative time for horror watching, but I’ve always been extremely effected by James Brolin’s portrayal of George Lutz. When he starts to become unhinged in the movie it adds a layer of darkness and depth I never really feel in the book and Margot Kidder does a great job of being the terrified spouse. All in all, none of the characters are great but the portrayal of them in the film gives me some extra satisfaction.

CC:

For the book to be written about an actual family, we get very little actual characterization of the Lutz family. Part of getting into a book, of any genre for me, is whether or not I can get behind or even care about the characters – this book completely lacked any that. We’re given an idea of the family to which these events are occurring but nothing really substantial to continue our interest. In the book it’s almost like they are written around rather written about and to further Jayson’s point, I get that they could be vessels for the average homeowner – but it’s so vague that it’s almost distracting.

I’m not sure that I feel the movie does that much more in providing a character study of the individuals either, but I do feel that they are at least very well acted and portrayed with more detail than they are in the book. James Brolin does do a great job with the George Lutz interpretation and I felt genuine unease when he really starts unraveling, something I can’t say I experienced with the book.

Jayson’s Verdict: Movie

CC’s Verdict: Movie


Theme:

Jayson: This is really where I start having problems with this book. The book really needs you to believe in this story in order for it to work. Jay Anson put all his chips on the table, betting that you would believe this ludicrous story. It’s written like a first person account of a true story with dogged determination, which undoubtedly paid off at the time. The fact that they were able to sell this as a true story is what propelled it into the stratosphere of horror legend that it is. I’m not denying that one bit. However, reading it now with the eyes of someone who firmly believes it’s all nonsense, detracts incredibly from the effectiveness of the book. It wants to suck you into the most mundane details of the story, including but not limited to the last time George Lutz crapped because you know the spooky house causes diarrhea, because it’s attempting to convince you that these hauntings took place in the real world.

The movie does suffer from this a little, the lost money for instance, which chances are is still under those fucking couch cushions somewhere, but much less so. For that reason I really believe that the movie is a much better piece of horror.

CC: Even coming from a different point of view than Jayson, I think the book really falters here. Part of me wanted to appreciate the unrelenting detail of a “typical” day in the Lutz family – but it was just too bogged down. I went in to reading the book already believing (at least in part) the Amityville story so I want to be wowed and impressed with exciting details, not literal crappy ones. The movie did seem to find things to harp on as well, but I think we’re often more forgiving of films based on books because obviously balancing the game of quality verse quantity a little more intensely than the book. The movie kept me entertained and expectant where I found myself scanning the book for interesting sections.

Jayson’s Verdict: Movie

CC’s Verdict: Movie


Tone

Jayson: This book is dryer than a plain saltine. The tone is so deliberate and the scares so weak that I could barely drag myself to the end even when the iconic moments I remembered started happening.  I found myself not particularly caring about anything going on.  This isn’t just because of the weak characterization described earlier, or the lack of my belief that any of this is real, it’s because there is nothing here to grab on to and immerse myself in without those things. A story can have its cake and eat it too in this regard, and I think the film actually achieves this whereas the book does not.

The movie works even more if you actually believe the story, however because of some very effective moments, acting and an outrageously memorable score the film delivers without those things for any viewer. Lalo Schifrin’s score is one of the best in the history of horror cinema. That lilting, almost mockingly angelic music adds a whole other layer of terror. In fact, if I’m being honest with myself, when I think of things that have legitimately scared me in the history of my film-going and book reading life that score is close to the top of that list.

CC: Yes, this book was a total bore. I love haunted house stories, especially those that are presumed to be real, so I was looking forward to reading this since I had never gotten around to it before – however, I regretted it. I appreciated the effort and background put into the writing, yet it was lacking a lot of emotion to make it believable, even fictionally. Regardless of if you believe in ghosts or possessions – you can still enjoy a well told story and the book just fails in that regard. The movie has a lot on its side in this aspect, since obviously you are watching a movie for entertainment value and expect some flair, be it the acting, the score, or the scares. I missed out on seeing the movie when I was younger and more impressionable; you know before I became old and jaded with expectations, but upon watching the original film, I think the cinematic interpretation of the story increases the tone immensely.

Jayson’s Verdict: Movie

CC’s Verdict: Movie


Overall

Jayson: Ok. If it wasn’t obvious at this point, I hate this book. It’s just over 300 pages, seems like a slog and the writing is so bland, especially for one of its subject matter that I found myself struggling to get through it. The movie is just better in almost every regard as far as I’m concerned. Sure it feels antiquated, but I think the film overall has added more to the genre, created more epic imagery and simple delivers on its promise of a haunted house story. Whether I believe it or not, the movie has the ability for me to cause me to suspend my disbelief long enough to create an effective horror story, the book completely fails in that regard.

CC: There’s no contest here for me, either – Jayson’s already said it best. The writing definitely is subpar for the type of story it is trying to convey and it’s just plain boring. Even recently seeing the movie for the first time, I found it much more entertaining than the book. Regardless of how well the movie has aged in comparison to other films of its type or even contemporary haunted house films, I think it still delivers where the audience expects it. The movie is really able to achieve the creepiness and fear of a family being tormented verses a book that just seems to talk around it.

I think in terms of its contributions to the genre, the movie definitely takes the reigns here. Most people would not want to read the long and drawn out snooze fest that is the book. The story is based on a real event and if the book had never been written the movie would have been far more than sufficient to convey the events and continue to scare audiences even in today’s terms. The movie lent itself to rather decent remakes and also established a bar for expectations throughout the genre. 

Jayson’s Verdict: Movie

CC’s Verdict: Movie

For those who are keeping score, that's 2 movie wins and 1 book win putting The Amityville Horror firmly in the camp of being a better film than book.

Next time on BGH Book VS Movies, let’s see if the son can win one back for daddy as we discuss:

Joe Hill’s Horns

 

Jayson

Staff Writer

At the age of 9, Jayson saw a child's head get crushed under a tire in the Toxic Avenger and has never been the same. He spent nearly his entire childhood riding his bike to the local video store to secretly renting every scary movie with his friends and reading his way through the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books and all the works of Stephen King. A writer, drinker, and lover of Boston sports he spends most of his time living out his dreams and wishing fall would never end in Connecticut.

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