The Amityville Horror is a classic in the world of horror, both on the page and on the screen. After the ordeal the Lutz family went through their story made national headlines. It drew the attention of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, now famous because of the Conjuring and Conjuring 2, also based on cases they investigated. Within a year a book had been written (Jay Anson, 1977) that was an instant national best seller, and two years later the film (dir. Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) was released which quickly became the biggest indie hit to date. James Brolin was reading the book when some clothes that were hung on his closet door and scared him witless for a moment; at that point he said he knew there was something to this story. Clearly, it is a story worth the time to both read and watch, assuming you enjoy both claustrophobia and dread.
The movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book. From the grand incidents, like Jody, to the little incidents or details, like the missing money or the mirrors in the bedroom, the movie knows and respects the source material.
A lot of the differences are mostly omissions for time reasons. There is just so much more in the book that they didn’t have time to get into, or really explore, like the lion statue or Harry the dog. The most curious difference between the two is the priest; in the book his name is Father Mancuso and in the movie it was changed to Father Delaney, but they still follow his story closely and show a great deal of the suffering he endured at the time.
The two biggest differences between the two stories is the sense of claustrophobia in the book and climax/denouement of the movie. The reader has so much more time to spend in the book that one can really question why the family is still in the house. There is one particular incident where most of the windows have been broken and while they are waiting for the glazier to fix them something else happens. Kathy packs up the kids and is heading out the door when the repairman arrives and they decide to linger long enough for him to finish his work so their house doesn’t get water damaged. By the time he is done they are all quite cheerful again and decide to stay against all apparent reason. One could argue this is a symptom of their being haunted, but it gets so frustrating for reader (I may have yelled at the book once or twice). It is also described that for at least a week neither Kathy, nor George, could bring themselves to leave the house even for work or groceries. While reading, the house just seems to close in around you, and the Lutz family, with no reprieve; the movie doesn’t quite capture that feeling, though it makes up for it with the Red Room.
The Red Room in the book is discovered early on and is just another ominous facet of the house. George does discover a well in the room that a medium later claims he will find and is where the evil is emanating from, and she tells George this before she even enters the house. In the movie the room isn’t discovered till late in the story and quickly becomes the focal point of their terror, the one door they shouldn’t have opened. The movie creates a very different final episode as the family flees the house than what happened in the book. Perhaps the filmmakers thought they couldn’t do justice to the event in the book, perhaps they thought the sequence with the stairs was more dramatic, either way you get something new and exciting in both versions.
All in all, the movie and the book are the same story, and very similar, but each is its own beast and well worth the time. If only because it has become so iconic in the horror genre and a great influence for countless stories that followed.