Daily Horror History, July 27th: The Amityville Horror and The Lost Boys
The last big cash-in on the “Satan’s Gonna Possess and/or Kill You” novel and film craze of the 70’s barely has any direct Christian Devilry in it, especially when compared to its forebears: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. The evil forces at 112 Ocean Avenue that the film implies can compel a man to commit familicide are a bit of a potpourri of paranormal perniciousness. The house was allegedly built on an “Indian burial ground”; the mass-murderer who used to live there is almost implied to be a quasi-doppelganger of the father and husband (and burgeoning possessed murderer) who currently lives there; and, yes, the home was once occupied by a Satanist, but that last part almost feels like a last-minute add-on.
By now, it’s known to many that The Amityville Horror isn’t even an authentic claim of a supernatural occurrence; George and Kathy Lutz, along with their lawyer, cooked up the idea in the kitchen while downing several bottles of wine. How many people actually bought into the story as factual in 1979, I can’t say, but enough people saw the movie–based on a best-selling book, of course–to make it the 2nd biggest movie of the year, behind–you guessed it–Kramer vs. Kramer. The only thing hotter than Hell on Earth in the 70’s was divorce; it was all the rage, back then.
The Amitiville Horror hit theaters on July 27th, 39 years ago. Regardless of what one thinks of the quality of the book or film, its impact was undeniable. Book covers and movie posters have copied its iconic “The House Has Eyes” imagery over the years. It helped plant the old “Indian burial ground” horror plot device into the minds of the public, despite said device not actually showing up all that often in horror stories before or since. And it launched an incredibly long-lived franchise that spans nine books and–by year’s end–20 movies.
And yet, it also signals the death knell for the dominance of a specific type of horror, at least at the box office. The horror / horror-themed movies that landed in annual top-ten grossers through the 80’s were decidedly lighter ventures: Poltergeist, Gremlins, Ghostbusters. Even Aliens leans more into action than horror; despite having a higher body-count than its predecessor, it is somehow less grim and much more of a “popcorn movie.” You’ll also note that the closest thing to the Christian Devil in any of these movies is the unspecified “Beast” Tangina speaks of in Poltergeist, but given the mysticism of the character and the film as a whole, people don’t associate said villain with the same kind of Satan that terrorized characters and audiences in the 70’s. Old Scratch from the prior decade was re-birthing himself into children, throwing priests out of windows and otherwise spreading mayhem with ease every other week, it seemed; this “Beast” guy in Poltergeist can’t even win a tug-of-war against a suburban dad. Surely it’s not the same villain as the one who maybe, sort-of half-assedly tried to help motivate George Lutz to axe up his wife and kids.
Also occurring on July 27th, The Lost Boys premiered in New York City in 1987. Its wide-release stateside wouldn’t come until July 31st. A clear but modest hit at the time, made on a small-ish budget, it would go on to have a strange, outsized influence and legacy. It was the first movie to co-star both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, it’s credited by some with helping popularize a “sexier,” more modern and youthful brand of vampire. Despite being black-clad bloodsuckers who can fly, the titular boys still fit right in with the “disaffected, spoiled-yet-misunderstood suburbanite teens and twenty-somethings” of many popular 80’s movies. Especially when compared to the vampires in Near Dark, released the same year, the boys menacing Santa Clara, California can’t help but to seem brattier.
Lastly, The Hamlyn Book of Horror was published on this day in 1979. The second in a series, it was preceded by The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts, then followed by the Book of Mysteries and the Book of Monsters. Written by Daniel Farson, the informative, insightful writing in the Book of Horror is perhaps overshadowed by the incredible, colorfully gruesome artwork. From the spectacular cover (by Oliver Frey) to contents (by a host of artists: Frey, Peter Archer, Mike Bell, Mike Codd, Mike Cole, Peter Kesterven and Ivan Lapper), the book is a visual feast of horrors. Authors, directors, actors and assorted other creative types have long received due credit for their efforts in and dedication to the genre, while the artists who provide some of the most memorable aspects of the works we love get overlooked.
For a nice rundown of what could be found inside The Hamlyn Book of Horror, check out the video below.