The Amityville Horror film poster

See how The Amityville Horror hits the Save the Cat! story beats.

The 1979 supernatural horror film The Amityville Horror, directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, and Rod Steiger, tells the story of a young couple who purchase a home haunted by evil supernatural forces. It’s based on Jay Anson’s 1977 book, which chronicles the alleged paranormal experiences of the Lutz family, who briefly lived in the Amityville, New York home where the infamous mass murder by Ronald DeFeo Jr. occurred in 1974.

The movie was initially conceived as a TV film but was adapted by screenwriter Sandor Stern as a feature film. Despite not being able to film in the actual DeFeo residence, it was shot on location in Toms River, New Jersey, with interior scenes filmed in Los Angeles. The film premiered at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in July 1979 and became a major commercial success, grossing over $80 million in North America.

The Amityville Horror is considered a classic in the horror genre and a seminal entry in the haunted house subgenre. It also explores themes related to homeownership and financial anxieties. The film received critical acclaim for its musical score by Lalo Schifrin, earning an Academy Award® nomination. Margot Kidder received a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress.

This iconic horror movie began the long-running Amityville Horror film series and was later remade in 2005.

This beat sheet study is only for the 1979 horror film and not the alleged events reported by the Lutz family in 1976.

Genre: MITH (supra-natural)

Cinematic cousins: The Shining, Burnt Offerings, The Haunting, The Conjuring, Poltergeist, Amityville II: The Possession, The Changeling, The Ring, Haunted Mansion, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Thirteen Ghosts, The House on Haunted Hill, The Innocents, A Tale of Two Sisters, The Uninvited, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Beetlejuice

Written by: Sandor Stern
Based on the book “The Amityville Horror” by Jay Anson
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg

Opening Image: November 13, 1974. As the blood-red sun dies and a violent thunderstorm rolls in, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shoots his entire family—father, mother, and four children—in their beds on 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. He has no apparent motive.

Theme Stated: On the crime scene, Sergeant Gionfriddo (Val Avery) attempts to make sense of the senselessness at 3:15 AM. The theme of this piece is understanding the dark and supernatural forces that seem to curse the Amityville house.

Set-Up: George and Kathy Lutz check out the 1927 Dutch Colonial Revival house on Long Island a year later. The house is on the market—cheap because of its violent history, but still expensive for the financially challenged couple. They make the deal.

James Brolin and Margot Kidder
George and Kathy Lutz are in high hopes of buying a new home.

Catalyst: One month later, the Lutzes move in and start setting up their home with Kathy’s two sons and daughter.

Margot Kidder and James Brolin in their nightclothes at the foot of the staiercase
The house starts acting up, immediately rustling the Lutzes out of bed.

B Story: Father Delaney visits to bless the home while the Lutzes are away. He encounters a room full of flies and a sinister, disembodied voice that tells him to “Get out.” Father Delaney will be the Helper who tries to warn the family of the devilish danger they’re potentially in. George’s skepticism and Kathy’s request for a blessing from Father Delaney set up the clash of beliefs.

Rod Steiger with many bugs on his face
Father Delaney shows up to bless the house but gets bugged.

Debate: The strangeness begins. Father Delaney can’t reach the Lutzes due to telephone static—unusual cold spots. George starts acting volatile and strange.

Break into Two: After George and Kathy make love in the house to “christen it,” George’s recurring awakening at 3:15 AM mirrors the DeFeo murders.

Margot Kidder just behind a disturbed looking James Brolin
George Lutz turns from family guy to scary guy in Amityville.

Fun and Games: Paranormal events escalate. George becomes obsessed with chopping wood with his axe to heat the home that’s “always cold.”

James Brolin chopping wood outside the Amityville house
Kathy’s concerned about George’s obsessive behavior with his axe.

The little girl Amy is talking to Jody, an imaginary friend who may be evil. Jody locks the babysitter in a closet.

Amy in the kitchen with Margot Kidder
Amy turns a little creepy as she’s obsessed with her new “friend,” Jody.

Black, oily stuff appears in the toilets. And Kathy’s nun aunt has a violent reaction stepping inside the house. What the devil is going on?

The nun inside the Amityville hallway near the staircase
What kind of compassion will you discover in a haunted house? Nun!

Father Delaney attempts to return to the Amityville house, but something takes control of his car and causes him to crash.

Rod Steiger grabs the steering wheel as Don Stroud tries to drive the car
Father Delaney and Father Bolen have a devil of a time returning to the Amityville home.

Midpoint: George’s surveying business suffers as he’s always sick and staying home, seemingly possessed by the house. Stakes rise as he’s slowly losing his mind and his finances. Father Delaney quarrels with the heads of the church for an intervention into the Lutz home due to what happened to him and Ronald DeFeo, claiming to “hear voices” that told him to murder his family. Still, the high priest shoots it down, tying A and B Stories together.

Rod Steiger praying in the Amityville house
Father Delaney makes a plea to the Catholic church to help the Lutzes.

Bad Guys Close In: Jeff (Michael Sacks) and Carolyn (Helen Shaver) show up. In the survey business with George, Jeff tells George the business is crumbling and they need him. Carolyn has a psychic connection to the house, which terrifies her. Son Matt Lutz’s hand is crushed in the window after it slams down by itself.

a frightened James Brolin in The Amityville Horror
George grows more unhinged each day he lives in the home.

All Is Lost: Kathy discovers Amy’s “friend” Jody is a substantial pig-like evil creature, and George slips further into madness, in a whiff of death moment, as the Lutz family is worse off than they were at the film’s beginning. In addition, Father Delaney becomes violently ill as he tries to warn the Lutz family that they’re in danger from demonic forces.

Margot Kidder on the telephone
Kathy is desperate to talk to Father Delaney.

Dark Night of the Soul: George steals a book at the local library. Carolyn reads the book and discovers the house is on a Shinnecock burial ground. Intriguingly, it reveals a historical connection to a notorious Satanic worshipper named John Ketchum, who once resided on the land.

Later, in the house’s basement, Carolyn feels an eerie attraction to a brick wall that the family dog, Harry, has persistently scratched at. She cautiously begins to disassemble it using a hammer. As the damage becomes apparent, George joins her in removing the rest of the wall, revealing a small room with crimson walls. Fearful, Carolyn cries, declaring they have stumbled upon a gateway to hell. Her voice eerily echoes Father Delaney.

Later that same night, Father Delaney fervently offers prayers from his pulpit, beseeching God to safeguard the family. In a bizarre turn of events, he inexplicably loses sight and falls into a catatonic state, tying A and B Stories together, and raising the stakes.

Break into Three: Kathy investigates the property’s background at the local library. She stumbles upon news articles detailing the DeFeo murders, and the remarkable similarity in appearance between Ronald DeFeo and George strikes her.

Margot Kidder in the Amityville house kitchen
Kathy Lutz is still determining if she can hold her household together.

Five-Point Finale:

Gathering of the Team (Escaping the Castle): Kathy rushes home to get the kids after she learns about George resembling Ronald DeFeo. She’s fearful George will become Ronald and kill her children.

Executing the Plan: Amidst a torrential rainstorm, she returns home. In an eerie turn of events, George—seemingly overtaken by an evil force—menacingly wields an axe, targeting the children until Kathy’s intervention restores his sanity.

James Brolin wields an axe towards Margot Kidder
George is about to use his axe to split more than firewood.

High Tower Surprise: A series of inexplicable phenomena unfold—the walls become conduits for a disturbing spectacle as blood trickles ominously, staining the staircase. A grotesque apparition resembling a giant, red-eyed pig (Amy’s “friend” Jody) materializes outside a window.

Dig Down Deep: Kathy and George gather up the kids and escape down the slippery stairs into the violent thunderstorm. As they drive off in the family van, the kids lament that Harry, the dog, isn’t with them. Kathy urges them to keep going, but George, in a moment of redemption, decides to leave the van, run back into the storm, and rescue Harry.

Blood drips down the walls near the stairway of the Amityville house
Blood streams down from the walls, ruining the resale value.

Executing the New Plan: George returns to the haunted house looking for Harry. As he heads into the basement, he plunges through the stairs into a murky pit of black sludge. Harry attacks George, thinking he’s some sludge-covered demon from Hell. But after the dog realizes it’s his owner, he helps pull George to safety. George returns to the van with Harry and drives off into the storm-tossed night.

James Brolin in the doorway in a dark night
In this case, George returns to “save the cat,” er, dog.

Final Image: A closing intertitle reveals that the Lutz family never returned to the house for their possessions, starting a new life in another state. Their alleged story of what happened in that house would eventually inspire a bestselling book and a blockbuster film, making it the most famous American haunted house story ever.

The Amityville house in a darkened night
The Lutzes escape the house, but the Amityville home remains.