September 03, 1979 12:00 PM

These days a digital alarm clock lets us know when it’s the witching hour; otherwise, the haunted mansion business has barely changed since The House of the Seven Gables. Margot Kidder, James Brolin and three zombielike kids find themselves in a suburban home where crabgrass isn’t the only problem: Swarms of flies appear from nowhere, babysitters get locked in a closet, rocking chairs move by themselves and what looks like crude oil gushes from the toilets. Nonetheless the family sticks around to sample the entire range of demon poltergeist effects, while Rod Steiger, a priest who tries to help, is laid up in bed, perhaps due to a chronic case of overacting. Jay Anson’s supposedly nonfiction book had people believing the horror, but on screen his explanation—something about a witch buried in the basement—seems ridiculous. (R)

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