As seems to be the rule in horror movie land, every successful horror film will launch a sequel, and, as seems to be the trend lately, every good horror film will eventually be remade. Such is the case with 1979's The Amityville Horror, directed by Stuart Rosenberg for the late, lamented AIP. MGM, in order to stir up some hype for the remake which hits screens soon, has made up for the barebones release they first gave the film a coulpe of years ago with a brand new special edition and packaged it up with two two of the sequels and a fourth disc of bonus materials and dubbed it appropriately enough The Amityville Horror Collection.
The Amityville Horror
Based on the best selling novel by Jay Anson and supposedly based on true events, this first film in the series follows the misadventures of George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin of Westworld and Margot Kidder of Superman), a recently married couple who are buying their first home. When they come across a gorgoues old house that needs a litle bit of work but is conveniently in their price range, they decide to snatch it up despite the fact that a few years earlier an entire family was gunned down on the premesis.
Things seem okay at first – George and Kathy get along just fine as they work on the house and Kathy's three children, two boys and a girl, have fun playing with the family dog outside on the lake front property. But things soon start to get a little strange, starting when the local priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger of Duck, You Sucker! and who was fantastic opposite Sidney Poitier in In The Heat Of The Night) who comes over to bless the house finds an overwhelming amount of flies in a certain room upstairs, and very clearly hears someone or something tell him to 'Get out!'
The more time that the Lutz family spends at the house, the stranger and more powerful the evil manifestations become. Soon the door to the basement and to the front of the house is blown off its hinges from the inside, and George's behaviour becomes more and more aggressive and he begins to look very sickly. Windows slam shut, catching a child's fingers, and the dog keeps digging at something behind a wall in the basement. A babysitter gets locked in the closet for hours, and the walls tend to bleed. Tensions build, the police and the local clergy become involved, and eventually it all hits the fan and George ends up going a little nutty, obsessed with chopping wood, sharpening his axe, and yelling a lot.
While the film takes its time getting going once we get past the very strong opening scene, it does build nicely to a creepy conclusion and Rosenberg, who that same year directed Brolin again in the Charles Bronson vehice Love And Bullets, does a good job of picking the pace back up and letting the actors go a little over the top. Brolin in particular does a nice job of going nuts from about the half way point on, although there are a few spots where his incessant yelling becomes a little too much. Overall though, the performances aren't half bad in this film. Margot Kidder is pretty solid as the matronly character concerned for the well being of her children and for her husband as he grows more and more detached. She's got the right kind of face that portrays fear very well, with those big expressive eyes of hers. Regardless of some of the strange behaviour she displayed in the late 90s when she kind of went off the deep end for a while there, she is very good in this role. The rest of the cast does okay as well, with Steiger as the priest who becomes blinded by the evil putting in a memorably over the top performance as well.
While there are a few logic gaps and a couple of inconsistencies in the film, and the languid almost surrealist pacing of the film might put off modern audiences who want their horror films to come at them fast and furiously, The Amityville Horror remains a pretty solid entry in the supernatural horror that Hollywood became so obsessed with for a while in the later half of the seventies. But did we really need Brolin to run around in his underwear? Let's just assume that the devil made him do it.
Amityville II: The Posession
This prequal, directed by Damiano Damiani (best known for a couple of really good Spaghetti Westerns like A Bullet For The General and A Genius, Two Partners, And A Dupe), is loosely based on the bizarre true story of the DeFeo murders that occurred in Amityville New York in November of 1973, in which a 23 year old Ronald DeFeo shot and killed his family and then in court used the defense that he was possessed by a demon.
Obviously a few liberties were taken, as is the case with most 'based on a true story' horror films (well, most films in general, actually), and the names were changed, but the basic principle behind the events is maintained to some extent.
Before the Lutz family of the first Amityville Horror resided there, the Montelli family moved into a familiar looking house built on an Indian burial ground. Strange things start to happen right off the bat. The family members are almost immediately at each others throats, the youngest kids in the family see paint brushes move on their own and scrawl blasphemous phrases in red paint on the wall of their bedroom. The oldest son, Sonny (Jack Magner), begins to act very strange and becomes extremely reclusive, electing to hide in his bedroom as he becomes more and more sickly.
Then one night, shortly after having an incestuous sexual experience with his sister, Sonny becomes fully possessed by the evil of the house and shoots to death every member of the household. He is, shortly after, taken into custody by the police (look for Moses Gunn of Shaft as one of the detectives).
Father Adamsky (James Olson of The Andromeda Strain), the family priest, believes Sonny to be possessed by a demon and tries to go through the proper channels in the Catholic Church to get an exorcism to happen. Unfortunately, he isn't given the proper authority he needs so he decides to go it alone in an attempt to try to free Sonny from the evil that has taken him over.
While it's not a perfect film, nor is it particularly original, Amityville II: The Possession still manages to offer up some decent weirdness and some creepy set pieces as well as some other, less effective scares. The film, about half way through, takes a sharp right turn into The Exorcist territory and comes dangerously close to being a blatant rip off of Friedken's film. Some of the special effects don't hold up very well either and give the movie a very dated look, particularly those make up effects used on Sonny towards the end of the film and the wirework used to make inanimate household objects fly around the room don't exactly fit in on the top tier either.
Those issues aside, however, the film works on enough levels to give it a mild recommendation. Even if slightly seasoned horror movie veterans will see where it's all going early on, it's still fun getting there. The direction is slick, the house is sufficiently morbid and dark looking, which gives the first half of the movie and appropriately eerie feel, and the performances are no worse than most horror films of the era.
Richard Fleischer, who directed everything from Mr. Majestyk to Conan The Destroyer, got behind the camera for the second sequal to what is arguable the most successful haunted house film franchise of all time.
John Baxter writes for a tabloid that happens to do thinks like prove psychics to be fake. Baxter is a skeptic, through and through, but that's all about to change. He's recently seperated from his wife, and looking for a new home when he finds the infamous Amityville home up for sale – 'they're practically giving it away' he says. He buys it up, and shortly after that his daughter (a young Lori Laughlin) winds up dead in a boating accident. The curse is back.
Baxter, denying that the supernatural has got anything to do with any of the stranges occurances at the home, finally caves and calls in some paranormal investigators who prove that yes, the house really is a gateway to Hell and that no, even if it's up for sale cheap you should probably never aspire to move in there to begin with.
One of the most notable things about Amityville 3-D is that it features a young Meg Ryan in a fairly large role as a young woman obessessed with the occult and the supernatural who holds a Ouija board session on the land.
Overall, this one has a feeling of 'been there, done that' to it that drags it down a little bit. Even the murder set pieces are a little familiar feeling, particularly the fly attack that once again happens in the attic of the house. The other problem that the film suffers from is 'obvious 3-D syndrome' and what I mean by that is that a lot of stuff is constantly heading towards the camera for no reason at all (unless you're watching it in 3-D… but you're not on this set… more on that later). Some of the special effects are also horribly dated, many of them using goofy splashes of color and the ending in particular is really poorly handled.
That being said, the film is still worth a look if you dug the earlier entries. Flesicher's direction is solid and atmospheric, the score isn't bad, and most of the performances are actually pretty good. There are a few brief flashes of creativety evident in the cinematography and over all, visual effects not withstanding, the movie looks quite good making it a decent time killer, even if it is hardly a classic.
All three films are presented in anamorphic widescreen transfers. The first two films are 1.85.1 and the third film is 2.35.1. Both sequels also feature fullframe 1.33.1 versions as well, but the films were shot for widescreen and are meant to be seen in widescreen, so while I suppose it's nice to have the fullframe versions for those who want them, I personally don't see the point. But I digress…
First up – my major complaint about the set lies here, in regards to the third film. For a movie that's called Amityville 3-D, it would stand to reason that MGM would provide a 3-D option for the DVD release. Sanctuary Entertainment provided both a 3-D version and a non 3-D version on their PAL release for the UK market, but MGM has not done that for this release and North American fans are left with the flat version and the flat version only. To add insult to injury, it becomes obvious while watching the film that it was made for 3-D viewing, as things are lunging towards the camera and floating towards you in the frame on a pretty consistent basis – sadly we don't get to take advantage of that part of the movie here, and that is the biggest flaw in this otherwise very nice set.
With that quibble out of my system, how do the movies actually look? Pretty darn good, actually. There's a little bit of minor print damage in the first few minutes of the first film but after that it does clean up quite nicely. Colors look nice and natural and distinct, and the black levels stay strong and deep. All of the three films in the set have a little bit of grain but nothing too heavy or unnatural or even close to obtrusive. Mpeg compression artifacts are never an issue and while there is some edge enhancement noticeable in the first film (look at the shutters… it's almost constant there) it isn't too distracting even if it is mildly annoying. Overall though, the anamorphic transfers that MGM has whipped up for this set are very nice.
The first and the third film each feature a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and the first film contains the original Dolby Digital Mono mix as well, both in English. The second film is in Dolby Digital Mono only, and the third film is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound only. Subtitles are available for all three films in English, French and Spanish and the first film also features French and Spanish Dolby Digital Mono dubbed tracks. English closed captioning options are available on all three films.
The audio, thankfully, fares just as well as the video transfers do on this set. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are nice and clear and the channel separation is very distinct. A few of the more 'spectral' moments in the films really benefit from the added atmosphere that the surround channels create, while at the same time MGM has wisely seen fit to include the original mono mix as well (at least for the first film – for the third film, they've once again foolishly overlooked the original mix as they did with their recent special edition of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly - a choice which really riled some people). The background music and dialogue are nice and clear, there are no problems with hiss or distortion of any kind, and the sound effects sound bold and appropriately eerie.
On The Amityville Horror, previously released by MGM with just a trailer only, MGM has supplied a commentary track with Parapsychologist Dr. Hans Holzer, PHD. Holzer is an expert in the paranormal and his take on what was right and what was wrong about the way that Hollywood portrayed the real life events that happened in Amityville makes for an interesting commentary. My only problem with this track is that there is a fair bit of dead air throughout it. It could have been condensed or maybe benefited from the presence of a moderator, but what is there is quite interesting for those who 'want to believe' or have an interest in ghostly happenings.
There's also an all new documentary entitled For God's Sake, Get Out!. This clocks in at just over twenty minutes and is essentially a look back at the making of the film featuring new interviews with Margot Kidder and James Brolin. It's interesting to hear them talk about how the Hollywood hype machine kicked in during the shoot, leaking information to the press about strange things that were happening on the set to the cast and crew, when in fact, according to Brolin and Kidder, none of that was true. There are also some interesting comparison photos that show how close Brolin looked to the real life George Lutz once he grew his hair and beard out a bit., as well as some interesting behind the scenes photos and archival photos from the real life events as well.
Rounding out the extra features are a theatrical trailer and a couple of radio spots.
On the Amityville II: The Possession DVD MGM has supplied a lengthy theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen.
On the Amityville 3-D DVD there is a brief forty five second teaser trailer for the film.
Finally, exclusive to this boxed set is a fourth disc entitled Amityville Confidential that features the two part History Channel documentary on the events that occurred in Amityville, as well as some on set behind the scenes footage of the upcoming remake.
The History Channel documentaries are entitled Amityville – The Haunting and Amityville – Horror Or Hoax?. The first documentary takes a look at the supernatural phenomena that plagued the home and the events that took place there before the Lutz family moved in. Real people who were involved in the events are interviewed on camera and the documentary is spiced up with some re-enactments as well as many archival photographs and news clippings from the era in which all of this occurred. The second documentary sets about trying to prove whether or not what the Lutz family went through was real or whether it was all an elaborate hoax made up on their part to cash in on the phenomena. Again, a lot of the real people who were involved in the issues that happened are interviewed on camera including author Jay Anson and a few members of the Lutz family themselves (all of whom, of course, insist it was all real). The documentaries are part of the History's Mysteries series and the run roughly forty-five minutes a piece. Both of these, if you didn't catch them when they were shown on TV a while back, are very interesting segments and prove to be the perfect companion pieces to the films in the set – they're very much worth your time.
The On Location – The Amityville Horror 2005 piece runs about five and a half minutes when it's all said and done and it features interviews with the producer, and a few of the cast members. It does a nice job of making the upcoming remake look pretty promising, and they emphasize how much they put into getting the house to look just right and how the human characters in the film will play more of a secondary role when contrasted to just how important the architectural and structural characters will be.
Well, aside from the glaring omission of a 3-D version of the third film, The Amityville Horror Collection is a really nice package. The first film finally gets the treatment that it deserves and the fourth disc of extras is just as interesting as the movies that it's there to compliment. Audio and video are very nice, and it seems like a no brainer for me to slap this set with a Highly Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.