The Amityville Horror, directed by Stuart Rosenberg for the late, lamented AIP and released through MGM, is pretty well established as one of the more popular seventies supernatural films and stands as a picture with a sizeable fan base. It did well enough to inspire quite a few sequels, all of which vary pretty widely in terms of quality. Shout! Factory, through their Scream Factory label, have dusted off the first three movies in the series and are now bringing them to Blu-ray as The Amityville Horror Trilogy. Though the first film was issued by MGM as a standalone disc a few years back, this release marks the first time that the second and third film have appeared on the format.
Here's a look what you'll find in this set…
The Amityville Horror
Based on the bestselling 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 in Amityville, a quaint suburb of Long Island. When they come across a gorgeous old house that needs a little bit of work but is conveniently in their price range ($80,000 seems like an insane bargain these days!), they decide to snatch it up despite the fact that a few years earlier an entire family was gunned down on the premises. After all, as George tells Kathy, houses don't have memories.
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 water front property. But things soon start to get a little strange, starting with a visit from 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). He comes over to bless the house finds an overwhelming amount of flies in a certain room upstairs. As they swarm around him, he 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. George's behavior becomes more and more aggressive and he begins to look very sickly. Toilets back up and spew black tar. Windows slam shut and catch 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 and staircases tend to bleed. Tensions build, the police and the local clergy become involved, and eventually it all hits the fan when 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 (in which the murders that took place at the house are presented in some scenes of startling violence), The Amityville Horror does build nicely to a creepy conclusion. Director Rosenberg, who that same year directed Brolin again in the Charles Bronson vehicle 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 (and fairly sexy as well!) as the matronly character concerned for the wellbeing of her children. She also shows believable concern 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 behavior 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.
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, however, remains a pretty solid entry in the supernatural horror that Hollywood became so obsessed with for a while in the latter half of the seventies. Not all of the effects hold up perfectly (the most obvious example being the floating pig thing that appears in the window) but the film does contain some eerie scenes and makes good use of a strong cast. It also features an impressive and somewhat underappreciated score from famed composer Lalo Schifrin that helps to build tension and atmosphere. But did we really need Brolin to run around in his underwear? He just looks silly when he does it. Let's just assume that the devil made him do it.
Amityville II: The Possession
This prequel, 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. As the story has it, a twenty-three year old man named Ronald DeFeo shot and killed his family and then in court used the defense that he was possessed by a demon. Obviously in this take on the story a few liberties were taken. This is the case with most 'based on a true story' horror films (well, most films in general, actually), and the names were changed here, but the basic principle behind the events is maintained to some extent as the story plays out.
Before the Lutz family of the first Amityville Horror resided there, the Montelli family, led by father Anthony (Burt Young) and mother Delores (Rutyana Alda), 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 other's throats and soon enough 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. To make matters worse, the oldest son, Sonny (Jack Magner), begins to act very strange and becomes extremely reclusive. He elects to hide in his bedroom as he becomes more and more sickly and distances himself from the rest of the family.
Then one night, shortly after having an incestuous sexual experience with his sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin), Sonny becomes fully possessed by the evil of the house and shoots to death every member of the household. He is, shortly after this, 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 official authority he needs so he decides to go it alone in an attempt to try to free Sonny from the evil that has now 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, though throughout it maintains an interesting ‘Italian horror' vibe that definitely makes it a much different movie than the one that came before it. Some of the special effects don't hold up very well in this film either, but it's a product of its time, we can forgive that even if they give the movie a very dated look. Case in point, 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. These set pieces don't exactly fit in on the top tier of horror effects set pieces. There is a nice atmosphere of impending doom present throughout the movie, however, and a fair bit of style on the screen to help keep things interesting.
Those issues aside, however, the film works on enough levels to give it a recommendation. It's a sleazier picture than its predecessor, the incest subplot being the chief reason for this, but the cast do generally fine work here. Burt Young is great as the father, he's scuzzy and sinister before things even start to get weird, while the lovely Diane Franklin is good in her role as well. Jack Magner does well in his part as well, playing the possessed young man rather effectively and obviously giving his all here. Even if only slightly seasoned horror movie veterans will have no trouble seeing 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 (this, more than anything else, gives the first half of the movie and appropriately eerie feel) and the performances are no worse than most horror films of the era and sometimes actually quite good.
This is a very different picture from the original movie, but in no way is that necessarily a bad thing. The pacing is stronger in this entry than in Rosenburg's original picture and the way in which the storyline intertwines the horrors of real world abuse with the supernatural element in interesting ways.
Richard Fleischer, who directed everything from Mr. Majestyk to Conan The Destroyer, got behind the camera for the second sequel to what is arguably the most successful haunted house film franchise of all time.
This time around we meet John Baxter (Tony Roberts), an author who writes for a tabloid that happens to do things like prove psychics to be fake. Baxter is a skeptic through and through, but that's all about to change. He's recently separated from his wife and is looking for a new home when he finds the infamous Amityville house 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 and his photographer, Melanie (Candy Clark), denies that the supernatural has got anything to do with any of the strange occurrences at the home. Soon, however, he 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 obsessed with the occult and the supernatural who holds a Ouija board session on the land. That having been said, 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… which you can in this set if you have the proper hardware). It's all well and good to play towards what the format offers but here it's done in some remarkably predictable ways. Frisbee anyone? 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. The movie also starts off fairly slowly and takes about an hour to really get to the spooky stuff.
That being said, the film is still worth a look if you dug the earlier entries. Fleischer'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 creativity evident in the cinematography and over all, visual effects notwithstanding, the movie looks quite good making it a decent time killer. It's hardly a classic but it's entertaining enough. It's got nothing on the two movies that came before it but it has its moments.
All of the movies in the set are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The Amityville Horror is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and for the most part it looks quite good. There is some softness in a few scenes that seems to stem back to the original photography but generally detail is quite sharp, if not ever really approaching reference quality. You'll probably notice a few minor specks here and there and one or two instances of more obvious print damage as the movie plays out but overall the image is pretty clean. Skin tones look nice and natural and there are no issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts. Without the first MGM Blu-ray release on hand to do a direct comparison, it's probably a pretty safe assumption that this is the same transfer. A bit more cleanup work could have been done here, but all in all, the movie looks nice in high definition.
Amityville II: The Possession is also framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks noticeably better than its predecessor. Detail is improved and more consistent and the image is a bit cleaner looking even if there is a little bit of noticeable print damage in a few spots. Again, skin tones look nice and natural (in the context of the movie, keep in mind that there are times where they shouldn't look natural!) and color reproduction is quite good. Shadow detail is quite strong and texture and sharpness are also impressive. There are once again no issues with edge enhancement or noise reduction and this is a pretty solid looking transfer and a nice improvement over the previous DVD release.
Amityville 3-D is presented in both 2-D and 3-D versions on the same disc, both of them framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. Without a 3-D TV, this review can't comment on the quality of that encode but the 2-D version is quite nice. As it is with a lot of movies originally shot in 3-D, sometimes the left and right side of the image can look softer than what is presented front and center, but that's not a flaw of the disc or the encode, just the nature of the beast in regards to the source material. So with that said, once again we wind up with quite a good picture. Detail is strong for the most part and colors look nice and accurate as do skin tones. Black levels are solid and print damage is minimal. Fans of the three films in this set should be pretty happy with the image quality here.
Each of the three movies in the collection gets an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track and an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track (the first two films are 2.0 mono, the third is 2.0 stereo) with optional English subtitles available. To this reviewer's ear, the 2.0 mixes sound truer to form. Dialogue sounds a little more natural and there's just a better flow to each track. The 5.1 mixes are decent enough but occasionally sound a bit forced with the placement of certain sound effects. Bass response in the 5.1 tracks won't floor you. It's there but it isn't particularly powerful. There are moments though, where the 5.1 tracks are fun, a good example being the thunder that occurs during the lightning storm in the first movie. Overall though, much of what is spread to the rear channels is occasional foley work and parts of the score, with most of the dialogue coming from the front of the mix. In regards to all three films, dialogue stays clean and clear and there are no issues of note with any hiss or distortion. Levels stay properly balanced throughout. There are spots where the first film's 2.0 track sounds a little shrill (this wasn't noticeable in the sequels), but past DVD releases have sounded the same way. Overall we get more depth and noticeably more range here than we did with the DVD versions, even if this isn't really demo material. The 5.1 tracks will serve the surround sound junkies out there and the original mixes will serve the purists. For a trio of older films, things shape up well enough in the audio department.
On The Amityville Horror, previously released by MGM on Blu-ray with just a trailer only but on DVD as a special edition, we find a few decent extras. Shout! has carried over the MGM commentary track with Parapsychologist Dr. Hans Holzer, PHD. Holzer is an expert in the paranormal and the author of Murder In Amityville. 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. The 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. He does a good job of relaying some of his personal experiences from the investigations he did into the events surrounding the Amityville case and doesn't mix words about what he sees as the truth behind the story.
Also carried over from the MGM disc is the 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.
New to the disc is a ten minute interview with composer Lalo Schifrin entitled Haunted Melodies. Here the man behind the music used in the movie discusses his experiences working on the film and explains what he tried to accomplish with the score for this picture. Rounding out the extra features are a theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a batch of radio spots and a still gallery as well as the requisite menus and chapter stops.
On the Amityville II: The Possession DVD MGM included in the boxed set, there was only a trailer included. Shout! Factory, likely realizing that this second film is actually quite popular in its own right, have gone all out with the extras this time around, starting with an audio commentary with ghost hunter/author Alexandra Holzer (who just so happens to be the daughter of the commentator used on the first movie, who passed away in 2009). This isn't likely a track that you're going to get too involved in. The best commentaries not only offer up a lot of great information but do so at the right pace and sadly we don't get either here. Holzer does have some interesting insight into some of the scenarios surrounding the ‘true story' but often times clams up for long stretches and then occasionally resorts to simply telling us what's happening in the movie and describing what we can plainly see for ourselves on screen. Holzer, who wrote Growing up Haunted: A Ghostly Memoir, also appears on the disc in an interview that's just under an hour long called Continuing The Hunt. Oddly enough, the focus of this featurette isn't so much on her take in regards to the Amityville stories but about her thoughts on the work that her father put into all of the research that he did on the case. It does benefit from more structure than the commentary track and as such it's a bit more interesting. Those with an interest in the ‘real life science' of the paranormal will definitely get more out of this featurette and the commentary than those who want information strictly on the movie itself.
From there we move on to the featurettes, the first of which is The Possession Of Damiani, which is an interview with Director Damiano Damiani (who speaks in Italian, though forced yellow subtitles do a fine job of translating him) that runs just over six minutes. Though he passed away a few months ago, this interview allows him to discuss his experiences working on the picture, how he wound up involved in this American production and how he feels about the finished product. Adapting Amityville is an interesting sit down chat with screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace who speaks for twelve and a half minutes about working with Damiani and about what he tried to bring to this story compared to the original movie. He also shares his thoughts on the Amityville case and what inspired certain aspects of the story he wrote for this movie. Family Matters interviews the lovely and talented Diane Franklin about what it was like playing her part in front of the camera. She talks for about fourteen minutes and gives us a quick overview of how she came on board and how she feels about this particular entry in her filmography. We also get an interview with Rutanya Alda entitled A Mother's Burden. It also runs about fourteen minutes and she shares some memories of her experiences working alongside the cast and crew that were put together to make this movie. Last but not least, Andrew Prine shows up to talk about his work on the picture in Father Tom's Memories. Prine is always an interesting guy and here he talks for just shy of four minutes about his work on the picture. While the commentary and featurette with Holzer may not shed much light on the production itself, these featurettes do a pretty good job of rectifying that and offer up quite a bit of interesting background information on the production's history. It would have been nice to hear from Burt Young, but outside of that omission, pretty much all the bases are covered here.
Rounding out the extras for Amityville II: The Possession are two original theatrical trailers, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
On the Amityville 3-D disc we get the original theatrical trailer, a still gallery and an interview with actress Candy Clark entitled A Chilly Reception. Ms. Clark talks for just under ten minutes about what it was like working on this picture, her thoughts on the finished product and her involvement with the other cast and crew members involved in the shoot.
The three discs are housed in their own individual Blu-ray cases and the inserts feature original poster art styled artwork on the front and full color poster and still reproductions on the flip side. These cases fit inside a cardboard slipcase. The MGM boxed set included and exclusive fourth disc entitled Amityville Confidential that featured 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 and a few other bits and pieces. This disc has not been included in the Scream Factory collection, so completists might want to hold onto that older set for this reason.
The Amityville Horror Trilogy offers up the first three movies in the series in pretty decent shape, with good quality lossless audio 2.0 tracks and so-so surround remixes, and with a pretty solid array of extra features. The movies themselves aren't the ‘be all, end all' in grueling horror but they're plenty entertaining just the same and fans of the Amityville franchise should appreciate both the supplements and the upgrade in quality from past releases. 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.