THE AMITYVILLE HORROR COLLECTION
Directed by Various
Produced by Various
Written by Various
Director of Photograpy Various
Music by Various
Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Burt Young, Tony Roberts, Tess Harper, Candy Clark
1979-1983/316 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby 2.0
1.85:1 & 2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the MGM Home Entertainment DVD
Many of us dislike what we see as unnecessary remakes and sequels, and are quite vocal about this fact. However, one positive side-effect of this recent trend is that we often get special edition DVDs of the original films. Such is the case with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. With the remake looming on the horizon, MGM Home Entertainment has brought us a new special edition of the original 1979 film, which is housed in a boxed set with two of the AMITYVILLE sequels, AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION and AMITYVILLE 3-D. The question is, have these films held up over the years now that the story of that infamous house has long since left the headlines?
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR tells the story of George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder), a newly married couple who move into a house on Long Island, with Kathy’s three children from a previous marriage. The Lutz’s are taking a financial chance on the large house, but the price is notably low and they love the structure. The Lutz’s aren’t even deterred by the fact that six of the previous tenants had been murdered in the house. However, soon after the Lutz’s move into the house, strange things begin to happen. When a local priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger), comes to bless the house, he is besieged by flies and driven from the dwelling. When Kathy attempts to call Delaney, the phone is plagued by static. Young Amy Lutz (Natasha Ryan) begins speaking to an imaginary friend named Jodi, who tells her very bizarre things. The toilets run black and blood oozes from the walls. George is always cold and begins to bare a resemblance to the man who killed his family in the house. As the events begin to pile up, the Lutz’s realize that they can’t stay in the house.
Watching THE AMITYVILLE HORROR 26 years after its release, it becomes very clear that America MUST have been caught up in the publicity surrounding the “True Story” of the film, for this movie that grossed $80 million at the box office is incredibly boring. The movie walks a fine line of being both a supernatural thriller and a psychological horror movie and eventually succeeds as neither. All of the scenes that made the story and the film famous are here, but when strung together, they don’t make for an interesting, cohesive story. The movie also makes the mistake of diverting away from the family too often to focus on Father Delaney, seemingly to remind the audience of THE EXORCIST. Veteran director Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE) manages to create very little tension and no suspense. If nothing else, the movie should be creepy, but it can’t manage that much. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is interesting from the viewpoint of popular history, but the film hasn’t stood the test of time.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR comes to DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is somewhat grainy, but otherwise the transfer looks pretty good. The picture is fairly sharp and the edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. There is some artifacting present, but it isn’t distracting. The transfer is somewhat of an improvement over MGM’s previous release. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no hissing. The audio comes mostly from the center and front channels, but there are some nice uses of surround sound, most notably with the wind and rain. However, there is little bass response.
This new Special Edition contains some interesting extras. We start with an audio commentary from Hans Holzer, PhD, a parapsychologist who investigated the events in Amityville at the time of their occurrence. Holzer’s chat is a bit redundant at times, but he does a nice job of telling us which events portrayed in the film were actually reported by the Lutz’s and which were created by Hollywood. He also give a nice history of the house and land. “For God’s Sake, Get Out!” is a 22-minute featurette which offers modern interviews with James Brolin and Margot Kidder as they reminisce about the production of the film. They talk about how they got the roles and how their acting styles clashed on the set. The DVD contains 7 “Radio Spots” (with one of the best menus ever) and the original trailer for THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.
AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION is actually a prequel to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, choosing to focus on the murders which took place in the house before the Lutz's moved in. As the film opens, the Montelli Family (the real-life family name was Defeo), including dad Anthony (Burt Young), mom Dolores (Rutanya Alda) and four kids, move into a large house in Amityville. While the family is settling in, oldest son Sonny (Jack Magner) begins to hear strange voices through his headphones and becomes withdrawn from the family. Dolores recruits Father Adamsky (James Olson) to bless the house, and Sonny is especially avoidant of this man. As Sonny's behavior becomes more bizarre (including inappropriate advances towards his sister), his thoughts turn to homicide. It's now up to Father Adamsky to save Sonny's soul.
On it's own, AMITYVILLE II is a mediocre film at best, but when viewed back-to-back with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, it comes off as a tour-de-force. The first hour of the movie is filled with many interesting scenes, combining both supernatural elements (I found the shot in which the tablecloth mysteriously covers the crucifix to be quite creepy) and Sonny's odd demeanor. Director Damiano Damiani fills the film with interesting shots and weird angles. Unfortunately, the film comes to a screeching halt about an hour in, as the story takes a turn, and as with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, streaks off into THE EXORCIST territory, with the ending being a full-on rip-off of that classic. The finale features the sort of transformation special effects which were quite chic in 1982, but which make the story quite nonsensical today. AMITYVILLE II isn't great filmmaking, as it clearly has an ItaloHorror cheapy pedigree (the house looks nothing like the real-life house, or the house from the first film), but at least it isn't boring.
AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The DVD also contains the full-screen version of the film, but it wasn't screened for this review. The looks quite good here and at times I found myself forgetting that I was watching a low-budget film that was over 20 years old. The image is sharp and clear, showing little grain and no significant defects from the source material. The colors look good and the nighttime scenes are never too dark. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital Mono audio track. This track provide clear dialogue and sound effects, but doesn't add any ambiance to the film. The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer for AMITYVILLE II.
The initial AMITYVILLE trilogy (more sequels would follow years later) was rounded out by AMITYVILLE 3-D, which joined JAWS 3-D and FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 3 IN 3-D for that odd 3-D revival which occurred in 1983. Woody Allen regular Tony Roberts stars here as John Baxter, a writer for "Reveal" magazine, who, along with his partner Melanie (Candy Clark), specializes in debunking supernatural occurrences. After unmasking a face seance at the Amityville house, John decides to buy the place and write a novel. However, strange things soon begin to happen to John and anyone else who sets foot in the house, and the unusual hole in the basement floor begins to emit an eerie glow.
There's no polite way to put this, so I'll just come right out and say it: AMITYVILLE 3-D is a stinker. The film is not presented in 3-D here (MGM even went as far as to put a sticker on the box telling us this), but I don't think that 3-D would have made the movie any better, as there don't appear to be that many 3-D moments in the movie anyway. AMITYVILLE 3-D is interesting for only two reasons: 1) The cast is full of familiar faces, including a young Meg Ryan and Lori Loughlin; and 2) the movie does contain two surprising deaths. Otherwise, the film is very slow and quite benign. Yes, there are some supernatural occurrences, but they are very random and aren't particularly scary. The only thing that made me jump was the finale when an actor is hit with a door that has flown off of its hinges. I can't imagine how this person lived. The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, whose filmography includes classics such as TORA! TORA! TORA!, DOCTOR DOLITTLE, and FANTASTIC VOYAGE. But the script here doesn't give him enough to work with and the movie will leave your memory immediately. And I'm not even going to talk about the STAR TREK circa 1966 level of the visual effects.
The AMITYVILLE 3-D DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer doesn't look very good, as it has that blurry look that many 3-D films have when they are shown "flat". The edges look very blurry and the image doesn't show details very well. The picture is somewhat dark and the colors are slightly washed out. There is some notable artifacting present here. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which brings us clear dialogue and some nice usage of surround sound during the finale, but there is little subwoofer action.
This boxed set includes a fourth disc entitled AMITYVILLE CONFIDENTIAL. This DVD includes a 6-minute behind-the-scenes look at the 2005 remake THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. To be honest, I didn't watch this, as I don't want that movie spoiled for me. The DVD also offers two episodes of The History Channel's "History's Mysteries" -- "Amityville: Horror or Hoax" and "Amityville: The Haunting", both of which run about 43 minutes. (I'm not sure why the two shows are presented in that order, as it should be the opposite.) Both of these episodes are quite good as they explore the history of the Amityville house and the experiences of both the Defeo and Lutz families. George and Kathy Lutz are interviewed, as are several other prominent players from the original story. The shows also focus on the fallout of the news stories, the novel, and the film, and the controversy which surrounded this "true" story. It's always nice to get a look at the real-life story which inspired a film and these two documentaries contain a wealth of knowledge.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©