The Amityville Horror Collection
Year: 1979 / 1982 / 1983
Rated: R / R / PG
Running Time: 119 minutes / 104 minutes / 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1 / 1.85:1 / 2.35:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; English, French, and Spanish – Monaural / English Mono for Amityville II and English 5.1 for Amityville 3-D
April 5th, 2005
The Amityville Horror
Based on the popular novel “The Amityville Horror: A True Story”, by Jay Anson, which was supposedly an account of actual events, The Amityville Horror chronicles a family being driven from their new home by supernatural forces. This particular family, consisting of George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) and her three children from a previous marriage, found the charming home in Long Island, New York, and excitedly bought the place, hoping for a bright future as a family unit. Unfortunately, their hopes quickly turned to horror after they moved in, and found that there was a malevolent paranormal presence residing in their dream home.
As it turns out, the reason George and Kathy were able to afford the home at all is that the prior residents were shot to death as they slept a year earlier, by a member of their own family no less. However, though the Lutzes were aware of the home’s bloody and disturbing history, they could not turn down the chance to purchase the beautiful riverside home, complete with a boathouse and guest quarters, for such a low price. Kathy figured it would suffice to call in a local priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger), and have him bless the house, to free it of any psychic turbulence or restless spirits. How wrong she was!
Anyway, at about this point, strange things begin happening in earnest at the Lutz house! More specifically, Father Delaney shows up to cleanse the residence, and although no one is there, he still opens the door and heads in to explore (a classic horror film device). Once inside, the holy man makes his way upstairs, where he is besieged by flies and ordered by an unfriendly voice to “Get Out!”.
After hearing the disembodied voice, a frightened Father Delaney flees, but once he regains his composure he does try and contact the Lutz family to warn them about what has happened. Strangely, however, his telephone proves to be too hot to handle. This bizarre series of events convinces Delaney that a demonic spirit is haunting the house, but when he shares his thoughts with his fellow men of the cloth, his atypical conclusion is met with skepticism and disapproval.
Meanwhile, the members of the Lutz family each experience a variety of unexplained phenomena in the house. For instance, windows close by themselves, strange sounds can be heard during the night, blood runs from the walls, and evil-looking pigs can be seen peering in through the windows! Later, the family even discovers a secret room in the basement, which a psychic tells them is a portal to Hell!
So, after being given this rather grim information, what does the Lutz family do? Do they cut their losses and move on? Of course not, that would be too easy (and smart)!!! Instead, they act as if finding a gateway to Hell in one’s basement is no big deal, and stay in the house, keeping The Amityville Horror spiraling headlong towards its most unsatisfying conclusion, on a dark and stormy night no less.
As you can see, the plot is fairly straightforward and easy enough to understand, but what I don’t understand is how this long, boring film, can be considered a horror classic by so many people. What is it that I am missing?!?! Not that I am trying to be overly judgmental, mind you, but I really think The Amityville Horror is one of most overrated films I have ever seen. To begin with, the plot is a dull mess that generated far more unintentional laughter in me than dread, and instead of interesting characters, the film is laden with cardboard caricatures that I simply could not have cared less about.
For instance, Kathy Lutz does little but scream in this film, and George’s actions are largely confined to brooding by the fire…when he is not sharpening or brandishing his axe that is. Further, dialogue is terrible, and the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Lutz is poorly developed, making it really hard to make an emotional investment in either their marriage or the predicament they face.
The kids? Well, to make things simpler, let’s say they are just there. I suppose that if The Amityville Horror contained characters that viewers could develop an attachment to, the film would have played better. Ultimately, however, the members of the Lutz family are just so lifeless and devoid of personality that it magnifies the inane nature of the plot.
Arguably the biggest disappointment, however, is that the nothing even remotely close to a frightening atmosphere is established during the course of the film. There are some odd happenings in the house, to be sure, but I doubt that most people over the age of 8 would consider any of this truly scary. Indeed, as I mentioned above, I found myself laughing at many points during the film that I am quite sure the filmmakers did not intend to be comical.
If you are in the mood for a good “haunted house” flick, do yourself a favor and steer clear of Amityville. Instead, take a detour and seek out something like Poltergeist, The Haunting (1963) (not the lousy 1999 remake with Liam Neeson), or The House on Haunted Hill (1959), then turn down the lights and enjoy!
Amityville II: The Possession
Set one year prior to The Amityville Horror, this film takes viewers into the lives of the Montelli family, who take up residence in a lovely home located in Long Island, New York. Though they are not the “perfect” family (e.g. - the father is rather abusive), they are excited about the move and their future.
Unfortunately, before long, strange occurrences in the house begin to make their life a living hell, and ultimately, the evil spirits present in the home possesses the family’s young son, Sonny (Jack Magner), who seduces his sister then brutally murders his entire family. Enter another local priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), who is the only person that believes in the supernatural aspects of this horrific event, and decides to help the boy by attempting to exorcise the evil spirits.
See where this is going yet? That’s right friends, the latter stages of the film are basically a low-budget version of William Friedkin’s horror masterpiece The Exorcist, only characterized by much worse acting, really cheesy special effects, and a god-awful plot. Of course, in relation to The Amityville Horror, this is a slightly better motion picture, but given the quality of the first film, that is not exactly something to be proud of.
The good news is that Amityville II: The Possession has better atmospherics and a quicker pace, so it is not quite as yawn inducing. Unfortunately, it is still not very frightening, and there are some distasteful sequences involving domestic violence and incest in the film. Another difference is that there is a secret room in the house this time as well, although it is a different room than the one depicted in The Amityville Horror, which was released earlier, but is technically a sequel...whatever, let’s move on!
For all its differences, there are some similarities between Amityville II: The Possession and The Amityville Horror. For example, the spirits in the house slowly work to break down the psyche of those residing there, driving them mad and steering them toward the commission of unspeakable acts. Another similarity is that the performances in this film, with the exception of Burt Young’s (Rocky), are awful, with the actors over-acting at every turn.
Sadly, even though Young does the best he can in this film, he has the unenviable task of playing a truly disagreeable chap that beats his wife and children. The writing doesn’t help him out any either. The rest of the cast has it even worse though, since they lacked the acting ability that Mr. Young has. Bottom line, these are not people you will care about…and although this movie is a marginally better film than its predecessor, it has almost as little entertainment value. Don’t go out of your way to watch it!
Riding on the coattails of the critically derided, but obviously financially successful (they made another one, right?), Amityville II: The Possession a third Amityville motion picture was green-lit the following year, this time featuring a popular gimmick of the time – a three-dimensional presentation! For all of you trivia buffs out there, since it was presented sans 3-D on television, the movie was renamed Amityville III: The Demon when broadcast on television (don’t ask me why I even bothered to watch this crap on television – I’ll only say I was too young to know better!), but the title sequence on this DVD bears the film’s original moniker.
In Amityville 3-D, a skeptical writer named John Baxter (Tony Roberts) is looking for a chance to dispel the evil reputation of the house – not to mention taking advantage of the attractive property’s low sales price. Unfortunately, just as Mr. Baxter settles into the home, people who come into contact with him start meeting untimely fates. Could it all be a strange coincidence, or is the house up to its old tricks?
This third film in the series (which is not presented in 3-D here, by the way) is a bit better than the first two installments, but that is not to say that it is a good film. Once again, the characters are not people I was willing to make an emotional investment in, there are too few good scares, and the effects are so fake that they nearly nullify the few frights [/b][/i]Amityville 3-D[/b][/i] does contain.
I don’t know – perhaps I was expecting too much from a horror film carrying a PG rating. Still, my bottom line is that if the inane script, wooden acting, and uninteresting direction don’t sour you on this film, then the shots where things jump out towards the audience should – they look quite bizarre in this “flat”, or non-three-dimensional, presentation. Really, about the only reason to see this film is to check out early appearances by Lori Loughlin, who plays Baxter’s daughter, Susan, and Meg Ryan, who portrayed her friend Lisa, but even that novelty wears off fairly quickly.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
This trio of films bearing the “Amityville” name is offered by MGM in the 16x9 enhanced widescreen format (the first two in the 1.85.1 aspect ratio and 3-D is in the 2.35.1 aspect ratio). Now, for what it is worth, the two sequels in this set also have a “full frame” 1.33:1 version on board, which I hope that all of you will shower scorn upon and never watch! Also, I mentioned it above, but please be aware that the third film is NOT offered in a three-dimensional presentation! Oh well, at least you won’t have to put on those goofy red/blue glasses (hey, look at the positive side of things! ).
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s talk about what is really important –these films’ image quality. There are a few minor image issues with the films, which I will outline, but they really do look surprisingly good, all things considered! Starting with The Amityville Horror, color reproduction, including skin tones, is handled very nicely, and there are no significant flaws to report in that area. Black level is also both deep and consistent, leading to a pleasing sense of shadow detail.
The print used is also quite clean, with the exception of some minor print flaws that can be seen towards the beginning of the picture. A touch of grain is also evident (as expected since this is a 26-year-old film), but I never found that it interfered with my viewing experience too much. Similarly, a negligible amount of edge enhancement is visible throughout the feature, but as is the case with the image’s “graininess”, it never becomes anything more than a minor (and brief) distraction. Happily, compression related artifacts are also not an issue on The Amityville Horror DVD.
Moving along, the Amityville II: The Possession disc also features a transfer that is much easier on the eyes than I would have expected. As was the case with the first film in the series, colors are rendered accurately, as evidenced by the vibrancy of the crimson blood in the feature, the color of the home’s surroundings, and the characters’ natural-looking skin tones.
Although there is a touch of noise visible in dimly lit environments, shadow detail remains above average as well, which is a good thing since the last third of the film unfolds almost exclusively in sparsely illuminated settings. Similarly, although I noticed a bit of edge enhancement, it did not prove to be overly distracting, and I did not experience any problems with artifacts or pixelization.
On the less positive side, fine detail is lacking a little bit, and there is a little more grain present in the image than in the first film, but the print used is actually in pretty good condition. In many respects, the overall image quality is such that it is hard to imagine Amityville II: The Possession looking this good since it first hit movie houses.
Last, but not least, is Amityville 3-D, which is presented in a non-three-dimensional but 16x9 enhanced widescreen (2.35:1) transfer that looks just about as good as Amityville II does. Again, the biggest shortcomings in the transfer are the image’s lack of detail and fair amount of visible grain. Otherwise, the film looks just fine in most respects, with satisfying color reproduction and black levels, and no major distractions from edge enhancement or compression-based artifacts.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The Amityville Horror’s soundtrack has been re-tooled, and the result is a spankin’ new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which is actually quite nice. For you purists out there, MGM has done the right thing, and included the original monaural mix as part of the package. That being said, I stuck with the 5.1 mix for my critical listening, and was pleased to find that in addition to being extremely clear, the soundstage was more spacious on the surround mix.
Dialogue on the 5.1 track is also presented precisely, with no noticeable defects like hissing or sibilance, and the score and sound effects are equally well rendered. In addition, key scenes in the film are enhanced by the employment of the rear channels and some subtle LFE support. Overall, it is a quality remix!
While Amityville II: The Possession does not contain a fancy new surround mix, the monaural audio presentation is very clean and still gets its points across well. For instance, characters’ speech is always clear and defect-free, and effects and music are reproduced effectively, although Lalo Schifrin’s score does sound slightly abrasive on a couple occasions. A 5.1 remix would have been nice, but this soundtrack gets the job done, at least.
Amityville 3-D has also been given a new Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment, which is fairly front heavy overall, but opens up a bit during the effects sequences. Though it is not exactly a great surround mix, there are no apparent technical issues with the track, and the presentation of dialogue, effects, and music is serviceable.
It is important to point out that the original monaural mix is not provided for Amityville 3-D, as it is for the original film and its first sequel. Even though I do not like the film, I am all for both choice, so it bothers me a bit that those who are looking forward to this set will be unable to experience the soundtrack in its original monaural incarnation. Fortunately, aside from the questionable decision by MGM to omit the monaural track from Amityville 3-D, the sound quality of this Amityville set is very nice!
NOTE: The set comes with a free ticket to the remake of The Amityville Horror, which is due to hit theaters this April.
The Amityville Horror
Video Introduction to the Audio Commentary
Upon selecting the audio commentary from the audio options menu, parapsychologist and author, Dr. Hans Holzer, Ph.D. will give you an idea of what you can expect from his audio commentary. The introduction runs for roughly 1 ½ minutes.
The feature-length audio commentary is provided for The Amityville Horror by the aforementioned Dr. Holzer, who discusses his own experiences with the paranormal. In particular, the good doctor opines on the cinematic take on the supposedly true experiences of the Lutz family, talks about the differences between what really happened and the film, and provides a wealth of background information on the Amityville house and the land it was built on.
If it sounds like an unorthodox commentary, that is because it is, but there are many points of interest throughout, particularly if you have an interest in the supernatural. For the most part, the good doctor speaks quickly, and is easy enough to listen to, but there are also a number of occasions where Dr. Holzer remains quiet for several minutes. That being said, I think this audio commentary might have been a bit better if another speaker had been onboard to compliment Dr. Holzer’s comments, but I liked the decision to provide something different than the average commentary, and it is still a pretty good listen overall.
”For God’s Sake, Get Out!”
This 21 ½-minute retrospective look at The Amityville Horror features new interviews with stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder, who discuss the film, how they got their start in show business, and their visit to the real Lutz home, among other things. There are also some very interesting stories told about the working relationship between the two actors, as well as candid comments about aspects of their performances that they did not like.
A total of seven different radio spots used to promote The Amityville Horror are included.
The original theatrical trailers for The Amityville Horror and Amityville II: The Possession, and a teaser trailer for Amityville 3-D are included.
The Amityville Horror and Amityville Confidential discs kick off with trailers for the upcoming releases: The Amityville Horror remake and The Woods.
The Amityville Horror disc also features an MGM Means Great Movies promo, trailers for Species III, a “Horror Trailer”, Jeepers Creepers 2, and cover art for Child’s Play, Pumpkinhead, Jeepers Creepers 2, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Return of the Living Dead.
There are no promotional materials on the other two discs in the set.
The Amityville Confidential – Bonus Disc
Amityville: Horror or Hoax?
Through this roughly 45-minute “History’s Mysteries” program, hosted by Arthur Kent, viewers have the opportunity to explore the secrets of Amityville’s sinister house a little further. More specifically, the show treats with the murders actually committed in the house, the various controversies surrounding the incidents the Lutzes claim took place, and the investigation into the presence of evil spirits in the home, via reenactments of events and interviews with the people involved in them, including members of the Lutz family.
Amityville: The Haunting
Another “History’s Mysteries” program, this in-depth documentary (45 minutes long) covers what actually happened in the infamous house, according to the Lutz family. This time, viewers will witness an attempt to conclude whether the Lutz family actually experienced the supernatural phenomenon they described or whether they created an elaborate hoax to make a name for themselves. As is the case with “Horror or Hoax?”, many of the people that were close to the incident are interviewed. Among them are Jay Anson, author of “Amityville Horror: A True Story” and members of the Lutz family.
On Location: The Amityville Horror
This bonus feature, which runs for 5 1/2 –minutes, offers a sneak peek at the remake of The Amityville Horror, due to be released in April of 2005.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
As far as “haunted-house” films go, this trio of Amityville cannot hold a candle to far superior (and scarier) films like The Haunting (1963), The Legend of Hell House (1973), or Poltergeist (1982). For some reason, however, The Amityville Horror was so popular in its day that it spawned a slew of downright awful sequels (released both theatrically and on television). In my humble opinion, this is one of the worst, if not the worst, horror franchises ever, rivaled in my estimation only by the Leprechaun or Critters films.
Taking my opinion of the films out of the equation, however, I must say that MGM has released a pretty nifty collection for those of you out there that do enjoy these films. The audio/video quality is quite good for all three titles, especially the initial film, which was re-mastered in both areas. Between the Amityville Horror disc and the bonus disc, there is also a nice compliment of extras that provide a good deal of background information on the events that inspired the film. Of course, there is also that little matter of the free pass to see the Amityville Horror remake due out next month, which sweetens the deal!
Things could be a bit better though, since Amityville 3-D is unavailable in 3-D and also lacks the original monaural soundtrack, but it is still an attractive set overall. This being the case, if you like the Amityville series, you should find the Amityville Horror Collection deserving of both your cash and a spot in your library. Those who are not fond of the films…well, no amount of remixing and tweaking would change their nature…so I urge you to “Get out!” of Amityville and check out some of the other haunted house pictures I recommended above!