The Amityville Horror (1979) remains one of the most successful haunted house movies ever. Based on a supposedly true story (emphasis on “supposedly”), the film sees George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) buy their dream home, only to be driven out by supernatural events (little girl makes friends with demonic piggie, blood runs from the walls, and so on). In scenes that have so little to do with the rest of the action they might almost belong to a separate movie, Rod …teiger overacts to a degree excessive even by his own none-too-restrained standards as the priest who is targeted by the evil in the house. Too tame to be truly frightening, the film succeeds thanks partly to its “true story” aura, but most especially because of the design of the house, whose eye-like windows made it the most recognizable of all cinematic haunted houses.
Since none of the Lutz family actually died in real life, the original film was somewhat hampered by how far it could take its horrors. No such problem for Amityville II: The Possession (1982). Ostensibly telling the tale of the slaughter that took place in the house a year before the Lutzes moved in (but changing the family name from DeFeo and clearly turning the clock forward, as it is unlikely in the extreme that someone would be listening to a Walkman in 1974), the film has the elder son Sonny become possessed by a demon, sleep with his sister, and then blow everyone away with a hunting rifle. Not in the least concerned with being respectable, this unapologetic sleaze wallow piles on the effects and incidents, and builds to an agreeably vicious climax and downbeat conclusion. Dismissed upon its initial release, this is actually more satisfying as an out-and-out horror film than the original, and has undergone something of a rediscovery over the years.
No such reclamation seems likely for Amityville 3-D (1983). As it is not presented in 3-D here, the film’s pointlessness is all the more apparent. Woody Allen regular Tony Roberts is the skeptical reporter who buys the house, and the usual problems ensue, only this time with random objects perpetually being hurled at the camera to very pathetic results in 2-D.
The first film’s previous release was in mono, so it’s very nice, given that the music scroe is one of the best things about the movie, that the new version comes with both the mono and a new 5.1 mix. Only the second film remains in mono only. Decent as it is, the 5.1 tracks are very solid for older films, and the first one in particular has some very nice instances of placement. As new surround mixes go, this is one of the most successful.
By and large, the transfers and prints are very good for films that are 20-25 years old. The colours are good, the blacks deep, the contrasts solid (no murkiness here), and the grain is minimal (if sometimes visible). There is little edge enhancement either. The exception to the rule is the third film (the only one in 2.35:1 — the others are 1.85:1). It’s former 3-D incarnation is apparent not just in the mise-en-scène, but also in the fact that there is frequently a distracting red or blue outline to the edges. Fullscreen versions of the two sequels are also provided.
Hans Holzer, who holds a PhD in parapsychology (in other words, he’s a true believer), provides a commentary track on the first film, ostensibly separating fact from fiction for us. Oooooo-kay. This is the guy who believes the ghost of a Native American Chief is behind it all, and he has the blurry photograph to prove it. The track is pretty interesting, though, even for the skeptical. Also on this disc is “For God’s Sake, Get Out!”, wherein James Brolin and the engagingly hard-boiled Margot Kidder reminisce about the making of the film. Seven radio spots, the theatrical trailer, the teaser for the remake, and some bonus trailers round things out. The other two films only have their respective trailers as extras.
The fourth disc of the bunch is Amityville Confidential. Joining a promotional “On Location” featurette on the remake are two History Channel documentaries: “Amityville: The Haunting” (which recounts the DeFeo and Lutz stories), and “Amityville: Horror or Hoax?”. Numerous shots of the exterior of the actual house are nice touches in both docs, but the programs are very sensational, and heavily slanted toward the gullible. That said, they are fascinating for the parade of suckers, con artists and kooks that are paraded before our eyes. Someone has to write a sociology paper on the avariciousness and greed that surround this story. Compelling stuff, indeed. Meanwhile, the main screens, intros and transitions of the menus are animated and scored.
These are far from the being the best horror movies every made, but they are entertaining, partly because of their own cheese. The whole “true story” hysteria is also a lot of fun. As a slice of pop culture nostalgia, this is hard to beat.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- “For God’s Sake, Get Out!” Featurette
- Theatrical Trailers
- Radio Spots
- “On Location” Remake Featurette
- “Amityville: The Haunting” Documentary
- “Amityville: Horror or Hoax” Documentary