Amityville Horror Trilogy (The Amityville Horror/Amityville II: The Possession/Amityville 3-D) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (6th January 2014).
The Film

Despite the “fact or fiction” controversies that have surrounded the infamous Amityville Horror tale, one undeniably true fact is it has somehow managed to become a cinematic institution that has survived for more than three decades. Very few horror properties have that much juice in the tank. This isn’t to say that every property released under the "Amityville" banner have been good – arguably, none have – but the endurance of what has more or less been revealed as a total fabrication is quite impressive. George & Kathy Lutz’s story, as told to author Jay Anson, became a massive best-seller in 1977, quickly paving the way for the first film, “The Amityville Horror” (1979), which was released just a couple years later. Since that time, there have been no less than ten (!) films in the “series” (using that term loosely since virtually none are connected in any meaningful way, house aside) released, with another scheduled to hit theaters later this year. One of the Lutz’s kids, Daniel, released his own documentary, “My Amityville Horror”, which detailed his account of the bizarre incidents that occurred during his family’s 28-day stay in the home. Suffice it to say, things don’t seem to be slowing down on the Amityville front. But let’s backtrack a bit. There may be an absurd number of films in the series, but few count past the first three. It’s like trying to keep track of the “Witchboard” (1986) series. They’re up to, what, thirteen now? The choicest gems of this series came right at the beginning, in quick succession, before being relegated to movie-of-the-week status on NBC (for 1989’s “Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes”) and, then, the direct-to-video hell it has labored in for quite some time. There was, of course, the Ryan Reynolds-led remake in 2005, but that entry was just as forgettable as anything else done in recent years. While none of the original films are necessarily good, there is a charming kitsch factor that has kept the horror community embracing them for all this time.

“The Amityville Horror” kicks the series off with a retelling of George & Kathy Lutz’s infamous haunted house account, easily one of the most well-known “true life” ghost stories ever told, that recounts the 28 days their family lived at 112 Ocean Ave. in Long Island, NY. Everyone likely knows the gist at this point – family moves in to bargain price home after a son murdered all six members of his family there, weird things begin to occur with increased frequency, family priest visits and is terribly afflicted by the evil inside, George begins to go mad, things get really crazy and the family abandons their home. They never return to reclaim their possessions. Honestly, that brief recap is about as thrilling as the actual movie itself. James Brolin and his beard star as George Lutz, both bringing a real intensity to the man. Brolin’s performance is one of the highlights here, aided by the fact that George is also the family member most affected by the spirits or whatever inside the house. He’s given a decent arc that sees his personality morph from affable family man to a raging madman and back again. And, really, that beard he’s sporting is just fantastic. Margot Kidder is believable as his new wife who came pre-packaged with a brood of kiddos in tow. Plus, this was still back in her prime days when she looked fabulous. Rod Steiger gets prominent billing as the family’s priest, Father Delaney, who makes one quick visit to the home, is overcome by flies, and then gets continually screwed with by Satan until he loses his sight and becomes a bit of a recluse. But, my god, did that man have an appetite because he chews scenery with the best of ‘em. Steiger’s plea to God late in the film is so passionate and voluminous you’d think he was preaching to a Baptist church on Sunday morning.

The biggest issue with “The Amityville Horror” isn’t whether or not it’s real (because it’s not); it’s that nothing much really happens. Sure, the weird, unexplainable phenomena the family has to deal with would probably freak anyone out in real life. But this is a movie, and seeing a priest attacked by flies, or hearing a pig squeal in conjunction with two red, beady eyes peering outside a window just isn’t all that terrifying. There is a consistent undercurrent of horror running throughout the film, but it never builds to anything appreciable. The most tension we ever get is when George goes back to get the family dog, who is apparently too stupid to follow everyone out when the house is literally shaking itself apart. There’s all this talk of Indian burial grounds (so original!) and malevolent forces and such, but nothing materializes in a way that would terrorize anyone.

Well, maybe not “anyone” since the film went on to gross a mint in the U.S., becoming the highest-grossing release for American International Pictures (AIP) up to that point, meaning that a sequel wasn’t likely to be far off.

“Amityville II: The Possession” (1982) holds the dubious distinction of being the best film in the lengthy series. This entry is not exactly a traditional sequel but, rather, a prequel focusing on the events that took place in the home before the Lutz family moved in. In real life, Ronal DeFeo, Jr. was convicted of murdering his mother, father, two brothers, and two sisters in 1974. The film never explicitly states whether it is a prequel or a sequel, though it was clearly influenced by “A Murder in Amityville”, the novel which details the murders that happened before the Lutz’s arrived. Here, the film changes their last name to Montelli, in addition to many other artistic liberties taken, but the end result is just the same.

Anthony Montelli (Burt Young) moves his family into the soon-to-be-infamous property in Amityville, giving everyone the dream home they’ve wanted. Things aren’t all rosy in the family, though, with Anthony constantly abusing his wife, Dolores (Rutanya Alda) when he isn’t abusing his kids. Sonny (Jack Magner), his oldest, contends with his father the most, usually coming to the aid of his mother or sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin), when he goes off like a crazed psycho. An evil presence is in the house, emanating from the basement, and it slowly begins to take hold of Sonny’s mind. His behavior changes, he starts acting more violent and eventually these demonic entities start to change him both physically and emotionally. One night, drunk on evil, he playfully flirts with Patricia, something that eventually leads to full-blown sex. With his sister. Soon after, his mind possessed by unclean spirits, he grabs his father’s gun and kills everyone in the house without so much as second thought. The only person interested in helping him is the family’s priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), who attempts to drive the evil forces out of Sonny’s body with an exorcism.

There is a nasty, raw energy coursing through “Amityville II” that gives it a clear edge over the first film. For one thing – incest. You don’t see that subject tackled by many horror movies, ever. And for good reason, because even without all of the evil and occult occurrences it is a creepy, vile thing. The exchanges and body language between brother and sister are odd to begin with, but once Sonny gets possessed it’s just so… uncomfortable. As a bonus, though, we do get to see Diane Franklin topless. Man, was she ever a looker back in the 80's. The script, written by Tommy Lee Wallace, exposes us to such a tenuous family unit that it wouldn’t be hard to believe any one of them coming apart at the seams. Dolores is your typical abused wife, being beaten one minute and then apologizing and begging for a moment of clarity the next. There’s never even a hint that she would leave Anthony for the sake of her children. And nobody, no matter how small, is safe from Anthony’s wrath once he gets going. Instead of relying on slow-burn tension that eventually just burns out, Wallace’s script maintains a steady pace, building up the possession and giving Sonny’s final decision more of an impact. But he doesn’t allow the film to end after a mass murder, tacking on an exorcism ending that delivers on some of the promised horror the series had been teasing.

You want to talk horror? Try watching “Amityville 3-D” (1983). This second sequel came right on the heels of the previous film, and the title is a clear indicator that it was done just to capitalize on the 3-D boon of 1983, a year that also saw releases with an extra dimension from “Friday the 13th” and “Jaws” among others. This entry finds Tony Roberts, he of brillo-haired fame, starring as John Baxter, a skeptical journalist who, after debunking a couple of supposed psychics operating out of 112 Ocean Ave., decides to buy the place for a bargain basement price. After all, he doesn’t believe in ghosts. So, he moves in his wife and their daughter, Susan (a young Lori Loughlin), and it isn’t long before tragedies start to befall those closest to John. After Susan is killed in a boating accident, her spirit seems to remain trapped in the home. John brings in Dr. Elliott West (Robert Joy) and his paranormal team to investigate the home and determine if anything supernatural is indeed occurring there. As you are probably expecting, something is happening down in that basement and the paranormal team is about to find out what it is in the worst way possible.

“Amityville 3-D” suffers from being a dreadfully dull film. It is truly a total bore until the last thirteen minutes, when Dr. West’s team arrives and suddenly we’re getting flashbacks of “Poltergeist” (1982). Honestly, the entire film should have been about the investigating team. Who cares if that’s blatantly ripping off a movie that came out a year prior, at least they could’ve tried replicating that formula for success to some degree here. And, again, we waste time on this “Indian burial ground” nonsense because Susan’s friend, played by then first timer Meg Ryan, has a Ouija board and wants to probe the house for answers. We don’t get many, if any, other than learning that hole in the basement is more or less a pathway to Hell. Also, a demon lives in that hole and he eats Robert Joy after burning off half his face. That is undeniably the single most exciting thing to happen in the film, making the other 90 minutes really seem like a slog if you think back on them.

Ratings:
- "The Amityville Horror" (1979): C+
- "Amityville II: The Possession" (1982): B-
- "Amityville 3-D" (1983): D+

Video

“The Amityville Horror” has been released on Blu-ray before (see here for that review), but this 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encode is an improvement over the old MPEG-2 codec issued by MGM a few years prior. The low-budget roots show through, with a moderately appreciable level of detail shown during the most well-lit scenes of the picture. The print is generally in good shape, showing only minor flecks throughout. Black levels are consistent enough to get a pass. Colors are reproduced with good saturation levels. The picture probably can’t look much better, nor should it, since the vintage 70's aesthetic is one of the chief reasons to watch it in the first place. Any aging seen in the print should be viewed as a good thing.

“Amityville II: The Possession” makes its Blu-ray debut with a 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encode that appears to be quite an appreciable upgrade over MGM’s old DVD. Things start off a bit rough with the optical opening credits, but it picks up once we get into the film proper. The source used here must have been in good shape, showing minimal print wear and allowing for a solid level of detail to be seen. Indeed, some of the detail is so good that the latex work on Sonny’s face is glaringly obvious, to the film’s detriment. Background details come through a little more than in the previous film, though it still registers as unspectacular by today’s standards. Black levels look a little hazy at times, nothing too bad, though. There is a healthy layer of grain that aids in preserving the cinematic aesthetic.

As if the film wasn’t bad enough, “Amityville 3-D” sports one helluva ugly image to boot. The 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is a murky, soft, smeared mess from start to finish. This can likely be attributed to the stereoscopic 3-D process itself, which seems to have lent the image these ghostly hues of red and blue seen throughout. I honestly thought that I somehow activated a red/blue version of the film in 3-D for home viewing because many objects appeared to be heavily pushing toward one of those colors. As if that issue didn’t make the picture ugly enough, everything is so soft. Foreground elements and facial closeups aren’t entirely terrible, but background stuff? Forget about it. The focus is so off it looks like you’re watching a 3rd-gen bootleg at times. It’s just ugly all around.

This disc also includes a proper stereoscopic 3-D version of the film, too, which can be watched if you have all the necessary equipment; no crappy red/blue glasses here. I don’t have that equipment, but by all accounts I’ve read elsewhere it looks weak.

Ratings:
- "The Amityville Horror" (1981): B-
- "Amityville II: The Possession" (1982): B
- "Amityville 3-D" (1983): D

Audio

The audio situation on all three films is close enough that one paragraph can sum it all up. Each features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track (48kHz/24-bit), as well as the original English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mixes for each film. For the most part, all feature a clear, hiss-free track composed with good fidelity and a nice balance of dialogue and sound effects. Lalo Schifrin’s compositions are one of the best things to come out of this series, and the breadth of even the original mono mixes is enough to make sure nothing sounds tinny or hollow in either his work or anything else audible surrounding it. I found that the multi-channel mixes for each film offered nothing exemplary in terms of sound separation or ambient effects, so the original mono mixes were chosen instead. Trust me, these films work just fine in good old 2.0 mono. Subtitles are included in English.

Extras

Maintaining their level of excellence as usual, Shout! Factory's Scream Factory label has included previous DVD bonus features (which, really, only the first film had) in addition to a handful of new material created for this release. There are audio commentaries, a featurette, some interviews, trailers, radio spots, still galleries, and more.

DISC ONE: "The Amityville Horror" (1979)

An audio commentary with Dr. Hanz Holzer, Ph.D. in Parapsychology starts things off. Holzer provides some insightful observations on the paranormal and how it is incorporated into the film… but that’s when he chooses to talk. There are lengthy gaps of silence. Not the most exciting track, though it is kind of cool to get a perspective from a professional. He also wrote the novel “A Murder in Amityville”, which detailed the DeFeo murders.

“For God’s Sake, Get Out!” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 21 minutes and 34 seconds. Ported over from the old DVD, this making-of features interviews with Brolin and Kidder about their roles in the film. It’s pretty standard stuff, with a handful of interesting anecdotes told by both.

“Haunted Melodies with Lalo Schifrin” (1080p) is an interview that runs for 9 minutes and 56 seconds. The legendary composer speaks about his influences on the score. He also rejects the apocryphal notion that this score was actually one rejected for use on “The Exorcist” (1973).

Theatrical trailer/TV spot (1080p) contains one of each, running for 3 minutes and 29 seconds.

Original Amityville Horror radio spots contains five spots, running for 3 minutes and 39 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) containing behind the scenes and publicity shots runs for 8 minutes and 22 seconds.

DISC TWO: "Amityville II: The Possession" (1982)

First up, an audio commentary with Alexandra Holzer, daughter of Dr. Hanz Holzer, Ph.D., and author of “Growing Up Haunted – A Ghostly Memoir”. Right off the bat, she says nothing for a long stretch of time after giving her introduction. Honestly, this should have been done with Tommy Lee Wallace instead of someone who literally had nothing to do with the production in any way.

“The Possession of Damiani” (1080p) is an interview with director Damiano Damiani that runs for 6 minutes and 8 seconds. The late director agreed to work on this movie because he wanted to remain in America for a bit longer to film the exteriors. He wasn’t really a horror fan, but he is proud of the film and had nothing but good things to say about his cast and crew.

“Adapting Amityville – Interview with Tommy Lee Wallace” (1080p) this interview runs for 12 minutes and 27 seconds. I could listen to Wallace talk all day. The man is just full of great stories, and he has this unvarnished delivery to everything that makes it all so relatable. Here, he discusses what aspects of writing this sequel attracted him (it was a pay-for-hire gig), working with Dino De Laurentiis, his own big break in directing that year, and a lot more. Again, why wasn’t this guy on the commentary?

“A Mother’s Burden – Interview with Rutanya Alda” (1080p) runs for 14 minutes and 9 seconds. Her interview is pretty standard – how she got the job, working in Mexico (where the interiors were filmed), etc. She has good memories of doing the film and seems to have enjoyed it all.

“Family Matters – Interview with Diane Franklin” (1080p) runs for 13 minutes and 39 seconds. In this interview Franklin, still hot at 51, discusses how surprised she is by the reaction she gets from horror fans to this day when she does conventions. She liked the raw energy given to the story, which was a big part of what attracted her to the role.

“Father Tom’s Memories – Interview with Andrew Prine” (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 43 seconds. In this interview he mentions going to dinner a few times in this short piece. The guy must love a good meal. Oh yea, and he liked shooting the film, too.

“Continuing the Hunt – Interview with Alexandra Holzer” the interview runs for 28 minutes and 45 seconds. Maybe her father sounded more convincing because of his thick accent, but I just don’t buy a lot of what she says. Plus, she’s just so… lifeless talking about it all. This definitely runs too long.

Theatrical trailers (1080p) contains a few, running for 3 minutes and 13 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) containing behind the scenes and publicity shots runs for 3 minutes and 32 seconds.

DISC THREE: "Amityville 3-D" (1983)

“A Chilly Reception – An Interview with actress Candy Clark” (1080p) the interview runs for 9 minutes and 46 seconds. Clark recalls a funny story of how their costumes were all stolen en route to the shooting location in Mexico, so they had to make due with whatever they could find locally.

A photo gallery (1080p) containing some behind the scenes and publicity shots runs for 1 minute and 32 seconds.

Finally, there’s a theatrical trailer (1080p), running for 38 seconds.

Packaging

Each disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case, with original key art presented for all three films. Inside each case, there are production photos and various ephemera related to the film. All three discs are housed in a sturdy cardboard box that loads from the side.

Overall

While all three films vary in quality, there is a certain element to this series that makes it fun to settle in on a cold, dark night and pop them in for a mini-marathon. Scream Factory has presented these movies in the best way possible, looking and sounding as good as it’s likely to get, making this set an easy recommendation to fans of the series.

The Film: C Video: C Audio: B- Extras: A Overall: C+

 


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