THE AMITYVILLE HORROR TRILOGY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, James Olson, Burt Young, Tony
Roberts, Tess Harper
Directors: Stuart Rosenberg, Damiano Damiani, Richard Fleischer
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1 to 2.35:1
Studio: Shout! Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 326 Minutes
Release Date: October 1, 2013
“What do you want from us? GOD D**N IT, THIS IS MY HOUSE!!”
The Amityville Horror ***
The Amityville Horror was quite the sensation in the late 70s, first as a novel, then as what became for a while the highest grossing independent film of all time…and all because it was supposedly based on a true story.
It was about a house in Long Island where a real life family murder had taken place, but this is not that story. The story is about the house’s next tenants, George and Kathy Lutz (Brolin and Kidder), who lived there for 28 days before fleeing, never reclaiming their home or their belongings.
The story turned out to be a hoax, but audiences didn’t care. The Amityville Horror was a bona fide horror hit, and one of the few movies from my childhood that actually scared the crap out of me.
We see in an opening sequence a sort of flashback to the murders before meeting George and Kathy, closing the deal on the home. But weird things begin to happen, starting with a priest (Steiger) who comes to bless the house, but ends up face to face with an evil presence.
What the evil is and what it wants is never quite known, but as the film progresses, George seems more and more out of control amidst the strange phenomena. The reveal, which is an all-time classic to me, was truly unexpected, and certainly begs the question…why would these idiots still stay in that house for many more days after discovering the source of the activity?
I guess the short answer is, if dumb people actually left their houses when demonic voices say “GET OUT!”, we wouldn’t have horror movies. Thankfully, in this case, we did, and though it doesn’t rattle my nerves the way it once did, it’s still a favorite fright flick of mine.
Best piece of advice I can offer: watch this one, not the awful remake version.
Amityville II: The Possession ½ *
The back story of the Amityville haunting was begging to be told, if for no other reason than to capitalize on the success of the first picture. The murders, committed by Ron Defeo, were in fact the only true part of the Amityville legacy, but for some reason, Amityville II: The Possession decided on a more fictional approach, including name changes.
It stars James Olson as the oldest of a family of four who moves into the soon-to-become infamous house with his parents, but seems almost instantly plagued by the evil presence there. He is targeted by some demonic force, which eggs him on to kill his family.
It seems such a simple story, yet at under two hours in length, this movie seems longer than just about anything I can remember. It’s badly acted, badly written, and rips off The Exorcist far too much. Unable to compete with the original in terms of terror, it tries instead to raise the bar in sheer tastelessness. We have children being murdered, incest (a disgustingly awkward scene), vomiting and more…all for the price of a ticket.
Lighting rarely strikes twice, and for Amityville II: The Possession, there wasn’t even a spark. This is easily one of the worst films ever made, in any genre.
Amityville 3D *1/2
I had never seen the third installment in the franchise. I clearly remember the advertising campaign in 1982 and the hoopla surround the 3D presentation, but once it was out of theatres, audiences never again had the chance to experience it the way it was meant to be seen. Until now.
Shout! Factory has been good enough to bring home audiences the first ever 3D presentation of the film, thanks to modern technology and Blu-ray. I was actually looking forward to the film, despite my abhorrence for the second movie. It was helmed by a respected director in Richard Fleischer, and starred an actor I liked, Woody Allen alum Tony Roberts. It even featured very early screen appearances for both Meg Ryan and Lori Loughlin.
But fine ingredients don’t always mix into a palatable meal, and all efforts here fell way short of the mark. It’s not as badly acted as the predecessor, nor as tasteless. But it also isn’t scary.
Roberts plays a cynic who writes for a magazine exposing hoaxes in the paranormal world, including one occurring at our favorite gateway-to-hell address. He’s even flip enough to buy the house when he learns it’s for sale.
This begins a series of strange events affecting him and his family, all centered around a deep well in the basement (hey…where the hell did that come from, anyway?). I guess demons just don’t have much better to do.
The 3D is really gimmicky…Fleischer can’t resist any opportunity to try and thrust something as close to our faces as possible for absolutely no reason whatsoever. If you saw the 2D version and never knew it was meant for 3D, you’d walk away thinking this was the most ridiculously amateurish cinematography ever.
In the end, nothing could recapture the sheer scare value of the first film. In fact, a recent documentary focuses on one of the Lutz children, still proclaiming that his family’s hoax was a true story. It ends with him going ballistic when being asked to take a lie detector test. Maybe that is the most appropriate end for this saga.
For the most part, the high definition Blu-rays deliver a lot of good detail and color, but all the prints show occasional marks and spots. Dark scenes come across with very little artifacting. However, I must mention that Amityville 3D is one of THE worst 3D presentations yet offered on Blu-ray. It’s not the studio’s fault…this is old school 3D technology, not the modern good stuff we’re now used to. But shot after shot has ghosting so bad that you’re seeing double, and if your lucky, in a deep shot, a few objects in the middle will come across as clean 3D, while everything else just kind of separates and falls apart.
All three films feature uncompressed surround audio, and all three make surprisingly unimaginative uses of the technology. Horror begs to have menacing audio coming at you from all sides, but only a few scenes here and there, like during a storm, even goes for the rear stage. The overall sound is well balanced, but dialogue sounds a bit thin on all three discs.
The first disc includes a new documentary with actors James Brolin and Margot Kidder, and a new interview with composer Lalo Schifrin. There is also a commentary by a doctor of parapsychology (interesting, but a little dry), as well as original trailer and TV spots
The second disc has interviews with director Damiano Damiani, writer Tommy Lee Wallace, actors Andrew Prine, Rutanya Alda and Diane Franklin, as well as ghost hunter Alexandra Holzer, who also provides a commentary. There is also a trailer.
The third disc has an interview with actress Candy Clark and the original trailer.
The menu screens on all three discs are pretty cool, too!
The Amityville Trilogy brings all three films together in one set for your Blu-ray viewing pleasure, including the chance to finally see the third one in 3D at home. It offers nice features. For me, it’s worth it just to have the first movie on Blu-ray…do what you like with the others.