The Amityville Horror
MGM // 1979 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Amityville II: The Possession
MGM // 1982 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
MGM // 1983 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 11th, 2005
For God's sake, get out!
In the 1970s, Hollywood became enamored with making horror movies featuring spiritual, supernatural situations and everyday folks caught up in the whirlwind of evil. In 1973, The Exorcist was an enormous hit, and ushered in a wave of movies about demonic possessions, buildings / homes / cars with minds of their own, and other terrors related to "the great beyond" (and apparently material things like houses and personal possessions). One of the bigger hits of that decade was The Amityville Horror, allegedly based on the true story of a family who moves into a home and quickly realizes they've entered the gateway to hell. With the upcoming theatrical 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror, MGM Home Entertainment has decided to release The Amityville Horror, Amityville II: The Possession, and Amityville 3-D -- along with a bonus disc of all-new materials -- in a new four-disc collector's box set aptly titled The Amityville Horror Collection.
* The Amityville Horror (1979)
In the first of a series of Amityville films, George (James Brolin, The Reagans) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder, Superman: The Movie), plus their cute kids, move into a riverfront home in the small town of Amityville. The house is a seemingly tranquil retreat except for one minor detail: The man who lived there prior to the Lutz family brutally killed his wife and children. Even with this knowledge, George and Kathy decide to purchase the house. As they begin unpacking their belongings, the Lutz family discovers strange things happening to them -- odd nightmares, voices in the hall, and a feeling of madness that will drive them to the brink of sanity. It appears that the Lutzes are not alone inside the Amityville house, and whatever else is living with them wants them out...or dead!
* Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
Instead of being a follow-up to the original film, this "prequel" traces the events leading up to The Amityville Horror. In Amityville II: The Possession, the Montelli family moves into the Amityville house with the demonic looking windows. The family's patriarch, Anthony (Burt Young, Rocky), is a brutish father with a timid wife, Dolores (Rutanya Alda), two small children, and two teenagers, Patricia (Diane Franklin, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) and Sonny (Jack Magner). After only a few days in their new home, strange occurrences take root; the cellar produces a nasty amount of flies and feces. Malevolent voices reverberate through the halls. And most disturbing, Sonny begins to have visions of murdering his entire family. The events that follow produce a battle between good and evil that ultimately pave the way to one of the greatest horrors Amityville has ever experienced.
* Amityville 3-D (1983)
In the third installment of the Amityville Horror series, the terror is not only real...it's coming to you in three dimensions! John Baxter (Tony Roberts, Annie Hall) is a psychic investigator who spends his time debunking phony so-called "experts" of the occult. John and his wife, Nancy (Tess Harper), are recently separated with a young daughter, Susan (Lori Loughlin). John haphazardly decides to purchase the infamous Amityville house and moves in, unaware of the horrible dangers that lie inside. As John spends more and more time inside the house, he begins to endanger not only himself but also his family, friends and coworkers. It's three times the terror in Amityville 3-D!
Somehow, some way, The Amityville Horror became a huge hit when it was released in 1979. Apparently audiences were riveted and terrified by the story of a demonic house whose invisible malevolence made a man murder his family, and years later seems to be driving the new owners into similar territory. And just what is this evil caught up inside the seemingly innocent house's four walls? Lucifer? Demons? Haunted spirits? I dunno. That's the biggest problem that faces The Amityville Horror: By the end of the film we're never clear as to just what is going on in the Amityville house. The walls run red with blood and ghostly voices float down the hall. Yet by the end of the movie we have no better idea who -- or what -- is causing the disturbances than we did when the movie started two hours prior.
I like haunted house movies. A few years ago I saw a highly underrated haunted house chiller called Thir13en Ghosts and had a ball. The film was atmospheric, ghastly, and filled with all kinds of creepy poltergeists. This isn't the case with The Amityville Horror. As the end credits rolled I thought to myself, "Hey, where the heck are the spooks?" Listen, you can't have it both ways: Either show us the beasties or make a different movie. It's like buying a Reese's peanut butter cup and finding out, after you've bitten into the chocolate cup, that there's no peanut butter inside. Wouldn't you feel slightly cheated? That's exactly how I felt after watching The Amityville Horror.
Stone-faced James Brolin and Margot Kidder do a decent enough job as George and Kathy Lutz. Brolin is effectively masculine and Kidder dotes on him with affection and worry as he begins to succumb to the effects of the house. Even Rod Steiger is memorable as Father Delaney, who knows the evils the house possesses but can't seem to relay that message to the Lutz family. All the acting is well and good, but doesn't much matter when the screenplay gives them such nauseatingly ridiculous things to say and do. The biggest problem is the length of time they spend in the house; the couple and their children stay for nearly a month before hightailing it elsewhere. Maybe it's just me, but don't you think after having your front and rear doors blown off by evil spirits and voices yelling down the hall you'd get the hell out of Dodge as quick as humanly possible? Well, not the Lutz family. They decided to stick around for no better reason than it serves to perpetuate those strange occurrences in the house.
And what are the horrible things happening the Lutz home? Houseflies on the windowsills! Gurgling faucets! Slamming doors and windows! In other words, everyday problems that could be fixed with one trip to the Home Depot. Hey, I'm all for scary movies, but if you're going to make a scary movie...well, make a scary movie. Show some bloodcurdling entities or toothy, slimy apparitions. For the love of all that's holy, show us something besides a few spots in the wall that bleed every once in a while. And don't tell me that the movie is based on real events, and this is what happened -- if the film is an accurate record of the actual events, then reality wasn't enough to sustain a well-made horror film. The scariest thing in The Amityville Horror is knowing it will take at least two hours to scrub off the wall using an S.O.S. pad and some dish soap.
Then again, The Amityville Horror looks like Psycho in comparison with its two sequels, Amityville II: The Possession and Amityville 3-D. In Amityville II: The Possession, viewers are given a family that makes the Manson clan look like descendants of Ward and June Cleaver. Lead by a rotund, bear-like Burt Young -- looking like he just came off a three-day bender of vodka, scotch, and chocolate cupcakes -- the family parades around the house in a dysfunctional fit. And when I say dysfunctional, I mean...well, I'll let you be the judge.
The father beats his children, and when his wife tries to stop him, he turns the leather belt on her. It's implied that the father forces his wife to engage in sex while she silently weeps. In anger, the son sticks a shotgun in his father's face. The older siblings (one looking like a young Scott Glenn and the other the spitting image of Natalie Portman) engage in a little game called "you're the sexy model and I'm the sleazy photographer" which invariably ends with a "bang," and I don't mean the type that comes from a shotgun. So, by this point the movie becomes creepy and icky, and not because of ghoulish monsters -- Dr. Phil could produce roughly 800 "Oprah" episodes just on the Montelli family alone.
The prequel feels like a rehash of the first film, only with a different, more obnoxious family doing things you wouldn't find on The Jerry Springer Show. The bad news is that the ladies have less to ogle at this time around -- exchanging James Brolin for Burt Young is not a step in the right direction. Even worse, the last 45 minutes end up as a flaccid courtroom drama where a kindly priest wants to perform an exorcism on one of the siblings (no bonus points for guessing what movie they ripped this idea from). Whatever made the original film appealing (which, for the most part, is beyond this viewer's comprehension) is all but lost in this lame sequel / prequel. It's not particularly scary, nor is it very engaging, except when Burt Young is onscreen -- and that's only because he looks like a human train wreck, and we all know how much everyone likes to slow down and watch an accident unfold.
Finally there's the PG-rated Amityville 3-D, a laughable, bottom-of-the-barrel entry in the Amityville series (my favorite moment: one character swatting away an obviously fake housefly inside a moving car. Viva faux insects!). Amityville 3-D's biggest problem -- aside of the fact it isn't presented in 3-D on this bare-bones DVD -- is that it's about as horrifying as watching a little league tee-ball game on a July afternoon. This time around, the demonic house's powers are confusingly ill-defined -- its demonic forces suddenly attack characters at work in high-rise buildings and in their cars. Color me suspicious, but isn't the Amityville house supposed to ensnare people in its forces in the house, not thirty miles away while they're on a coffee break?
The only remotely interesting thing about Amityville 3-D is seeing a young Lori Loughlin (TV's Full House) and a very capricious-looking Meg Ryan (in one of her first major motion picture roles) cavorting around the house, trying to contact dead spirits with a drinking glass (I kid you not). The lead actors -- including a billow-headed Tony Roberts and an always-worried Tess Harper -- spend most of the time forgetting they're acting in a horror movie. Roberts in particular treats the material as if he were attempting to garner a Best Actor Oscar while sneering at what appears to be a guy in a rubber monster suit.
As for the special effects...umm, let me see...what special effects? The producers appear to have spent the bulk of the budget on the 3-D camera technique, sticking things like tree branches and flashlights into the camera's lens and viewer's noses. When the filmmakers do bother to include any effects, these are very brief and hardly worth discussing (the exception: the house's supposed demon, which looks like a cross between a common moth and Danny DeVito). While I don't think the Amityville movies ever reached any critically lauded peaks during their theatrical releases (a slew of crappy made-for-video titles followed), this third and final MGM entry is a disappointing watch even by this series' mediocre standards.
The Amityville Horror and Amityville II: The Possession are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen while Amityville 3-D is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Overall, I was pleased with how the transfer for each film looked, even if it was lacking in fine detail due to its age and budget. Not surprisingly, The Amityville Horror looks the best of the three -- it appears that MGM put most of their restorative efforts into making sure the original film is bright and clear of most major defects, save for a bit of dirt and grain. Otherwise, Amityville II: The Possession looks good and Amityville 3-D is also in decent shape, though I'm guessing about the latter -- because of the 3-D process, the print sometimes looks slightly fuzzy. The sequels also feature full-frame presentations on the flip sides of the discs, though they are not recommended.
The soundtracks for The Amityville Horror and Amityville 3-D are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround while Amityville II: The Possession is presented in Dolby 1.0 Mono, all in English. The original film's 5.1 soundtrack is good, if not great. There are some surround sounds to be found in the mix (mostly background noises and creepy sound effects), though the bulk of the film often feels very front-heavy. The third film is also presented in 5.1 Surround, but to lesser effect -- aside from a few surround sounds, it's a pretty hollow mix. Amityville II: The Possession is presented in a flaccid 1.0 Dolby Mono mix that is completely flat and lacking in any dynamic range. Also included on this disc are Dolby 1.0 Mono Tracks in French and Spanish for The Amityville Horror, plus English, French, and Spanish subtitles for all three films.
This four-disc set focuses heavily on the first film for its extra features. On the movie disc of The Amityville Horror, there is a mildly interesting commentary track by Dr. Hans Holzer, a professor of parapsychology, who discusses various supernatural elements of the film (often to only minor interest), as well as a new documentary titled "For God's Sake, Get Out!" that focuses on the film's production history with recent interviews with actors Margot Kidder and James Brolin. Also included on this disc are radio spots for the film.
The fourth bonus disc in this set isn't quite as enticing as MGM would have you believe. There is a very short behind-the-scenes preview for the new Amityville Horror remake that includes interviews with star Ryan Reynolds and other cast and crew members (can you say the words "shameless promotion"?) Two far better features are The History Channel's "Amityville: Horror or Hoax?" and "Amityville: The Haunting," two documentaries that explore the "supposed" events that transpired inside the Amityville house. Interviews with various experts -- as well as the original Lutz family who lived inside the original house for just under a month -- shed a bit more light on the history of the Amityville curse. Each of these docs runs about 40 minutes long, and, while not completely riveting, each offers fans and viewers a bit more backstory on the film's real-life counterparts. I'm not sure a fourth disc was warranted, but fans get it whether they want it or not.
Both Amityville II: The Possession and Amityville 3-D include a single theatrical trailer, and nothing else.
If you're an Amityville Horror fan -- or just excited about seeing the new Ryan Reynolds remake hitting theaters in the spring of 2005 -- I'm sure you'll get a kick out of this DVD box set. The video presentation on each disc is good, the audio is decent, and the extra features (on the first film) are plentiful. I personally find these films to be often slow without a great payoff. Then again, one man's coffee is another man's whiskey.
Two decades after the third film's release, The Amityville Horror series is a haunted house filled with cheap scares and a bad payoff.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice, The Amityville Horror
Perp Profile, The Amityville Horror
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Distinguishing Marks, The Amityville Horror
* Audio Commentary by Professor of Parapsychology Hans Holzer, PHD.
* Featurette: "For God's Sake, Get Out!"
* Remake Sneak Peak
* Featurette: "Amityville: Horror or Hoax?"
* Featurette: "Amityville: The Haunting"
* Radio Spots
Scales of Justice, Amityville II: The Possession
Perp Profile, Amityville II: The Possession
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Distinguishing Marks, Amityville II: The Possession
Scales of Justice, Amityville 3-D
Perp Profile, Amityville 3-D
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Distinguishing Marks, Amityville 3-D
* IMDb: The Amityville Horror (1979)
* IMDb: Amityville II: The Possession
* IMDb: Amityville 3-D
* Official Site