The Amityville Horror
Shout! Factory // 1979 // 119 Minutes // Rated R
Amityville II: The Possession
Shout! Factory // 1982 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Shout! Factory // 1983 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 20th, 2013
Why don't you shoot that pig?
Of the multitude of horror franchises that emerged out of the horror boom of the 1980s, is there one that spawned from a worse, less scary original than The Amityville Horror?
Now, I know the book was a smash hit and the fabrication of it being based on true events caught the zeitgeist of gullible fans in 1979 but, seriously, for all the name recognition the word "Amityville" carries (IMDb lists eleven movies using the name, not counting the remake), it's really poorly done horror. Still, Shout! Factory has packaged the original with its first two sequels, neither of which having any real connection to it, in a nice little Blu-ray set as The Amityville Horror Trilogy.
The Amityville Horror: George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin, Westworld, and Margot Kidder, Black Christmas) get a great deal on a gorgeous old house on a river in upstate New York and move in with their five children to start their peaceful new life. Immediately upon arrival, though, the family is beset by supernatural phenomena; there is an unexplainable presence in the house, but it doesn't want them there and will do anything to force them out.
Amityville II: The Possession: Before the Lutz's moved in, there were the Montellis, a blue collar family led by the strict and harsh patriarch, Anthony (Burt Young, Rocky). The family dynamic starts to fracture when they move into the cursed house and, soon, Sonny (Jack Magner), the eldest boy, finds himself possessed by a demon, who forces him to perform the unspeakable actions that led to what the Lutz's experienced.
Amityville 3-D: John Baxter (Tony Roberts, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy) is a reporter who thrills in debunking reports of supernatural activity. His new project, though, is most exciting: the Amityville house! After first outing a pair of séance hucksters, he buys the house himself and moves in, but his skepticism is quickly put to the test when the old presence manifests itself once again.
It amazes me that The Amityville Horror is still regarded as a "classic" horror movie. With the book and all, I get why it was popular at the time, but it's a ridiculously ineffective horror movie, with no suspense and a body count of zero. Horror doesn't have to have both suspense and a body count, but it needs at least have one of them, something for an audience to hold onto as the weak plot plays out.
What's kind of funny about it is that it shows all the people who wonder why characters don't just leave the haunted house that doing the smart thing makes for poor cinema. Sure, events happen: walls drip blood, flies mysteriously appear, the house makes otherworldly noises, but none of it inspires even a shred of terror. Part of that is the tepid lead performances from Brolin and Kidder, but most of it is the completely uninspired direction of Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke), who must have been bored stiff making the movie, because that's the only feeling that comes off the screen.
Amityville II: The Possession, on the other hand, is classic exploitation. Sure, it's objectively awful and totally shameless, but it's also a blast for fans of Italian horror. Director Damiano Damiani (A Bullet for the General), while not the most experienced horror director out of Italy at the time, knows exactly what to do to have fun with a sequel to bad horror. He takes facts about the real shootings that occurred decades before the Lutz family and then goes wildly over the top with them.
Burt Young is deliciously evil, chewing the scenery while beating his family every chance he gets. Sonny, as he starts feeling the demonic presence, develops incestuous urges toward his sister (Diane Franklin, Better off Dead), which Damiani has him act upon in the creepiest of ways. This time around, it's not ghosts, but a gateway to hell that causes the horror, making for hilariously bad special effects that have no real place in the story. Really, it could only have been worse, which is to say more fun, if producer Dino De Laurentiis had hired someone like Lucio Fulci instead.
And then, after all that trash, we sink even lower with Amityville 3-D. Taking the violence down a notch, director Richard Fleischer (Conan the Barbarian) brings the Amityville house to a PG level and the audience winds up with the worst of both worlds. It has all the stupidity of Amityville II, but adds in the boring story from the original. Needless to say, there is nothing to see here except for some bad 3D effects and early performances from Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally) and Lori Loughlin (Full House), so really not very much.
Fans of the trilogy, though, whoever you are, will delight at Shout! Factory's presentation of the films. As you go forward in the collection, the quality progressively dips, but it's really only the first two that are important anyway. Each has been given a brand new high definition transfer, the original and sequel at 1.85:1/1080p and Amityville 3-D at 2.35:1/1080p.
The original already received an upgrade a few years ago and it's presented here unchanged. It has a nice grain structure, but is very clean, with great colors and very deep black levels. The other two are on Blu-ray for the first time and both are greatly improved from previous standard def releases.
Amityville II also looks excellent, if not quite as impressive as the original. It's very clean, though, and the colors are great here, but the improved detail does reveal just how unimpressive the special effects are (though, in this case, that me be more of a feature than a bug).
Amityville 3-D, however, does have some problems. The good news is the movie can, for the first time, be seen at home in 3D. The bad news is that the effects don't come off very well and, really, would be pretty tame even if they did. More bad news in that, if you want to watch it in 2D, it doesn't look very good. The print is perfectly clean, but it has an overall muddiness that is distracting and, I suspect, is a result of the 3D process.
The sound on all three is strong. One and three have strong, if not overwhelming 5.1 Master Audio mixes, while two only has the original mono mix, although a strong Master Audio track in its own right. Each of them is nice and crisp, though the surround mixes have little to speak of in the rear channels. They are all big upgrades over previous releases, but none of them are particularly special.
The extras, across the board, are a mixed bag. The Amityville Horror receives some of the extras off of the movie disc from the old SD version of this collection, which include a fairly lame commentary by parapsychologist Hans Holzer, who goes out of his way to justify the supernatural events, which I have no time for. A "documentary" called "For God's Sake, Get Out!" consists exclusively of modern interviews with Brolin and Kidder. They remember their experience with the film more fondly than I will. A theatrical trailer and a set of radio spots round out the disc, leaving behind the two more legitimate documentaries from the fourth disc, none of which is included in this set.
Luckily, Amityville II: The Possession does finally get a slate of all new extras. First, an audio commentary with Alexandra Holzer, daughter of Hans Holzer manages to be even more boring than her dad's on the original. With long stretch of silence followed by brief quips telling you exactly what is happening onscreen, it's basically worthless. The interviews are fun though. These include talks about the movie with actors Andrew Prine, Diane Franklin, and Rutanya Alda, as well as a longer one with the late Damiano Damiani, who has exactly the right attitude about his movie. A trailer finishes out that disc while, outside of the 3D presentation and a trailer, Amityville 3-D is a bare bones affair.
I'll never understand the appeal of The Amityville Horror that makes it one of the most recognizable names in all of horror. What I do know, however, is that no Amityville collection is complete without 1996's The Amityville Dollhouse. In any event, Shout! Factory has a respectable package for fans of these movies, with nice transfers, good sound, and the first ever home video 3-D presentation of the third film. The only reason I care, though, is that I now have a new entry for trashiest film I own. For that alone, I can thank Amityville II: The Possession. Otherwise, this is as boring as horror gets.
Review content copyright © 2013 Daryl Loomis; 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 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Distinguishing Marks, The Amityville Horror
* Radio Spots
Scales of Justice, Amityville II: The Possession
Perp Profile, Amityville II: The Possession
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 104 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 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Distinguishing Marks, Amityville 3-D
* IMDb: The Amityville Horror
* IMDb: Amityville II: The Possession
* IMDb: Amityville 3-D