While many of the details surrounding the most infamous house in the U.S. and the murders that took place there may have been forgotten with time, at least there are 11 movies to loosely remind us what happened in the legendary Long Island suburb of Amityville. The folks at Scream Factory! have created a nice box set of the first three films: The Amityville Horror (1979), Amityville II: The Possession (1982) and Amityville 3D: The Demon (1983). This is the first time II and III have been released on Blu-ray and the third one is even presented in 3D. The three films vary in quality (the second is my personal favorite, I’m fine if I never see III ever again)) but you can’t argue that having an Amityville box set on your shelf does not kick ass.
For those who may have forgotten: On November 13, 1974, at 112 Ocean Avenue in the suburb of Amityville, Long Island, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents, two brothers, and two sisters. All of the victims were found in bed, lying on their stomachs. Ronald claimed he heard voices conspiring against him and that he shot his family in self-defense. This didn’t exactly fly with the judge and Ronald is currently serving six concurrent life sentences.
13 months after the murders, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the DeFeo home with their three children. The family spent 28 days in the old house, before fleeing due to what they claimed was paranormal activity that was terrorizing them. Amongst other things, they claimed that swarms of flies infected the house despite it being winter and that their daughter Kathy would levitate in bed. A shockwave of controversy and publicity then surrounded the Lutz family – perpetuated by George Lutz’s thirst for fame. No one knows what really went on during the Lutz family’s stay in the house but the Lutzes. There’s no denying George was a helluva salesman though.
What follows is a breakdown of the three films and their special features. This set is gonna be a must-own for diehard fans, it’s just unfortunate that they’re not being sold individually. Everyone should own the terribly underrated Amityvillle II, but most people will probably watch 3D once and forget about it.
The Amityville Horror
A best seller was published in 1977 concerning the Lutzes’ alleged experience and this book was the basis for the The Amityville Horror. The film was a massive box office success and became one of the most profitable independent films of all time. It holds up pretty well, though a contemporary horror audience will probably consider it to be nothing but TV-movie-grade camp. Which it certainly is, although I would consider it competent camp. It’s basically a standard haunted house movie with a famous tabloid story to use as a crutch.
James Brolin stars as George Lutz and hot damn does he amazingly portray a man slowly crumbling apart. His hotheaded performance is actually the highlight of the film for me – that and Lalo Schifrin’s amazing score. As a whole, the experience is impossibly corny at times – just like the claims made by George Lutz in real life. But if everything Lutz said was true, then why didn’t it make for a terrifying film experience? And if they did make everything up, why not make it more entertaining? And why is the moneyshot of the damn pig so funny?
For a movie that’s two hours long, it never feels like anything actually happens besides close-ups of people being scared. It’s not a boring film by any means and it’s got a great, dreary style to its photography. Being raised Catholic, I’m a sucker for any film with darkly religious undertones. Demons and unexplainable evil will always scare the shit outta me. It just never feels like the film goes anywhere.
The film’s initial success is owed heavily to the fact that it exploited public fascination with the Lutzes and their recent paranormal accusations. Over 30 years later, after the Lutz hoopla has subsided, the film stands as an uneven horror flick elevated by its performances and classic score. At least it’s better than the shitty 2005 remake.
The Amityville Horror is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD. I’ve never watched the original Blu-ray, but Scream Factory’s transfer boasts strong detail and contrast. The DTS Master Audio 5.1 track is also impressive, with lots of good mixing. The front channels get a heavy workout for sure.
Audio Commentary with Dr. Hans Holzer: This insightful as hell audio commentary was carried over from the original MGM DVD. Holzer is the Amityville expert who wrote “Murder in Amityville” (which the second film is based loosely on). He talks in detail about history of the actual home and murder in 1974, the subsequent trial, and more. He definitely believes that Ronald DeFeo Jr. was possessed that night, but he never over-embellishes the story. After about 25 minutes or so, there are very long gaps with no commentary though. Anyone interested in the “real” story of Amityville will certainly dig this track.
Interview with Brolin and Kidder: This feature is also carried over. The two actors talk about their research pre-filming and how they were warned about a curse. It’s a lighthearted interview and Brolin even jokes about the moment in the film he’s least proud of: “I’m coming apart!”
Interview with Composer Lalo Schifrin: A nice, brief interview in which he talks about how he met Stuart while they both worked on Cool Hand Luke. The guy is method too, as he explains how while writing the score he tried to become hypnotized by the music.
Trailers, TV spots, Radio spots
Amityville II: The Possession
This is a prequel to the events of The Amityville Horror that’s been held in pretty low regard by most horror fans. I have no idea why. I love this one and it’s by far my favorite of the trilogy. Directed by Italian exploitation maestro Damiano Damiani, Amityville II surpasses the original on all counts – especially when it comes to actually being scary. It’s dark, sordid, and has style out the ass. It’s clear that Damiani was heavily influenced by the masters of Italian horror like Bava and Argento, and he successfully injected that unnerving style into an American haunted house flick.
The film is loosely based on Hans Holzer’s book “Murder in Amityville,” which alleged that Ronald DeFeo Jr. was possessed by an angry Native American spirit when he murdered his family in 1974. In the film, Ronald is replaced with Sonny (Jack Magner), a disturbed young man who gradually becomes possessed by a demonic force. The film throws in an incestuous subplot that was somewhat of a controversy at the time. It’s not graphic and more implied than anything, and if anything it heightens the tragedy at the center of the crazy film. The family was screwed before they even moved in and the house fed off this dysfunction.
The movie is genuinely scary, particularly leading up to the murders. The second half of the film kinda stumbles a bit and feels like a poor attempt to ape The Exorcist at times, but it’s never bad. The POV-evil cam prowling through the house at night is a great touch and adds a certain kinetic energy to the film. The atmosphere of shadows and evil is amazingly deep. All of the subtle giallo nuances Damiani utilizes helps elevate the film alongside Burt Young’s devastating performance as the uncouth patriarch pretending that he belongs in a nice, middle class suburb. Even when Tommy Lee Wallace’s (Halloween III) script falters a bit, Magner and Young’s performances keep the film grounded somewhat in reality.
Shit, I really love this movie. It’s infinitely more entertaining than the first. Here’s hoping horror fans who may have dismissed it the first time around give it another shot with the Scream Factory box set.
Amityville II: The Possession is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ration in 1080p HD. No complaints here – everything is crisp and the contrast is terrific. The DTS Master Audio mono track is fine.
Audio Commentary with Alexandra Holzer: This is the daughter of Hans Holzer, author and Amityville expert. It’s a really poor commentary track that’s filled with awkward gaps. She basically says what parts of the movie are in her father’s book and what parts were embellished for the film. I wish Scream was able to carry over the DVD commentary from critics Kim Newman and Stephen Jones for their Blu-ray.
Interview with Director Damiano Damiani: he talks about not being a genre director, but states that he’s proud of what he’s done. He says he completely ignored the first movie and tried to make it his own. One of the weirdest things he says is “In NY, there have always been young, crazy guys.”
Interview with Tommy Lee Wallace: he is clearly not a believer in Hans Holzer’s Indian burial ground myth. He says it’s based on nothing. He also goes into his dislike of the first film.
Interview with Rutanya Alda: she talks about getting cast, working with a tri-lingual crew, and the rape scene that was cut out.
Interview with Diane Franklin: she talks about the infamous incest subplot and what it was like playing a vulnerable character. She also discusses Jack’s method acting. Apparently he would not hang out with the cast in between shooting like he was possessed by an anti-social demon or something.
Interview with Andrew Pine: in this very brief interview, he talks about how great it was not to talk to the director, since he didn’t speak English.
Interview with Alexandra Holzer: she’s the daughter of Hans Holzer, Amityville expert. She details how her father got involved and what his research was like.
Amityville 3D: The Demon
Ho boy. This one’s a real stinker. While Amityville II is a goddamn treasure, 3D is a nightmare. It’s terribly unimaginative and tries so hard to be a genuinely smart look at parapsychology. Nothing lands on target though. Tony Roberts stars as a psychic investigator who buys the Amityville house so he can write an article about it. Shortly after, him and his family (including a very young Lori Loughlin of Full House fame) are at the epicenter of demonic activity. Meg Ryan is up in the mix too in one of her first roles.
The film does deviate a bit from the previous Amityville formulas by having the evil move outside of the house and follow the family members. Unfortunately, it suffers from some of the worst pacing ever in a horror film. Director Richard Fleischer (Mr. Majestyk) had zero horror experience going into the film and it shows. The house itself is barely used except for the basement. Fleischer was selected because he had previously made a 3-D film: 1953’s rodeo film Arena.
The only adeptness he demonstrates with the technology is thrusting shit at the camera, which, arguably, is all it was used for back then. It’s a shame he didn’t seem to show any interest in making a horror film. He’s a great director who went on to do Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja. Horror just wasn’t his bag, I suppose.
Sometimes the film show’s hints of competence, but overall it’s a mess. Especially after watching Damiano Damiani’s masterful Amityville II right beforehand.
Amityville 3D is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p HD. The picture looks fine in parts but suffers from early 1980s 3D trappings like weirdly colored background objects. Watching it in 2D is a headache, but unfortunately the 3D doesn’t look much better. The 3D elements vary in quality and appear unnaturally darker than everything else.
The DTS Master Audio 5.1 audio is fine, but there’s no exceptional aspects to talk about. Let’s just say it’s suitable.
Interview with Candy Clarke: in this brief interview, she talks about working on the sound stage in Mexico and how customs stole some of their costumes. She certainly looks back fondly on the filming.
Trailer: I like the line “a new dimension in the technology of terror”