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The Amityville Horror Trilogy (Blu-ray Review)

Amityville-Horror-TrilogyThe story of the The Amityville Horror has spawned 11 films and many documentaries (including My Amityville Horror which I do highly recommend).  Of those films, Scream Factory is boxing together The Amityville Horror Trilogy, consisting of the first three films in the series.  They work as a trilogy, because of the original 8 canon films in the series, these were the only ones that featured and revolved around the house at 112 Ocean Ave.  Other films in the series would focus on haunted objects from the house being put in other homes.  Also, of note, these were the only three released theatrically.  The next film would be a TV movie and the remainder would go straight to video.  It wasn’t until the 2005 Platinum Dunes remake that the house would return to the big screen.

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The Amityville Horror

 

The Amityville Horror is based around the so-called “true events” that happened to the Lutz family upon moving into their home on 112 Ocean Avenue.  A year prior the home was subject to the terrifying murder of the DeFeo family at the hand of the eldest son.  Upon moving into the home, many strange occurrences happened to the Lutz family and others.  Flies swarming everywhere, demonic eyes staring in the windows, the house telling a priest to “get out!” and other paranormal things forced their hand to leave after just 28 days.

This case has been a point of fascination for years.  Did this really happen to the Lutz family or was it a giant hoax?  People will strongly believe one side or the other, but in all honesty we’re never going to know.  After the events, a book was written and that turned into this film.  The research you can do on the Amityville home at 112 Ocean Avenue and documentaries you can catch might be a bit more enthralling than this older piece of horror cinema.

This film was massively successful back in 1979, most of that coming from it being based on a true story.  The film was held up with the ranks of The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby for a time.  But unlike those two, it really doesn’t hold up and I’m not sure if it ever really did.  I saw this movie once in my youth and I was kind of bored by it.  Back then I think I enjoyed Amityville 1992: It’s About Time more than the original.  Don’t shoot me, as I’ve not gone back to 1992 since, well, 1992.  Maybe somebody will release that one on Blu-ray and I can dive back into the time traveling Amityville tale.  This viewing was my second time with this first film.

I enjoyed it more this time than I did in my youth, but I’m not sure it’s ever going to cross my mind to go back to anytime soon.  It’s well directed and I like some of the spooky ideas in the film, but ultimately it’s a film that lacks focus.  I know it wants to give us everything the Lutz family experience, but it’s too much.  A lot of it seems like random things that don’t really fit together.  Trying to stick to a true story is appreciated, but a good film is even more appreciated.  There’s no real flow to the movie and everything is kind of random.  The scenes themselves actually work and are crafted well, but when put together it just doesn’t really equal a cohesive story.

I did enjoy James Brolin’s performance here.  It’s an incredible committed piece of camp.  I don’t know if that was his intention, but his dedication to this part is commendable.  Margot Kidder is just fine here in her first role post Lois Lane and her return to horror.  Rod Steiger plays a priest who’s story ties into the plot but feels so distant that it probably wouldn’t have hurt to hack it down or cut the part completely.

If you’re curious about The Amityville Horror, go ahead, scratch it off the bucket list.  It’s a film that nostalgia helps make for an entertaining view, but time has not been kind to and it never nears the heights of films like The Exorcist with which it was held up to for a while.  It’s a cheaper, exploitation film disguised as a prestigious masterpiece.  If you know that, it may not be a slug to get through.  Just know that it’s a film that’s gonna lose its way and wander off throughout (was it really necessary to go to Kathy’s brother’s wedding?).  But I’m not gonna deny this film’s rightful place in horror history either.  It should be remembered and be a stop on the timeline. How fondly a stop it is, is up to you.

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Video

The haunting spooks your residency in a vintage 1:78.1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC picture.  I’m not familiar with the previous release of this film, so I can’t tell you whether this is the same transfer or not.  Knowing Scream Factory’s reputation, I’m guessing its not.  While this film looks pretty solid, I don’t think this picture is going to wow anyone.  For someone like me, I do appreciate a look like this however.  The film has a distinct layer of grain throughout.  It’s also populated with many specs throughout out the entire film.  Also some marks in the print will show up and claim their stake every now and then.  There’s no mistaking this film for having been filmed in any other era here.  It’s got a light-grindhouse look to it with this aesthetic.  I dig the way it looks, but I do understand it could drive some nuts.

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Audio

You can hear the buzzing of flies in 5.1 DTS-HD MA on this release.  The track is a little light on the volume end, but does the trick.  It’s not jaw-dropping or anything, but there is some interplay between speakers.  Dialogue is clear, but still has a kind of analog feel to it.  The score does sound very nice and full.  Overall it’s a track that gets the job done, has a little bit of fun, but mainly stands as serviceable.

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Extras  

There’s plenty here to sink into for a little bit, but I can help but wonder if there wasn’t a little mini documentary on the whole case that could have been included.  After watching the film one’s interest is usually a little peeked into what “really” happened.  You could get lost spending hours on YouTube looking up countless entries on this topic.

  • Audio Commentary By Dr. Hans Holzer, Ph.D In Parapyschology – A medium who investigated on the case gives his account of what happened and makes comparisons to what is going on in the film.  He’s got a kind of lazy sounding voice and leaves a lot of stretches of silence.
  •  “For God’s Sake, Get Out!” A Look At “Amityville Horror” With James Brolin And Margot Kidder (HD, 21:34) – A retrospective look back from the film’s two stars as they recount the case and filming the movie.  This featurette has been ported over from a previous release.
  • Haunted Melodies With Lala Schifrin: A Journey Inside The Music That Makes Horror Come Alive (HD, 9:56) – In the only exclusive feature for this release, the film’s composer discusses his research and inspiration in coming up with his memorable score for the film.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spot (HD, 3:29)
  • Original Amityville Horror Radio Spots (HD, 3:39) – 7 radio commercials
  • Still Gallery – 108 behind the scenes, promotional, posters, and lobby card images.

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Amityville II: The Possession  

The second film in the series is actually a prequel.  It’s based off of the book chronicling the DeFeo murders that happened a year prior to the Lutz’s escapades.  This was the story of a family with an abusive father, who all wound up shot dead in their beds one night by the eldest son.  One of the alibi’s given by Ronald DeFeo Jr. about that night is that he was “possessed” and was not doing it by his own accord.  Writer Tommy Lee Wallace took this idea and decided to fictionalize this case around the idea that he was possessed.  All the names were changed, but this plays as an historical fiction of these true events.

This prequel actually is a marked improvement over the original.  The film has a focus and an idea of what it wants to do.  It doesn’t get carried away with just trying to throw creepy stuff on screen.  There are actually stakes in this film and people put in danger.  The last film saw no fatalities.  It was just a bunch of “boo’s” until the family eventually evacuated the house.  It also helps that there seems to be one concise “villain” to this thing and not just different kinds of random paranormal activity happening in the old house.

Giving assistance to this being a better film, is that its richer in character than the original.  The family is deeply rooted in their own issues before any hauntings begin.  Burt Young gives a terrific spin as the abusive father.  He’s a guy you get the sense wants to improve upon his way in life, but struggles to do so.  A pretty rough and unlikable character becomes rather sympathetic due to Young’s turn.  You also get a campy performance from the mother which is a tad over the top but somehow adds the yin to Burt Young’s yang.  Then there are the kids.  Leading the charge, Diane Franklin turns in a very compassionate performance of a character you really get behind and care for.  Also, we get a priest that actually takes charge and does something, becoming the type of hero we were looking for and needing in the last film.

Why did I discuss character so much just now?  Because bad and dark stuff happens to these people in the film.  If you know the history, you know it’s coming.  And these people are developed well enough that it’s pretty gut wrenching to see this thing play out.  You really want them to make it out and not see this murderous tragedy befall them.  But, there’s nothing you can do about it.  You have to sit and take it.  It’s not fun to see, and the film’s script and director have balls by not letting up and having it play out with the end result the same as real life.  Being a work of fiction, they could have fudged it, but they do not.

Amityville II: The Possession is easily a better film than what came before.  I didn’t even get time mention the wonderful atmosphere and some creature work done in the film, but its complimentary to what I’ve mentioned already.  It’s a film that may just get under your skin.  It’s horror lies in the tragedy, but it may also creep you out and second guess your residence if you’re home alone at night.  This film is the gem of the set, and I really think more people should check it out.  You really don’t need to see the first movie to see this one.  There’s really no connection other than it taking place at the house.  Continuity errors between 1 & 2 be damned, I’ll take them if the film is better.

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Video

Amityville II’s 1080p MPEG-4 AVC picture comes off a bit cleaner than its predecessor.  The 1:78.1 frame is a tad soft, likely source related.  The detail is pretty good throughout and the color does fill out quite nicely.  There is still a nice layer of grain and some specs and such throughout like the first one.  This film is very atmospheric and I think this image reproduces the production’s intentions quite well.  While I think its not perfect and, yes there could be improvement, it stands that this is the best Amityville II has looked and will likely for quite a while.

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Audio  

Your surrounded sound will be possessed by this wonderful 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that fills out your speakers quite nicely.  The track plays plenty of games with your ears bobbing back and forth.  The score and ambiance in the film play up quite nicely to add a level of intrigue and discomfort.  Overall, coupling this with the video, this is a really nice presentation of what many would consider a B-level movie, even though it was an A picture upon release.  You also have the option to listen to the film’s original audio mix in the 2.0 DTS-HD MA track.

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Extras

For fans and Scream Factory, this is the film in the collection that people were counting on to deliver.  And it does.  Still no general doc about the DeFeo case, but this thing is stacked with new interviews and a commentary.

  • Audio Commentary With Alexandra Holzer – The daughter of the renowned parapsychologist, Hans Holzer, discusses the Amityville case, her father’s work and her own.
  • The Possession Of Damiani: Interview With The Director Damiano Damiani (HD, 6:08) – An archived interview with the director.  He discusses not being used to making a horror film and just wanting to make a good film above all else.
  • Adapting Amityville: Interview With Tommy Lee Wallace (HD, 12:27) – The film’s writer discusses not being interested in a sequel, but yet being able to further tell the story of Amityville using more true events.  This time he took some ideas and theories from the time regarding the DeFeo murders and played them up in a “what if” scenario.
  • A Mother’s Burden: Interview With Rutanya Alda (HD, 14:09) – The actress, nominated for a Razzie for this performance, discusses her love of the film and talks the joy and memories of working with everyone on it.
  • Family Matters: Interview With Diane Franklin (HD, 13:39) – The actress talks about working on the film of course, and what it was like and her feelings toward the incest scene.  She discusses what an interesting concept the script was going in and that it appealed to her.
  • Father Tom’s Memories: Interview With Andrew Prine (HD, 3:43) – The actor who had a smaller supporting role as a priest discusses his few scenes on the film.
  • Continuing The Hunt: Interview With Alexandra Holzer (HD, 28:46) – The daughter of Hans Holzer discusses her father’s work on the Amityville case and her continued interest in it.
  • Trailers (HD, 3:13) – 2 trailers for the film
  • Still Gallery – 41 behind the scenes, promotion, lobby card and poster images for the film.
  • *EASTER EGG* (HD, 1:42) – Academy Award winning FX artist Stephen Dupuis recalls a couple of details from the shooting of Amityville II.

 Amityville 3D 4

Amityville 3-D

This time we follow the 3rd occupant of 112 Ocean Avenue, John Baxter.  Baxter, recently divorced, is a reporter for Reveal magazine and is a total nonbeliever of the hauntings in Amityville.  The opening shows Baxter and his partner debunking some phonies during a séance, clearing the way for his move in.  Despite many, MANY signs, warnings and deaths throughout the runtime, Baxter constantly is turning a blind eye to the fact the house may be haunting.

Before we start, I’d like to note the tag line of the film is “In this movie, YOU are the victim”.  And honestly, they couldn’t have been more right about that.

Amityville 3-D is one of the films during the early 80s 3D craze.  There are a lot of things done that when watching it in 2D make it a bit cooky and add a chuckle or two for their out of context nonsense.  I guess since it was a horror movie, they thought 3D would be the way to go, but Amityville seems like a weird franchise to jump on that bandwagon.  But I guess the thought of the flies in 3D enticed the producers.

This film starts with some promise and ends with some good action.  I really enjoyed Baxter disproving Amityville as a possible hoax as during this time there were many disbelievers who were trying to prove such.  The case wasn’t just people supporting and investigating the paranormal, there were people on the opposite end of the spectrum as well.  However, John Baxter’s refusal to believe anything could possibly be happening gets old and tired and ridiculous really fast.  People die, things go haywire and this guy just constantly turns his head.  The ghost of his grandfather could have revealed himself in front of him and had a conversation and I think the guy still would have been in a state of denial.

That’s really what most of this film’s runtime consists of.  His partner making haunting discoveries and Baxter waiving them off.  I must give Candy Clark some credit, the actress went through the wringer in this film.  However, I must say, at the hour mark of the film I honestly felt like absolutely nothing had happened here.  There were some spooky events, but it all really meant nothing.  Its stuff we’ve seen already.  And there was no meaning or focus behind any of it either than paranormal stuff scares people.  Maybe that’s why II worked so much for me, is it clearly made out what it was trying to do.

Just before the final act of the film is where one little thing works and then the film actually does “something” for its final act.  I really loved when the ghost (we don’t know it yet though) of Baxter’s daughter comes slowly walking through the house, dripping wet and walks up the stairs to her room.  It’s quite creepy and well done.  Then in the final act when all the researchers are present and the house begins to attack is some goofy fun.  It may not be compelling stuff, but its some horror action and its entertaining to see play out.  And watching a house explode is always good for something.

The biggest joy I had from Amityville 3-D was probably some of the film’s cast.  The highlight is seeing young Lori Loughlin and Meg Ryan in the film.  Meg Ryan gives way too big a performance but its silly and enjoyable.  I swear Lori Loughlin looks better now than when she was younger.  She’s still a looker, but that woman A) got better looking with age and B) doesn’t age.  I especially give her props for the scene in which she plays the ghost of herself.  Another notable was that this is the first time I’d ever seen Tony Roberts not in a Woody Allen film.  He gets the unfortunate role of playing Baxter, who just denies everything.  Also fun is seeing Jesse Pinkman’s mom, Tess Harper, show up as Baxter’s ex-wife.

There could have been a lot of fun to be had with a film like Amityville 3-D, but it just can’t get past its bad script.  If you were to put together meaningful things within the film, you’d probably wind up with 20 minutes.  The film just kind of hangs out and does what amounts to and seems like nothing.  This should have been a film that went all in and later could be viewed as campy fun.  How it stands though, its got a nice start and a good enough finish, it’s the in between that severely hampers your viewing enjoyment of the movie.

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Video

The 2:40.1 framed feature is not pleasing on the eyes.  The 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoding likely suffers from the same fate as Friday The 13th Part 3.  The 3D films shot in this time do not seem to benefit when coming to Blu-ray.  For the most part, the image is slightly blurry.  The image is not sharp at all.  Some shots in the film are detailed and impressive, but you’re playing a waiting game between them.  Colors aren’t very prominent either.  It looks like a ratty old print of a film that desperately begs to have some restoration done to it.  There are a lot of scratches and some print damage present in this presentation of the film as well.  It looks like its been worn.  I don’t know why these are turning out like this and if anything could’ve been done, but they really deserve to look better.  So, I guess, don’t get your hopes up for Jaws 3D’s picture quality if it ever hits Blu-ray folks.

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Audio    

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks fairs much better than the video.  Sound effects prove very prominent.  There’s some really cool things done with an echoing distant ghost voice at one point in the film too.  The score is a little lighter than normal, but it works out just fine.  Dialogue is clean and clear.  This is a nice track that deserves to go with a better looking image.  Also available is a very good 2.0 DTS-HD MA track, akin to be closer to the original sound of the film.

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3D

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the 1080p MVC encoded 3D on this film is difficult to watch.  I thought this was gonna be pretty solid, as the menu looks really good.  I was wrong.  Let me put this out there first, I’m not the biggest fan of 3D.  There is a lot of ghosting going on throughout.  In looking at the film without the glasses, the images appear to be too far apart.  There are a few scenes displaying some impressive depth, but that’s about it.  A lot of it was ghosting so much that my head was hurting in some areas.  Also every time something would come out at the screen it what split off like Multiple Man.  This is Scream Factory’s first foray into 3D and I can only hope they improve if they do more.  To make sure it wasn’t the TV, player or glasses that were messed up, I watched some of another post-convert title, The Avengers in 3D and it looked stellar.

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Extras

All the focus on this one went to the 3D.  This is about the bare minimal of extras.  The Amityville 3-D disc is not without merit, however.  It does have a new interview done exclusively for this release.  So, its not like this was done with no effort.

  • A Chilly Reception: An Interview With Actress Candy Clark (HD, 9:46) – The actress recalls working with the young up and coming talent and reminisces about the beating she had to take to do many fx shots.
  • Still Photography – 16 photos of behind the scenes, lobby cards, promo shots and posters.
  • Trailer (HD, :39)

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Summary

The big reason to pick up this release is Amityville II: The Possession.  It’s a grisly little horror film and the treatment it’s been given here with presentation and bonus material is a fantastic combination.  While I’m not a big fan of the first film, it is something to have in your horror collection and is an “ok” but largely mediocre film.  But it has its fans, legacy and following, so it may be a bigger catch for most.  The third film should be recommendable based on the 3D, but the presentation of it falls flat, leaving you with just the film it is.  This is a pretty nice collection for horror fans, nonetheless and its being sold at not too bad an asking price.  My feelings on some of the films aside, it was quite a treat to go back and revisit these during this perfect fall/October-ish time of year to be viewing them.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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