The Amityville Horror Collection(MGM Home Entertainment, 4.5.2005)
In November 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo shot and killed six members of his family in their home, situated at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville New York. Despite claiming that he heard voices from within the house telling him to kill, DeFeo was found guilty of the murders and sentenced to life in prison. One year later, newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz, along with their 3 children, moved into the house where the DeFeo murders were committed. At only 80 grand, the 3 story Dutch-colonial was a steal. But only 28 days later, the Lutz family fled in terror, never returning to claim the property or any of their possessions.
In 1977, Jay Anson published the hugely successful novel "The Amityville Horror." Based on conversations with the Lutzs and published as a work of non-fiction, the book claims to tell the true story of the family's ordeal. According to the Lutzs, it was mysterious paranormal activities and ghostly voices that caused them to abandon the house. Demonic forces, the Lutzs claim, caused gentle Mr. Lutz to go all Jack Torrance on his family.
In 1979, AIP released The Amityville Horror movie and it enjoyed enormous box-office success. At the time, everyone had an opinion about the Amityville mystery and fierce debates about the validity of the Lutzs claims have continued unabated ever since. MGM is capitalizing on this continued interest in the Amityville case this weekend by releasing a remake of the original film starring Ryan Reynolds. What better time, then, to repackage the 1979 hit movie, along with its first two sequels, Amityville II: The Possession and Amityville 3-D (the two sequels that MGM owns), with a fourth disc full of Amityville extras?
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder (as George and Kathy Lutz), the first film in the series isn't bad. Along with a sufficiently moody score, it has some interesting performances, especially from Brolin who somehow finds a way to deliver lines such as, "I'm coming apart! Oh mother of God, I'm coming apart!" with a straight face. I absolutely loved watching him struggle to control his increasingly volatile temper, while meticulously sharpening his axe. Brolin's descent into madness and the film's overall pace are slow and steady. While this is a nice contrast to today's blink-and-you'll-miss-it editing, the slow build doesn't amount to much. After sitting through a two hour haunted house movie that's disappointingly short on scares, I was hoping for some sort of payoff at the end.
(On a completely unrelated note, character actor Murray Hamilton appears as the skeptical Amityville priest, a role he rehearsed 4 years earlier, while playing the skeptical mayor of Amity Island in Jaws.)
This disc contains several extras (none of these were included on MGM's previous Amityville DVD), including a 20-minute documentary in which Brolin and Kidder discuss their experiences on the set -- there was no love lost between them -- and their feelings about horror movies, in general. Kidder earns extra points in my book when she calls horror movie fanatics "the most articulate film buffs on the planet".
Also included on the disc is a feature-length commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer, PhD in Parapsychology. He tries to explain the movie from a "scientific" perspective. Unfortunately, this commentary is a dud from start to finish. When not plugging his book, or babbling incoherently about ancient Indian burial grounds, the doctor is busy predicting that the Amityville house, along with its current occupants, will spontaneously combust any day now. Any...day...now...
While waiting for that to happen, you can watch the film's original theatrical trailer and listen to several radio spots from 1979.
Amityville II: The Possession
This sequel is actually a prequel. Based on the original DeFeo Murders, this film is incredibly disturbing. Many scenes feature savage domestic abuse, incest, and gory child-murder. Writer Tommy Lee Wallace, best known for directing bad sequels to John Carpenter movies (Halloween 3, Vampires: Los Muertos), creates a truly demented picture of family life. After the mass murder is committed, the film turns inexplicably into an Exorcist rip-off. The entire ending feels completely tacked-on and unessessary. Like it's predecessor, this movie's not bad. It's got some bizarre performances and an unsettling atmosphere but, much like the original, it's not particularly scary. The only feature on this disc is the film's original theatrical trailer.
I absolutely love, and I mean LOVE, 3-D. Which is why I am incredibly disappointed that this movie was not transferred to DVD in its original 3-D format. The movie revolves around a journalist who moves into the Amityville house to write a book. As expected, bad things happen to him and his family and that's about it. Watch for a young Meg Ryan in a role I'm sure she's proud of. In 3-D, this movie might have been worth my time. As it stands, forget about this laughably inferior sequel and concentrate on the first two installments. Again, only the original theatrical trailer is included.
This fourth and final disc, Amityville Confidential, makes this set worth buying. It includes a five-minute sneak-peek at the 2005 Amityville remake, as well as two 45-minute History Channel documentaries. These informative docs explore both sides of the Amityville debate -- haunted or hoax? -- and contain interviews with the Lutzs and other key figures in their story.
The audio and video on all the discs is first-rate. To top it all off, the set includes a free movie pass for the Amityville remake in theatres now. All in all, this inexpensive set is well worth picking up for anyone even remotely interested in the Amityville phenomenon. The same goes for anyone interested in seeing Rod Steiger say "I am not some pink-cheeked seminarian who doesn't know the difference between the super-natural and a bad clam!" -- Sarah Duda