There are few haunted houses as memorable and iconic as the “Lutz House,” aka the “Amityville” house. Situated on Long Island, the giant Dutch Colonial home is instantly recognizable thanks to quarter-moon windows that look as evil as scowling eyes and made up the bulk of the advertising campaign of the original “Amityville Trilogy”— 1979’s The Amityville Horror, the 1982 prequel Amityville II: The Possession, and, finally Amityville 3-D in 1983 (there have been a series of unofficial follow-ups and a 1995 remake with Ryan Reynolds that should have been a lot better than it was). You know you need a better realtor when blood drips from the walls, black goop bubbles up from the basement and voices tell you to “GET OUT!,” but then again, maybe you shouldn’t have bought that home where the family was murdered a couple of years back. The movies are mixed bag, but if you need solid haunted-house action, this Blu-Ray triple-bill from Scream Factory should slake your supernatural thirst.


First up is the original Amityville Horror, based on Jay Anson’s “true story” of the same name. We’re introduced to the Lutz family— George (James Brolin) and Kathy (Margot Kidder), who have recently married, with George becoming stepfather to Kathy’s three kids and changing his religion to Catholicism. They are aware of the mass murder of the DeFeo family which happened a few years earlier, but it’s their first house and, better yet, a steal. Unfortunately, weird things begin to happen — starting with their family priest (a hammy Rod Steiger) being swarmed by flies and warned by unknown voices to leave — and before too long, George begins acting strangely… and things begin to disappear… and crosses begin to spin upside down.


The film, despite its strong reputation, isn’t really that scary; director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) struggles with the tone and Brolin and Kidder vacillate between being rational and crazy. For all the strong set-up elements, you really expect a barn-burner of an ending, but what we get is a lot of goop and a number of shots of Brolin in sickly pancake makeup sharpening an axe with a whetstone— and that’s before the unintentionally funny shot of Margot Kidder, apparently plagued with lesions that look suspiciously like Dr. Scholl’s moleskin bunion pads. Still, Scream Factory delivers a solid transfer, an atmospheric 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack (alongside the original mono track), and few decent supplements, including a look back at the film by Brolin and Kidder (from the previous MGM DVD) and an audio commentary by parapsychologist Dr. Hans Holzer.


The best film of the set, surprisingly enough, is Amityville II: The Possession, which takes the extremely restrained approach of the original and turns it on its head with a wild tale scripted by Tommy Lee Wallace, who’d co-write and direct the equally gonzo Halloween III: Season Of The Witch the following year. The movie, directed by Damiano Damiani, an Italian thriller director who died earlier this year at the age of 91 (!), is a Dino De Laurentiis production detailing the murders committed by Butch DeFeo— er, “Sonny Mantelli” (Jack Magner), who we learn has been possessed by a demon who turns him against his family. The family has issues to begin with— Mom (Rutanya Alda) is cowed by the brutal Dad Anthony (Burt Young, playing against type as a sadistic creep), while teenage daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin) has an awkwardly close relationship with her brother. Soon Sonny is sleeping with Patricia, who confesses to priest Father Adamsky (James Olson), who finds himself drawn into the family’s affairs— particularly after Sonny kills everyone, including his youngest siblings, with a rifle. Olson believes that Sonny is possessed by a demon, something the church hierarchy (including veteran character actors Andrew Prine and Leonardo Cimino) thinks is ridiculous. Soon, all hell breaks out— literally.


Damiani and Wallace take a no-holds-barred approach to the material which is as self-consciously lurid as it is exploitative. But it’s creepy and shocking, everything the original isn’t, and is never less than gripping, even when it doesn’t make much sense. We never understand who or what the demon is and, when Adamsky learns that it’s some ancient Indian spirit (the Amityville home, like every house plagued by ghosts, seems to have been built on an old burial ground), he applies Catholic doctrine to the spectre, which shouldn’t possibly work— but, naturally, does. Scream Factory’s transfer is solid and the DTS Mono track serviceable, but Scream has gifted this set with a number of great special features, including interviews with the late Damiani, Rutanya Alda, Andrew Prine and Diane Franklin (who’s very blasé about the seemingly pre-teen nudity, though she was of age at the time) and a long interview and audio commentary with author Alexandra Holzer, daughter of the parapsychologist who studied the original case.


Dropping down a notch is Amityville 3-D, which, while actually scarier than the original Amityville Horror, suffers from a script so full of holes that demons seem to have chewed through it. Frequent Woody Allen co-star Tony Roberts stars as a magazine writer and professional skeptic who, in the opening scene, debunks a phony séance held at the Amityville House. Roberts, who’s going through a divorce with wife Bess Armstrong, buys the house for a song— and stays there, even though his realtor is killed by a swarm of flies. Soon, Roberts’ life is turned upside-down— his photographer and best friend (a wry Candy Clark, the best thing about the film) is killed; a portal full of luminescent water opens up in the basement and his daughter, a pre-“Full House” Lori Loughlin, dies in a mysterious accident even though Armstrong is somehow still able to see her. Despite the film being filled with hoary clichés — a séance hosted by Meg Ryan in an early film appearance goes awry and Roberts’ decision to stay in the house despite all sorts of baffling events — it’s atmospheric and spooky and the 3D is quite good, thanks in part to veteran director Richard (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) Fleischer, who’d shot the movie Arena in 3D back in the format’s ‘50’s heyday.


Scream delivers the film in flat 2D and full 3D, which requires a 3D-capable TV and appropriate glasses. The transfer is strong — the film never looked this good on video before — but the 3D is problematic. There’s a decent dimensionality to the image, but the 3D ultimately proves to be a literal headache, with every “gotcha” scene with objects being thrust into the camera splitting in two when they get too close. Digital stabilization could have prevented these convergence issues, which prove trying, particularly in the climax. Extras are slight — just a brief interview with actress Candy Clark and the film’s trailer, along with stills and promotional materials — but the 3D, the first time for this film on home video, makes it worthwhile, even despite some of the visual issues. It’s not Halloween, after all, without a haunted house— or, in this case, three stories set within the same spooky residence. Those windows do look like eyes, don’t they?...

You can purchase The Amityville Horror Trilogy directly from Shout! Factory or from Amazon.

More on Geekweek


Sign in to comment with your TypePad, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo or OpenID.