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Customer Review

on October 10, 2013
Shout's first year of releasing horror titles through their Scream Factory brand has yielded numerous treasures for genre fans, giving even B-tier titles like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR TRILOGY their due on Blu-Ray.

Never regarded as a classic, even of the cult variety, the original 1979 AMITYVILLE HORROR nevertheless became one of the biggest independent hits of all-time. Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff's American-International Pictures, the pulpy adaptation of Jay Anson's supposedly-"true story" of the infamous haunted house provides plenty of cheap thrills and a few unintentional yucks to go along with it.

James Brolin and Margot Kidder essay George and Kathy Lutz, who move into the quiet Long Island community of Amityville. Unbeknownst to them, their new home was previously occupied by a family that was slain by their teenage son in a series of brutal shootings. Whether or not the teenager was driven mad by the house (or something in it), the Lutzes soon find themselves being barraged by a variety of haunted house cliches: slime flowing out of toilets, glowing eyes in the upstairs bedroom, invisible play pals of their young children telling them secrets, and George being taken over by some kind of entity from another dimension. Even a local priest (Rod Steiger) fails to clean the house of its inherent evil after giving it the old Father Merrin try.

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, "The Amityville Horror" is standard but competent late 70s horror. The performances are solid but the movie has that "plastic" kind of look so many films of its era do. It's like watching an "Eight Is Enough" episode crossed with "The Exorcist." More effective is Lalo Schifrin's score, which unfortunately was copied in so many other genre films (and used in even more trailers) that it's then-unique mix of child chorus and creepy orchestral arrangements also seems well-worn.

Shout's "Amityville Horror" Blu-Ray doesn't merely reprise the already-available MGM/Fox Blu release, adding in extras from an older Special Edition DVD that the prior Blu-Ray lacked. "For God's Sake, Get Out!" is a superb look back at the success of the film, sporting interviews with Brolin and Kidder, who isn't ashamed to admit the movie was her "pay day" following "Superman." Radios spots and the original trailer are also on hand, though the most entertaining extra is a full-length commentary from parapsychologist Dr. Hans Holzer. The late Dr. Holzer may be known to some for his occasional appearances on Leonard Nimoy's old series "In Search Of...," particularly in the Amityville episode where he was a lead investigator. Here, Holzer engages in a fascinating, if not completely off-the-wall, discussion of the actual Lutz haunting, noting where the filmmakers went wrong in making the movie and needlessly messing with the "actual" accounts of what happened in the house. It's the kind of talk one wishes you'd hear more often in a DVD commentary. Shout has also shot new extras for this box-set, though the only new supplement on "The Amityville Horror" is a 10-minute conversation with Lalo Schifrin, discussing his oft-imitated score.

Visually, the 1080p AVC encoded transfer is probably as spiffy as the film is going to appear, and both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS MA mixes are included on the audio side.

The set also includes the Blu-Ray debuts of the series' two theatrical sequels: the tasteless AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION and the entertaining, if not generic, AMITYVILLE 3-D. Dino DeLaurentiis produced both sequels, which Orion released to declining box-office receipts, leading the "Amityville" series to head to the small-screen and direct-to-tape productions thereafter.

"Amityville II" purports to be a prequel showing what happened to the family that moved in before the Lutzes. Tommy Lee Wallace's script, which claims to be based on Holzer's "Murder in Amityville" book, is an unholy rehash of "The Exorcist" and numerous other genre films of the period, exploiting the actual murders that occurred in the house and adding doses of sexuality (including incest!) under the direction of Damiano Diamiani.

Shot in New Jersey (exteriors) and Mexico (interiors), "Amityville II" leaves one with a sour taste, mainly due to its attempt to explain the brutal killings by having the teen son responsible for the crimes being possessed by a demon. The movie has an eclectic cast, with James Olson as a priest who attempts to exorcise the teenager of all evils, Burt Young as the doomed father of the Montelli clan, Moses Gunn as an attorney and Diane Franklin (seen also in "The Last American Virgin" during the summer of `82) as the eldest Montelli daughter. The make-up effects are okay in an `80s gross-out kind of way, but the sequences showing the Montelli son running around, gunning down his family, leave an uncomfortable feeling that no amount of subsequent hocus-pocus can eradicate. (For the movie's defenders, ask yourself if most folks today would enjoy watching an exploitation film about the Newtown shootings with the gunman's actions being explained by him being possessed by a gooey-green monster)

A film that's always carried a notorious reputation for that reason, "Amityville II" makes its Blu-Ray debut sporting the most amount of supplements in Shout's box-set: a 10-minute interview with the Italian director (who passed away earlier this year) is on-hand, as are recent conversations with Diane Franklin and co-stars Rutanya Alda and Andrew Prine, plus writer Tommy Lee Wallace, who was about to make his directorial debut on "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" when he took the assignment to pen the sequel/prequel. There's also a lengthy talk with Hans Holzer's daughter, Alexandra, who discusses her father's work and also participates in a limp commentary track filled with long silences. The trailer, a fresh 1080p AVC encoded transfer and 5.1 DTS MA stereo and mono audio round out the release.

With Richard Fleischer at the helm, the following year's AMITYVILLE 3-D offers a superior viewing experience, seemingly more influenced by "Poltergeist" and similar supernatural tales than its predecessors (the movie was even released with a disclaimer that it was unrelated to either of the previous "Amityville" films). Tony Roberts and Tess Harper play the latest fun couple to move into the Amityville house, just to prove writer Roberts' theory that the hauntings are just a hoax. Unfortunately for them - and their daughter Lori Laughlin - the Baxters find out the hard way that the spectral scares are indeed real.

William Wales' script and Howard Blake's score are both a cut-above the norm, and while nobody will mistake "Amityville 3-D" with a classic of its kind, the movie is a big upgrade on the second film and even offers one or two eerie moments (particularly after Laughlin drowns). The anamorphic frame also gives the movie the most cinematic look of the entire series, and presented here in its proper Arrivison 3-D dimensions, the movie at last restores its most entertaining element: its stereoscopic effects, which (while blurry around the edges - an inherent issue with the Arrivision-shot films of the era) are competently executed by Fleischer.

Shout's 3D Blu-Ray of "Amityville 3-D" enables viewers with 2D sets to enjoy the film as well (the disc will default to either 3D or 2D depending on your set-up), though 3D is clearly the way to go if you have the ability to view its original format. The transfer is like looking at a Viewmaster reel in motion - a far cry from most of today's tepid 3D offerings. Extras include a brief trailer and a new interview with Candy Clark, who discusses her work in the film, which - like "Amityville II" - was shot mostly on Mexican soundstages.

The set utilizes the original theatrical one-sheets for its individual Blu-Ray cases, though as of yet, Shout has no intention of releasing the discs individually.
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