The Amityville Horror Trilogy: The Amityville Horror Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Written by Sandor Stern
1979, Region A, 119 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 1st, 2013
James Brolin as George Lutz
Margot Kidder as Kathy Lutz
Rod Steiger as Father Delaney
Don Stroud as Father Bolen
Murray Hamilton as Father Ryan
Val Avery as Sgt. Gionfriddo
Helen Shaver as Carolyn
Natasha Ryan as Amy
George Lutz is in over his head, having just made two big mistakes. He fears commitment and yet marries his girlfriend (with three kids from a previous marriage) and then buys a gigantic house on Long Island that he can never afford. The place has been on the market following a series of brutal murders the previous year, but not being superstitious the Lutzes sign the paperwork and move in. For George, the house in Amityville is an economic horror complete with poor insulation, drafts, terrible plumbing and a handful of other problems down in the basement.
His wife Kathy is a good mother with three rowdy kids and a dog. She is easily spooked and susceptible to the idea that there may be something wrong with their house, conveniently this happens only after they have become the legal owners of the property. George is determined to keep things together, but every time he turns around there is another financial emergency. Within the first two weeks of moving into the new home, George begins to crumble under the pressures of the responsibility. His business partner is always nagging at him to pay the staff, his brother-in-law manages to lose money just in time for George to cover the tab and the only time he feels relaxed is when he is chopping up massive amounts of wood.
Kathy turns to the church for support, but the Catholics have their own problems. Father Delaney agrees to bless the house, but the guy comes with a lot of emotional baggage. He is neither responsible nor helpful, as he suffers auditory hallucinations and has an irrational fear of flies. Rather than tell the family of his concerns about their house he runs outside, vomits in their flower bed and speeds off in his car. Other members of the clergy are not any more helpful, being either prone to sudden nausea or unable to properly operate difficult machinery like telephones and automobiles.
The Amityville Horror is based on Jay Anson's best-selling novel of the same name, but unlike the book, the film never claims to be inspired by a true story. Taken at face value, the tale plays as an allegory for George Lutz's failings as a man. Strange occurrences coincide with financial pressures and he symbolically throws wood onto the fire as though he were tossing money into the flames. The idea of poltergeist activity is briefly entertained but quickly buried under the notion that the house is built over the doorway to hell itself, an unfortunate distraction from what could have been a simple ghost story.
James Brolin (The Car) and Margot Kidder (Black Christmas) carry this picture with ease as George and Kathy Lutz and offer strong performances throughout. There are a few moments when things seem a bit over the top, but luckily for them Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night) is also in this picture as the distraught Father Delaney, and chews through every scene he is in. Director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) handles the material competently and keeps things on the rails even during the more suspect moments of the script written by Sandor Stern (Pin).
The Amityville Horror takes a few pages from stronger cinema, particularly The Exorcist with its subplot involving a lurking police detective (Val Avery in the Lee J. Cobb role) and the extensive moments with pensive priests. As a character piece, there are striking similarities to The Shining (released the following year), and fans of both films may prefer Brolin's slow descent into madness over Nicholson's instantly wacky behavior. Despite a few genuine scares, I was never a huge fan of this film, but I enjoyed it a lot more this time once I noticed parallels to the Tom Hanks/ Shelly Long comedy The Money Pit (1986).
An unexpected franchise that nobody asked for, the film launched eight direct sequels, a big budget remake, two knock-off films (related in title only) and a handful of documentaries. There continues to be a rabid fan base for this story despite many aspects having been debunked and the Lutz family dismissed as greedy opportunists.
Video and Audio:
The Amityville Horror is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks quite nice for its age and budget. The print is in respectable shape with minor damage, but features strong colors with natural looking flesh tones and decent contrast levels. Scream Factory appears to have recycled the same transfer from the earlier MGM release.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track makes good use of the surrounds when they're needed, particularly during the energetic third act. There are some nice directional sound effects and the music cues are quite effective. Dialogue remains clear and free of distortion. The original mono mix is perfectly preserved in this DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. English subtitles are provided.
Parapsychologist Dr. Hanz Holzer recorded a commentary for the MGM DVD release a few years before his death and that track has been carried over for this edition. The recording is interesting and informative, but the good doctor is subject to repetition and there occasional lapses into silence.
For God's Sake Get Out (20 minutes) is a nice retrospective featuring interviews with James Brolin and Margot Kidder. The two share their thoughts on the subject matter and relate stories of the production and working with each other.
Haunted Melodies (10 minutes) features a discussion with legendary composer Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible), who reveals his approach to the themes of the picture and his unexpected involvement with the sequel.
The original trailer and TV spots are paired with a collection of radio spots and promotional stills.