ON DVD & BLU-RAY
The Amityville Horror (1979) Blu Ray (Second Sight)
Wasn’t this based on a true story?
Jay Anson, writer of the original novel adapted here, based it on the real-life Lutz family, who moved into a house in Amityville, Long Island, where Ronald DeFeo Jr. had murdered his family in 1974. Allegedly, they subsequently experienced a range of inexplicable and terrifying phenomena, which resulted in the father (George) having his own brush with insanity. However, there have since been counter-allegations that the supernatural aspects of their story have been fabricated.
Watch a trailer:
Wasn’t this one of the big horror hits of the 1970s?
This period was a heyday for horror films, with a number breaking box office records. A few of them attracted the kind of distinguished talents who would otherwise have shunned the genre. The Amityville Horror was the most successful independent film at that time, and the second highest grossing film at the 1979 North American box office, making over $86 million. It even beat the hugely popular Alien, which came 6th with a gross of just over $80 million. It also spawned a number of sequels.
…but nowadays, people talk a lot more about Alien than they do about The Amityville Horror
It was a hit on the back of the book and its surrounding urban legend, but was panned by most critics. It starts fairly well, with a creepy nighttime profile shot of the famous Dutch Colonial house, its windows glowing red from gun muzzle flashes as Ronald puts his family to rest. Unfortunately, from then on in until a fairly lively finale, it’s a tedious affair.
Lalo Schifrin’s lullaby-style score is pretty good. However, the supposed scares here (whether based on real life or not) are actually incredibly banal. Stuart Rosenberg’s direction is pedestrian and there’s little in the way of genuine tension or memorable imagery beyond a few effectively nightmarish shots of the house exterior. Still, if you think large numbers of flies buzzing around and Rod Steiger shouting his lungs out are the most frightening things ever (rather than mere annoyances as most people do) then this is for you. Steiger isn’t the only overwrought actor here; James Brolin really piles on the howling and frazzled craziness as George Lutz.
“Oh, mother of God, I'm coming apart!”
It’s more melodramatic than horrific. If you want a similar affair handled in an immeasurably superior manner, see Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) instead.
Runtime: 119 mins
Dir: Stuart Rosenberg
Script: Sandor Stern, from a novel by Jay Anson
Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton, John Larch
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The colours look a bit washed-out apart from during a few of the more startling moments. Detail is fine, as is the sound - in particular, Schifrin’s chilling score, which sounds superb in PCM Uncompressed Stereo.
Highlights amongst the extras
My Amityville Horror
This feature-length documentary is centred around an interview with George Lutz’s stepson Daniel, who talks about how he deals with the experiences he felt living in the Amityville house. He comes across as sincere, although he does get defensive when asked to take a lie detector test. There are also interviews with other related parties such as lawyers, psychologists and parapsychologists.
In general, the documentary takes the view that he imagined the experiences, as he was influenced by George’s own obsession with reading occult books - something not really touched upon in the film itself, which takes a straightforward supernatural/spiritual possession route rather than thinking critically about the situation. At the same time, there’s a spine-chilling moment here as we are shown an unexplained photograph of an apparition of a young boy. It’s well worth a watch.
Audio Commentary with Dr. Hans Holzer
Parapsychologist Hans Holzer, who wrote the book The Amityville Murders (which was adapted into this film's sequel, Amityville II: The Possession) discusses the film. His theories on death and the supernatural aren’t for everyone and occasionally he states the obvious (e.g. that legal juries find demonic possession hard to swallow as an alibi), but nonetheless, his commentary is useful for background information on the case. He also points out the film embellished certain parts of the original story - something he’s openly critical about as he feels that the changes were unnecessary.
For God’s Sake, Get Out!
A 20-minute doc featuring interview footage with James Brolin and Margot Kidder. Their discussions around the film are enjoyable, with Brolin mentioning that he found George Lutz too salesman-like to be convincing. Kidder mentions that she felt her “in the moment” acting annoyed Brolin, who tended to use a more meticulously planned approach.
We also get standalone interviews with James Brolin, Meeno Peluce (who played one of the Lutz children), Sandor Stern and Lalo Schifrin, as well as a trailer, TV spot and radio spots. The Special Edition Steelbook also includes a few lobby cards.
The film really doesn’t stand up unless discussed in context with the fascinating surrounding back story. Luckily the extras make a solid fist of filling this in.