The Amityville Horror Review
A home is a man's castle; it is where we feel safest and if you don't feel safe at home where can you feel secure? Horror as a genre is aware of these psychological needs and as such has numerous films or books or games that subvert the home as a place of safety, either by home invasion or revealing the house itself as malicious. The latter is the case when it comes to The Amityville Horror, a 1979 classic directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring Lois Lane herself Margot Kidder. The film intensifies this terror as an adaptation based on the real-life accounts of George and Kathleen Lutz, the actual residents of the house in Amityville. While it was not received well at the time, its reach can be seen in a lot of films that have come after it. Now Second Sight are bringing this influential haunted house flick to special edition steelbook Blu-ray this month, and the question is, is it worth picking up?
The Amityville Horror follows the Lutz family, consisting of Kathy, her kids Amy, Greg and Matt, as well as new husband George, who have just moved into their new house. However, one year before a 20-year-old man murdered his family in that very house. Soon after they start unpacking, they begin to notice paranormal phenomena in the house and within themselves. They must then discover the strange goings-on in their house and try to escape the forces seeking to keep them there.
For the most part, the film is an effective little ghost story. There is a great synthesis between cinematographer Fred J Koenekamp, editor Robert Brown Jr and composer Lalo Schifrin to create a fantastic atmosphere. The use of camera movements, framing and shot placement is incredibly effective in creating a sense of unease and mystery that the dream-like score from the man that bought us the Mission: Impossible theme turns up to 11. The film is crafted well with the director of Cool Hand Luke gently steering audiences toward the less obvious scares and creepy atmosphere.
This was made before a time when horror film characters were more monstrous than the people/things chasing them down, so we sympathise with the Lutz family and are more able to place ourselves in the situation. This is helped by some great performances from the child actors, Natasha Ryan as Amy, K.C. Martel as Greg and Meeno Peluce as Matt, with you believing that these are actual children experiencing these terrifying events. However, it is Margot Kidder and James Brolin as Kathy and George Lutz who really sell this illusion. Their portrayal of real people feels genuine, and the fear, stress and confusion they feel are well acted, especially George's descent into almost madness.
There are problems with the film. The plot doesn't really know where it’s going and after three-quarters of the film suddenly starts the main climax rolling, only for it to be cut short incredibly quickly. Imagine if you will a rollercoaster, we know that roller coaster starts with the big uphill climb followed by a sudden drop and the rest of the ride. Well, The Amityville Horror is all climb, it keeps building and building and building the setup and the tension, but when it comes to the climax it whizzes by so quickly it feels unsatisfying and cheap. The performances at times can go a bit over the top, for instance, George suddenly gets aggravated, rather than a natural progression, he starts off normal and charming and suddenly in the next shot he is wide-eyed and unkempt.
Like classic horror films, Amityville... has great set up and plot, however when it comes to an end it lets itself down with an unsatisfying conclusion and shoddy explanation. Its performances are solid if a little hammy at times, though I am more likely to forgive a little over the top acting, after all, if I can accept a haunted house for 2 hours I can accept that some of the edges of the scenery may be come slightly chewed. Overall it hasn't aged well yet hasn't aged badly, it is just sort of alright.
Second Sight has done a great job with this Blu-ray. It has been transferred to HD well, though I did notice a slight stop that happens right at the beginning, so I am not sure whether that was an intentional edit or a problem with the disc. Despite this slight error, the visuals are very clear, and the audio is perfectly audible. The option of a 5.1 or 2.0 stereo track helps especially with the quieter music cues that your brain picks up on subconsciously.
The menus are laid out a little simply, with just long lists of options, which while easy to navigate are also a little dull, but this is a minor quibble. It is a technically competent disc.
Because this is a special edition steelbook edition, the disc is packed with bonus features. These include the original trailer, TV spots and radio spots, that are interesting if you are historically inclined to seeing how films (especially horror films) were marketed.
There are four new interviews. Two with cast members James Brolin and Meeno Peluce, one with writer Sandor Stern and one with composer Lalo Schifrin. All of these interviews provide an insight into the history of the people as well as their experiences of making The Amityville Horror, each are about 15 minutes long and are packed with detail that makes it well worth a watch. There is also a featurette called For God's Sake Get Out which includes interviews with Brolin and Margot Kidder about how they made the film and how they felt about their performances.
An introduction and commentary to the film is provided by Dr Hans Holzer, an expert in parapsychology, and he provides a great deal of insight into the film’s relationship to the actual events and provides some useful background to paranormal phenomenon. However the best extra on the disc has to be the 80-minute long documentary, My Amityville Horror. Which follows one of the actual Lutz children, Danny, as he talks to psychologists and parapsychologists about his experiences and it provides so much more information about George and his involvement in the generation of the story.
While The Amityville Horror may not have aged as well as some other haunted house movies, with some slightly cheesy acting and a plot that just suddenly stops, it is still a good time with some decent scares and likeable relatable characters. The extras, as all good extras should, perfectly compliment; providing fresh perspectives and information that greatly enhance further viewings of the film. If you are a hardcore horror nut, or a fan of the film already, then this steelbook is perfect for you.