❉ Second Sight’s standard edition Blu-ray of ‘The Amityville Horror’ is an essential package for fans of the films and for the horror completist.
“The late, great Margot Kidder and James Brolin give committed performances that play it straight… A staple of horror viewing in the 1980s, the lack of having the chance to see such real gems of ‘70s Satanic cinema such as The Exorcist to compare it to only helped its reputation.”
Has there ever been a more iconic pair of windows in cinema than those of the Amityville House? Every poster, VHS and DVD cover, even those of the sequels and the instantly forgettable Ryan Reynolds remake, make a point of featuring the end of the titular house and its two upper windows staring out with evil intent, hinting of the evil that goes on behind them, arresting as any dead eyed stare from the likes of those other cinematic boogeymen like Norman Bates or Patrick Bateman. Sadly, a revisit to the film reveals that they are the most sinister thing about the whole franchise.
A staple of horror viewing in the 1980s on UK television screens, the reputation of the film and book it was based on spread like wildfire, particularly around school playgrounds. The lack of having the chance to see such real gems of ‘70s Satanic cinema such as The Exorcist to compare it to, thanks to its ban on VHS at the time, only helped its inflated reputation. Watching it now it is a mystery that such a lifeless and bloated film was such a popular one, its American box office take alone cemented its place as the most successful independent film until 1990 when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stole its crown.
Chances are you know of the horrifying aspects that influenced the film. The genuinely true ones, that is. What is known is that, in 1974, one Ronald DeFeo shotgunned his whole family in their sleep. Thirteen months later the Lutz family moved into the large house which for some reason they got at a bargain price. According to them, things got quite supernatural quite fast. The toilets started spewing black sludge, vast hordes of flies occupied one of the rooms, husband and stepfather George started to resemble murderous Ronald and woke every night at 3:15, the exact time Ronald slew his family, 5 year old daughter Missie made friends with a pig demon called Jodie only she could see and a priest came round to bless the house and someone shouted “GET OUT” at him. For some reason they decided to move out. Word spread of these spooky goings on and eventually a bestseller by Jay Anson recounting this nightmare habitat was released, catching the attention of exploitation super producer Samuel Z. Arkoff. Amityville’s status as a classic modern haunting was cemented.
How, then, did The Amityville Horror end up being such a dud? Director Stuart Rosenberg must take the share of the blame with his mediocre direction. There is no affinity for genre here which the 4K remastering on this new Blu-ray from Second Sight only exposes for all to see. There is as much tension here as an episode of Homes Under The Hammer and he seems lost at sea when using special effects. The appearance of the aforementioned pig demon in a bedroom window is clumsy beyond belief and other shocks fail to elicit any reaction let alone fear in the viewer. It all contributes to a brightly bland and flat visual style that offers no room for interpretation or nuance for what could have been happening physically or psychologically. What you see here is what you get and what you’re getting is the horror movie equivalent of gruel dressed up as something else.
Rosenberg was a more than competent director, he directed Cool Hand Luke! So how he turned in such an uninspiring product is a mystery as big as that of the house itself. He is not the only major talent lost at sea here however; Rod Steiger flounders, wails and moans as Father Delaney in a totally superfluous thread of the film where he has no onscreen interaction with the main cast at all. His inclusion here only seems to be included to catch some of that Exorcist money that may still have been lying around at the tail end of the 70’s religious horror movie boom. The late, great Margot Kidder and James Brolin give committed performances that play it straight, easily giving the film its most convincing aspect, one better than the film deserves really.
Strangely, the influence of the story and the film itself on horror cinema are undeniable, particularly in the last few years, especially in the films of James Wan who seems to have built two franchises, Insidious and The Conjuring, that arguably have built their considerable box-office by trading in spooky dolls, self-moving furniture and grotesque demons. The real-life couple of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators who pop up in the latter franchise, actually investigated the house in the ‘70s. Lorraine makes an appearance in the copious extras included on the disc that show the story of what may have happened before any books or films were written as one that is much more interesting.
Chief among these extras is the feature length documentary My Amityville Horror which features interviews with Daniel Lutz, one of the children who resided in the infamous residence. Daniel’s recollections, whether you believe in the supernatural or not, are troubling if only for his own belief in what he has experienced, obviously resulting in forming a tightly wound individual. Most troubling is the relationship he had with his stepfather which comes under a certain kind of exposure that Daniel cannot face up to here.
It is a disturbing documentary that offers up a fascinating look at what growing up in such a strange spotlight can do to someone. Conjuring fans will get a kick out of seeing the appearance of an elderly Lorraine Warren reunited with Daniel, but sceptics may find their eyes rolling so far back they will have to retrieve them from behind the couch when she shows Daniel a piece “of the true cross that Christ was crucified on” to reassure him spiritually.
Along with the interviews with the cast and crew, including the great composer Lalo Schifrin, it actually adds up to a more than worthwhile package, an essential one for fans of the films and for horror completists who may want to relive this inexplicably popular series that promised so much and delivered so little.
SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:
• ‘Brolin Thunder’ – A new interview with actor James Brolin
• ‘Child’s Play’ – A new interview with actor Meeno Peluce
• ‘Amityville Scribe’ – A new interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern
• ‘The Devil in the Music’ – A new interview with composer Lalo Schifrin
• ‘My Amityville Horror’ – feature-length documentary with Daniel Lutz
• ‘For God’s Sake Get Out’ – Archive Interview with James Brolin and Margot Kidder
• Intro by Dr.Hans Holzer, PhD. In Parapsychology (author of ‘Murder in Amityville’)
• Audio commentary by Dr.Hans Holzer
• Original trailer, TV spot, radio spots
• DTS-HD master audio 5.1 and uncompressed stereo audio options
• New optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired
❉ ‘The Amityville Horror’ standard edition was released by Second Sight on 15 October 2018. Cat.No.: 2NDBR4068 RRP: £19.99. Cert: 15 Running Time: 117 mins approx.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.