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    Apr 2002

    A Dvd Box Set Review: The Amityville Horror Collection (mgm)

    Well folks, this was the release of the year for me, for sure....I know that sounds a bit insane because many of you have probably never seen any of these rather campy, classic "horror" films that were "supposedly" based on "true" events in the 1970's. Amityville, New York, is a town I grew up just minutes from, and the stories that came from a certain house there was always fascinating to me and other Long Island, New Yorkers. There have been SO many theories on the Amityville case and so many cover-up rumors after the real-life murders that occured there on November 13, 1974, that its hard to even put them all into account; there are also countless internet sites regarding this case, some debunking the theories that 112 Ocean Avenue was haunted --- some defending the fact that it may have been.

    The fact of the matter was this: for some reason (probably to cash in on an insurance policy or because he was simply on drugs), the oldest son of the De Feo family, Ronald Junior, took a Marlin rifle in the early morning hours of November 13, 1974 and murdered his entire family while they slept in their beautiful Dutch Colonial home located at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. Originally, police believed it may have been a mafia-related issue because Mr. De Feo had alleged ties to organized crime, but within hours, Ronald Junior confessed to the murders. At his trial, he claimed "voices in the house" ordered him to kill his family --- that he believed there was someone inside moving him, and he also believed he heard his family conspiring to kill him. Ultimately, even with an insanity plea from his lawyer William Webber, the jury found him guilty and he is still serving six consecutive life sentences in an upstate New York prison. There were some troubling mysteries about the murders that popped up after the trial --- such as why nobody in the entire house woke up while Ronald De Feo blasted off round after round of his shotgun to kill each member of his family; it was found that there were no drugs in the victims' blood. Also, the bodies were found lying face down --- the same position as the Indian tribes that inhabited the land before the house in Amityville was built would bury their dead. An Indian curse, some say, drove Ronald De Feo Jr. to murder.

    I had always been fascinated with the Amityville case, being that I lived so close to the real house (the movie house was located in Tom's River, New Jersey), and followed the transgression from the De Feo case into what eventually became the over-hyped "Amityville Horror." One year after the murders, 112 Ocean Avenue was put on the real estate market, and newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz purchased the house for $80,000, regardless of the murders that took place there. What they claimed they experienced in the house, after only 28 days, was made into a novel and movie by the same name --- The Amityville Horror. Countless horrible sequels were made once three Amityville films were released after the original, but MGM Home Entertainment has decided, to coincide with the GOD AWFUL, completely historically inaccurate remake of The Amityville Horror recently released in theaters, to package the first three Amityville films (considered by fans the best) in a four-disc box set DVD collection (including a bonus disc titled "Amityville Confidential," which includes a look at the remake of the film plus two fascinating History Channel documentaries about what really happened at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York --- AND, to boot, a free ticket to the new remake which is now obsolete.) Included in the box set is The Amityville Horror, Amityville II: The Possession (which is actually a PREQUEL to The Amityville Horror because it is supposed to LOOSELY represent the De Feo murders, but I will get into that later) and Amityville 3-D (which was re-titled for cable broadcast as Amityville: The Demon and which attempted to cash in on the 3-D craze of the early 80's); of all three "classic" Amityville films, only the first two really hold to the spirit of the real story....if you want to call it that. Aside from these three "classic" Amityville films, there were also these made for TV or direct to cable disasters (thankfully not included in the set):

    Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (available on DVD, which I have)
    Amityville 1992: Its About Time
    The Amityville Curse
    Amityville: A New Generation
    Amityville Dollhouse

    As far as packaging goes, all four discs are in standard keepcase boxes, and then collected in a big box with the words THE AMITYVILLE HORROR COLLECTION boldly proclaimed on the front; an image of the infamous Amityville house and its "eye-like" windows is on the box, as well, and the words "4-DISC SET" with the titles of the films is printed on the bottom of the front of the box. This all looks nice sitting on a collector's shelf. The DVDs themselves, however, are another, is the artwork HORRIBLE on these things.....each DVD shows the SAME side shot of the house, with its famous windows, but the VHS versions of some of these films looked so much better than what MGM opted for here.....really cheap looking artwork. The Amityville Horror has the standard side shot of the house, with the glowing amber windows, which is okay.....but what happened to the original VHS artwork for Amityville II, with the glowing blue windows and the FOR SALE sign outside? Instead, we get a shot of the house's windows, with a shadow of someone holding a gun in one of them, with the words "IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK.....THEY'D SHRIEK!" I mean, this is a joke on MGM's behalf. And Amityville 3-D's artwork is no better, with another shot of the windows, and a wind-like artwork blowing out of them, with some crap on the bottom saying "THE ONLY THING ABOUT THIS HOUSE IS SURVIVAL...." or something like that. What happened to the awesome original poster art for Amityville 3-D, with the demon's claw popping out of the downstairs window? HORRIBLE art job by MGM on these discs.

    It should be noted that only The Amityville Horror is offered in widescreen format, while Amityville II and Amityville 3-D are offered in wide or fullscreen choices on "flipper discs."


    This is the one that started it all. Based on the novel by Jay Anson, The Amityville Horror tells the story of George and Kathy Lutz, played here by James Brolin and Margot Kidder, who buy the infamous house in New York after the De Feo family is murdered by their eldest son. The film depicts a very brief rendering of the De Feo killings in the beginning, and then goes right into the Lutzes moving in, and experiencing 28 days of paranormal activity, such as flies in one room of the house at the wrong time of year, an invsible playmate that comes to visit their daughter, noises and drafts throughout the house, and a priest, played by Rod Steiger, who is attacked by an unseen force when he comes to bless the Lutzes' house, and who yells at him to "GET OUT!" It was later belived that much of this material was simply made up by George and Kathy Lutz for publicity, and to get out of the financial stress they were under when they bought the De Feo house, but according to George Lutz, who appears on the History Channel documentary, he STILL holds to the story that what happened to them in this house was real. As haunted house stories go, The Amityville Horror, I believe, is worth the money over ones that came after it, including House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting, etc.

    As mentioned, the house that this film was shot in was actually in Tom's River, New Jersey, for two reasons: first, the real house, while looking somewhat like the movie house, was just not dramatic enough for Hollywood. Also, the village of Amityville refused to cooperate with the filmmakers during the shooting of the film, and were denied access to the real house. Originally released by American International Pictures, The Amityville Horror went through many studios' hands on home video, including Warner Bros, Goodtimes Home Video (who made a HORRIBLE looking VHS version) and now MGM who has acquired the rights to the first three Amityville films. The original bare-bones release of The Amityville Horror on DVD came from MGM as well, but it couldnt hold a candle to this new version that comes in this box set.....the first version was a flipper, with a scratchy-looking fullscreen version on one side and a 1:85:1 widescreen version on the other. Both versions looked kinda murky for DVD, and fans really werent pleased. Plus, to add insult to injury, the film was presented only with its original mono soundtrack, which wasnt that hot.....the volume level of this track needed to be pumped up so high just to hear the dialogue it wasnt funny.

    MGM has gone back, as they did with John Carpenter's Escape From New York, and have struck an all-new high definition print of The Amityville Horror that looks absolutely GORGEOUS would never believe this was a film that was made in the '70s. Everything jumps off the screen; colors are gorgeous and there was not ONE hint of grain that I was able to detect anywhere, honest. MUCH better than the original release. While I am not a fan of most of their surround work, MGM should be one studio that needs to be applauded for most of their video remastering efforts; this widescreen remastering of The Amityville Horror makes the film look like it was made yesterday.


    While the box claims this was an "All-New State of the Art 5.1 Surround" remix, I was not as impressed with the audio as I was with the video. Like the original release of the DVD, the overall volume levels of this film were low, requiring me to crank my receiver beyond normal levels to hear dialogue. Now, let me get to the good points. Audio quality seemed improved over the mono version of the first DVD release, and this time around, there WERE actually sounds that made it into the surround channels. Some notable moments were whenever there was a rainstorm in the film.....thunder crashed through the surround channels in a rather believable way; especially the opening and closing sequences of the film, which featured rain and thunderstorms. This was a nice touch over the mono track. Unfortunately, the remainder of the film, that is to say, the middle, remained front-heavy and confined to the center and front speakers. So I do not think MGM should have called this a STATE OF THE ART 5.1 surround mix.

    The commentary track by Professor Hans Holzer, who wrote the book "Murder In Amityville" of which the film Amityville II: The Possession was based on and who investigated the Amityville haunting, wasnt all that interesting to listen to, although he sheds some light on some of the things that may not have been true about the Lutze's claims about their "haunted house." He also backs up his theory that the house in Amityville was built on an Indian burial ground, and this is what is causing the problems on the property --- this was never confirmed by Amityville officials, and no tenants since the Lutzes have ever been affected by any ghosts or hauntings.


    The "For God Sakes, Get Out!" documentary was fun to watch, as Margot Kidder and James Brolin talk about making the film and what it was like to visit the real house in New York; they really made Brolin LOOK like George Lutz for this film, I gotta tell you.

    The radio spots and a rather LONG original trailer round off this long-awaited-for-fans disc.


    HISTORY CHANNEL DOCUMENTARY: Amityville: The Haunting
    HISTORY CHANNEL DOCUMENTARY: Amityville: Horror Or Hoax?

    I have watched those two History Channel documentaries ENDLESS and countless times since having them on VHS, and taping them off of the History Channel on cable ever since it was broadcast back in October of 1999 or so; my VHS copies have become so unwatchable and warped that the inclusion of these specials in this box set was a VERY welcome treat for me. The documentaries are great, hosted by Arthur Kent of The History Channel, and part one deals with the origins of the property that 112 Ocean Avenue sits on and whether or not it is really haunted by Indian spirits; it then discusses and explores what happened during the De Feo murders, and interviews key people like De Feo's lawyer (who at one point actually admits that the Lutzes and him concocted this whole story of the haunting together to make money....hmmmmm.....). The second part, Amityville: Horror Or Hoax? explores the possibility that the whole story may have been made up by the Lutzes in order to cash in on the De Feo story; key people are interviewed here, as well.....some who believe in the haunting theory, such as "demonologists" Ed and Lorraine Warren, who investigated the house and claimed they have proof there is paranormal activity going on there, and Professor Hans Holzer, a parapsychologist who offers pictures that he took in the house proclaiming ghosts of angry Indian chiefs are forcing residents off the property; in reality, these pictures are really really blurry and to me dont prove a thing. Then there are those who are desperately trying to debunk these people and the Lutzes themselves by claiming the whole thing was a hoax, such as the late Stephen Kaplan and his wife, who go head to head on this documentary with the Warrens regarding Amityville, saying the whole thing was nonsense.....Stephen Kaplan was the founder of the parapsychology institute of Long Island, but died soon after his book debunking the Amityville story came out, "The Amityville Horror Conspiracy." Other matters are explored during this documentary as well, including words from authors involved in the novel "High Hopes: The Amityville Murders," the way George and Kathy Lutz were asked to take polygraph tests to prove they were telling the truth, and more. It is a FASCINATING look at this Amityville phenomenon that has seemed to sweep the world. The short "On Location" documentary about the Amityville Horror remake was weak and pointless; the directors dont seem to have the slighest clue as to what the real house was supposed to look like, what the Long Island area looked like surrounding the house, what George and Kathy looked like, and after seeing it for myself, the remake simply sucked......MUCH worse than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that the big-titted Jessica Biel starred in.


    This 1982 gem is actually a prequel in the Amityville legacy timeline of movies, and has always been my favorite, even watching it for the first time as a kid; it is a PREQUEL because the events portrayed in Amityville II actually took place BEFORE those of The Amityville Horror. Based on the novel "Murder In Amityville" by Parapsychologist Hans Holzer, Amityville II: The Possession is supposed to tell the tale of the De Feo massacre, and how Ronald De Feo Junior was actually possessed by demons when he killed his family; Holzer believed this whole "the house was built on an Indian burial ground" theory, and his book was made into this film, directed by Italian filmmaker Damiano Damiani, of which this was his first American picture.

    The problem is, the film is SO loosely based on the actual facts of the De Feo case, parts of it are downright unbelievable --- but dont get me wrong....this is a gory, scary horror film that has scared the daylights out of a couple of girlfriends I have had over the years. The name of the family in Amityville II has actually changed from De Feo to Montelli, and the son who gets possessed in the house, played by Jack Magner, looks NOTHING like Ron De Feo. Burt Young (of Rocky fame) plays an abusive husband and father in the family, with Rutanya Alda playing his wife, and a rather sexy Diane Franklin playing the older sister in the family, who is eventually seduced and enjoys some incest with her possessed brother. Before long, the family priest, played by James Olsen (of Commando fame), decides Sonny Montelli is possessed by a murderous demon, and the end sequence of Amityville II breaks into a wild, gorefest of an exorcism scene. Many feel the ending of this film is a ripoff of The Exorcist; at any rate, the demon effects in this film are quite effective.

    MGM has made Amityville II a flipper; that is, a fullscreen version of the film on one side and a widescreen on the other, along the lines of their new Rocky Anthology set. After sitting through HORRIBLE VHS transfers of this film from companies like Goodtimes Home Video, I was prepared for anything better.....and I was blown away. I watched the widescreen side on my parents' 55-inch Mitsubishi screen, and Amityville II NEVER looked better.....applause again for MGM and their efforts to bring these Amityville films to fans with such stunning clarity. There were only very brief moments of grain that I noticed during just one shot and that was it ---- I cannot tell you how many times I watched Amityville II on washed-out VHS tapes and just couldnt even make out certain scenes because the picture was so murky.....that's all gone on this new DVD. MGM didnt even claim a remaster of any kind for Amityville II, and the picture looks just as good as The Amityville Horror, which got a hi def treatment.


    The DVD comes with only one audio track: English Mono; now, as I felt this was the best film in the Amityville series, I really, really wished that MGM would have given this a 5.1 remix, but I have to say.....this mono track sounded just fine. No hissing. No breakup. Somewhat perfectly adequate is what I walked away thinking once I finished watching the disc; I mean, as far as mono tracks go, this one was fine. But there were so many missed opportunities MGM had here for a 5.1 remix, such as when demonic laughing echoes through the house --- this could have kind of creepily come from the surround channels in a surround mix, but I guess I cant complain for what we are getting in this package, especially for the price. I paid UNDER 30 dollars for this set at Circus ****ty (whoops....meant Circuit City).

    A nice touch was the inclusion of the original theatrical trailer for this underground horror film, which I had never seen before!


    First, let's get one fact out of the way: there was a big sticker on the wrapper of the Amityville box set which read "Note: Amityville 3-D is not shown in 3-D in this set...." Coming out during the 3-D craze of the 80s, including Friday the 13th Part 3 and Jaws 3-D, and released just one year after the creepy Amityville II: The Possession in 1983, Orion Pictures figured the public was ready for another film about the infamous "haunted" house in Long Island, New York. At this point in the franchise, however, the facts of the real case were thrown way out the window, and fictitional horror took over. In theaters, the film held the aforementioned title; when the film hit cable TV, it became AMITYVILLE: THE DEMON. I dont know why MGM, who bought the rights to all of the now defunct Orion studios' titles, decided to call this DVD Amityville 3-D for the set, because this version of the film is the flat version with no 3-D glasses, and the 3-D scenes look really silly watching them without any effect.

    Amityville 3-D was the beginning of the end of the Amityville franchise of films, which went on to include all made-for-cable or TV titles like Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes or Amityville 1992: Its About Time, all of which included some kind of haunted lamp, clock or something from the Amityville house going on to possess other houses; these sequels were absolutely ridiculous. But I guess MGM felt that Amityville 3-D was still considered by fans as the last good effort including the "real" house or the "real" De Feo story, which is actually referred to in the film at one point.

    Directed by Richard Fleischer, Amityville 3-D stars Tony Roberts as John Baxter, an editor for Reveal Magazine, who buys the Amityville house just to prove there are no ghosts or spirits inhabiting the place. Separated from his wife, played by Tess Harper, he moves in and strange things begin to happen to everyone around him; his real estate agent is attacked in the famous attic by flies and drops dead, his assistant, played by Candy Clark, is attacked in the home by a vicious, evil cold wind that blows up from the isnt until his sexy daughter, played by Laurie Loughlin (of FULL HOUSE fame) and her best friend Lisa (played by a young Meg Ryan, believe it or not) are caught in a boating accident which kills Loughlin and her ghost is seen walking the halls of the house is Roberts convinced the house is haunted. He calls in Parapsychologist Elliot West, played by Robert Joy, who sets up a team of researchers in the house to find out exactly what is haunting the Amityville house all these years......eventually, Joy confronts the demon living in the well in the basement of the house.....the same demon creature that possessed Jack Magner and came out of him during the end exorcism scene in Amityville II.

    Amityville 3-D concludes with the house exploding into a million pieces, destroying itself after Robert Joy's character is dragged down into the "well to hell" by the demon; all this is pure fiction because the real Amityville house still stands, and people are living in it today with no problems to report. At any rate, the 3-D effects during this sequence are laughable without shattering, lamps flying, people going through windows.....on this "flat" version of the film, the 3-D effects do not work, just like on Friday the 13th Part 3 and Jaws 3-D.

    Again, this was a flipper from MGM, with a fullscreen version on one side and a widescreen version on the other. Amityville 3-D was the only film in the set to be presented in a 2:35:1 ratio in widescreen; the other two films were in a "matted" 16X9 widescreen format that filled up the 55" set I was watching on. Watching the widescreen version, I guess this is the best Amityville 3-D is going to look, after sitting through horrible VHS versions. The quality didnt knock me off my seat, and for some reason, the quality wasnt as good as on The Amityville Horror or Amityville II, but this film definitely looked much, much better than on VHS or cable. There was very, very little hints of grain and colors looked good.

    Again, the original theatrical trailer was included by MGM as a nice touch.


    Here we go again with the audio complaints.....when Amityville 3-D first hit theaters, it was released with a stereo soundtrack; MGM has prepared only ONE track for this DVD, and it was a 5.1 Surround mix. However, there was virtually NO rear channel information during the entire presentation; only some VERY minor score hit the surrounds, and during the end, when the house comes apart, there were sounds of breaking wood and crackling fire from the rear channels.....but that was about it. This didnt even sound like a Dolby Stereo/Pro Logic mix, to be honest.....the entire soundstage remained up front, and the quality was not that great. During action sequences, such as when the house explodes at the end, there are some muffled moments of slight distortion in the mix, even in the surrounds, and something just didnt sound "natural" to me.

    So, again, I ask MGM......WHY was a 5.1 Surround label affixed to this DVD? It sounded NOTHING like a 5.1 track at all; in fact, most of the information was nailed to the front three channels.

    Well, there you have it folks.....for a diehard Amityville fan like me, who only had these films on bad VHS copies, this box set was a no brainer. I also own Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, which was the only one of the ****ty multiple sequels to ever hit DVD I think, aside from the awful Amityville Dollhouse. All in all, I really thank and applaud MGM for getting the rights to these classic horror films and putting them out in a collection of DVDs together, and I especially applaud their efforts on the original Amityville Horror, which looks fantastic now on DVD and sounds a bit better than its original mono-only DVD. As a side note, the DVDs of Amityville II and Amityville 3-D, up until now, were available ONLY in Region 2; so again, thank you MGM for bringing these discs to the States, and with such good quality control.
    Last edited by Lexmark3200; 07-20-2005 at 09:11 AM. Reason: Must Capitalize Title of Thread

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