Digi-Schlock: THE AMITYVILLE HORROR TRILOGY (Scream Factory Blu-Ray Box Set)

Back in 2005, MGM issued a DVD box set of the three films in the original Amityville series.  While it was nice to get anamorphic transfers of these films, the extras were a disappointment: only the first film had a real set of extras, with just a trailer included for the other two titles.  Thankfully, the rise of blu-ray has made it possible for these films to be revisited, this time by Scream Factory in their new box set The Amityville Horror Trilogy.  The end result is an improvement in both A/V quality and extras, particularly for the fan-favorite second film.

Transfers look good on all three films, with Amityville II: The Possession getting the biggest boost from the high-def treatment: the flashier nature of the cinematography benefits from the clarity it gets here.  The Amityville Horror has always had a subdued visual palette but it has a new bump in depth during the shadowy scenes and stronger colors in the daytime exteriors.  Amityville 3-D looks a little soft around the edges of the frame but this has more to do with the nature of early 80’s 3-D cameras rather than the transfer itself.  Those with 3-D capability in their home theater setups will be happy to hear that the third film also sports a new 3-D transfer.

5.1 stereo and 2.0 lossless tracks (the latter are mono for the first two films and stereo for the third) are offered for all films: the 5.1 remixes were utilized for this review and each does a decent a job reworking vintage audio materials in a way that adds dimension without sounding forced.  They aren’t flashy sounding mixes, which is appropriate given the older nature of the films, but they add some extra dimension to the sound for home theater setups, particularly in their use of music.  Amityville II probably fares the best of the trio.

There are two commentary tracks included.  The first is for The Amityville Horror and features Dr. Hans Holzer, a parapsychologist and writer who investigated the case that inspired the film.  It’s an interesting listen for anyone curious about the real case: he offers a thumbnail history of the strange occurrences at the house’s location, lays out his theory about what happened to the Lutz family, talks about the origin of the book and critiques the film (sometimes heckling it) for the many liberties it takes with the real events.  He starts to run out of steam in the last 20 minutes or so but the bulk of his comments are interesting to hear, even if you aren’t inclined to take parapsychology seriously.

The second commentary was recorded for this box set: it appears on the Amityville II: The Possession disc and features Alexandra Holzer, daughter of Hans Holzer, who is continuing her late father’s work.  Sadly, her commentary style is a bit awkward: instead of providing a running stream of comments, she instead speaks intermittently as the events onscreen interest her – meaning there are frequent, often multi-minute gaps between comments.  If you can be patient with this approach, she does reveal some interesting material about the DeFeo murder case and where the film deviates from the events chronicled in her father’s book, Murder In Amityville.  She also challenges the Lutz family’s story near the end of the commentary.

The disc for The Amityville Horror also includes two featurettes.  The first is “Get Out,” which originated with the MGM 2005 special edition DVD.  It’s a retrospective interview piece that features Margot Kidder and James Brolin (separately) discussing their memories of and opinions on the film.  “Haunted Melodies” was made for this set and offers a brief interview with composer Lalo Schifrin.  He discusses how a childhood experience with opera gave him an appreciation for scary music and offers commentary about the nature of his score, including some surprising details about the voices used for its lullaby motif.

The Amityville Horror disc is rounded out by a small collection of promo materials.  There is a trailer and a t.v. spot, both of which sell it as a shocker.  There’s also a set of seven radio spots, all of which trumpet the fact it was based on a hit book and make great use of the “GET OUT!!!” sound clip from the film.  There’s also a pretty comprehensive image gallery with all manner of stills, ad mats and publicity photos.

The disc for Amityville II: The Possession boasts a bumper crop of featurettes that will thrill fans of this underrated shocker. They start with “The Possession of Damiani,” a six-minute chat with director Damiano Damiani.  He reveals how he was essentially a gun-for-hire on this project, taking on the project as a craftsman (and also to enjoy more time in the U.S.).  Though he is not a horror fan, he’s proud of his work on the film.  “Adapting Amityville” focuses on screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace, who is frank about his dislike for the first Amityville film but speaks glowingly of producer Dino De Laurentiis and his kind treatment of writers.  In a nice touch, he thanks horror fans for letting him know of their love for his work and inspiring him to do more.

There are also three featurettes that focus on cast members. “A Mother’s Burden” offers a chat with Rutanya Alda, who tells some fun tales about working with Damiani and the cast’s lodging in Mexico as well as some revealing commentary on how grueling it was to shoot one particular stunt.  “Father Tom’s Memories” is a brief (under four minutes) bit with Andrew Prine, who gives quick, fond appraisals of his cast members and director.  The best of the trio is “Family Matters,” an interview with Diane Franklin.  She’s very fond of her experiences on the film, speaking glowingly of her cast mates and offering a surprisingly thoughtful and nuanced defense of her character’s behavior in the film’s controversial incest subplot.

The last of the featurettes is “Continuing The Hunt,” a nearly half-hour interview with Alexandra Holzer about her father’s work in connection to Amityville II (his book on the DeFeo case was adapted for this film).  She’s much more comfortable here than she is on the commentary and answers a variety of questions about the book, her father’s reaction to the film, his less than favorable opinion of the Amityville Horror book and what it was like to grow up as the daughter of a parapsychologist.  A few promotional items round this disc out, including a theatrical trailer presented in both English and French plus a gallery of photos and posters that also includes an ad for the Holzer book.

Extras are at their slimmest on the Amityville 3-D disc, perhaps because it has to accommodate both 2-D and 3-D transfers of the film.  That said, they still find time for a teaser trailer, a brief collection of stills and poster art and, best of all, a ten-minute chat with actress Candy Clark entitled “A Chilly Reception.”  She is in a relaxed and jovial mood here, speaking fondly of director of Richard Fleischer and telling great stories about the challenges of shooting her effects-oriented scenes, an injury prior to the first shoot and how she mysteriously “lost” some clothing and shoes from her luggage in the Mexican airport’s custom department.

In short, The Amityville Horror Trilogy is a worthwhile box set for blu-ray horror collectors, doing well by the films with quality transfers and a bevy of extras new and old.  If you’re fond of this series and blu-ray capable, this is a worthwhile buy.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of The Amityville Horror (1979), click here.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Amityville II: The Possession, click here.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Amityville 3-D, click here.

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