MGM Studios DVD presents
The Amityville Horror (1979)
"Jody doesn't like George."- Amy (Natasha Ryan)
Stars: James Brolin, Margot Kidder
Other Stars: Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton, Don Stroud, Michael Sacks
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG for (language, sexual situations, blood)
Run Time: 01h:58m:27s
Release Date: 2000-09-05
DVD ReviewAlthough the subsequent sequels to The Amityville Horror have given the original film a reputation for cheesiness, I fondly recall having the bejeezus scared out of me when I saw it in the theater. Prepared to be disappointed, I put the DVD on and surprisingly enough, had the bejeezus scared out of me again.
"Mr. Barbra Streisand" stars as George Lutz, and Margot "Lois Lane" Kidder plays his wife Kathy. The Lutzes are newlyweds, although Kathy has three children from a prior marriage. They happen upon a nice big old house in Amityville, and decide to buy it, even though a year before a kid who lived there slaughtered his entire family, claiming voices in the house told him to do it.
Alas, an evil presence is in the house, manifesting itself in a variety of disturbing ways, such as great swarms of flies, foul stenches and black goo bubbling up out of the toilets. Yeah, the broker said it was a fixer-upper, but this is ridiculous. Meanwhile, daughter Amy has a new playfellow, the malevolent spirit "Jody," who just happens to be an evil flying swine. As the family gets edgier, George becomes withdrawn and borderline psychotic, constantly hacking up firewood with an axe. Before long, George is breaking down the bathroom doors with the axe to hack up his own family.
It's interesting to see the scenes in this film which seem to inform two slightly later movies with much better reputations: Kubrick's The Shining and Spielberg/Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist. We have the bathroom door sequence ("He-e-e-re's Johnny....") in Shining, and the elements of the child's rocking chair rocking itself and the doll appearing in it by itself. I doubt very much that Kubrick borrowed from this film, but I wouldn't put it past Hooper. Poltergeist also swipes the Indian burial ground motif, which by now has become a pretty tired explanation; I'd really rather they just leave it unexplained since that's really more frightening.
The terror and paranoia are supported wonderfully by the Lalo "Mission Impossible" Schifrin score. The music is reminiscent of the best of Bernard Herrmann, and works in part because of the intermittent moments of complete silence, underlying the shocks. Masterful editing is on display as well, such as the initial tour through the house, where every door opening is intercut with a brief shot of the nights of the murders. The one area which is a serious letdown is the red-eyes-at-the-window shot; these look hopelessly phony with today's eyes. Otherwise, however, the effects are subtle and quite well done. The extreme closeups of the flies in particular are quite unsettling. And of course, there's house itself, with its windows that look like eyes, changing shape to suit its moods.
Brolin starts off pretty wooden, but as his character deepens into withdrawal, he becomes genuinely creepy; his anger bubbling just beneath the surface is, all by itself, quite frightening. That's part of what helps this movie: for much of the time, it's not obvious whether there are supernatural goings-on, or whether George is just having a difficult time adapting to being a stepdad. Given the lengths that he's prepared to go, neither one is a very happy thought. Rod Steiger is mostly wasted in a supporting role as a priest overcome by nausea and physical pain whenever he has any contact with the house.
Unlike the Jay Anson book on which it's based, the film doesn't bill itself as "a true story." That's a good thing, because the Lutzes have subsequently acknowledged that the story was a hoax. Nonetheless, Amityville is a genuinely frightening little gem from the late 1970's.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen||1.33:1 - P&S|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||no|
Image Transfer Review: MGM gives us a nonanamorphic transfer which is a little on the dark side, but it actually looks pretty good. Blacks are about average, but colors look right on for the most part. Skin tones are occasionally a bit pale. Compression artifacts are not too noticeable, although there are some aliasing problems. There are occasional white speckles, but overall the print used for the transfer is in quite nice shape.
The 1.33:1 side is a poor pan & scan job which deletes significant amounts of picture information. The widescreen side is recommended for viewing.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: We get a 2.0 mono soundtrack with this film. This track actually sounds pretty good, having a great range and good sound definition, with minimal distortion. Schifrin's score comes through loud and clear, as do the numerous flashbacks to the gunshots and the thud of the axe as it hits the wood. Dialogue is occasionally a little difficult to understand, making the lack of English subtitles an irritation. Nonetheless, an effective mono mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: We get a trailer that's a little on the murky side, generous chaptering, and French and Spanish subtitles, but that's it.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA surprisingly effective chiller that stands up well 20 years later (putting aside the red eye lights). We get a decent video and audio transfer, though no great shakes, and precious little for extras. Given MGM's budget pricing for this title, though, it's recommended for anyone looking for a solidly creepy movie.
Mark Zimmer 2000-09-09