The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror (1979)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

During a period when horror films made the transition from rather atmospheric eerie films to becoming the gratuitous splatter films they are today, a surprisingly understated creepy film made its appearance. It was a haunted house film, with the title "The Amityville Horror" that gave audiences the creeps and made it a very successful genre movie. So successful in fact that it spawned a series of horrible sequels – but that’s a different story. Now, 21 years later, we get the chance to revisit this spooky house right on the lakeside in sleepy Amityville on a DVD from MGM Home Entertainment.

The young newlywed couple, George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder), are buying a house in the sleepy small town of Amityville. It is large mansion with its own boat and guest house, just about perfect for them and their three children, and the price is just too good to be true. For a reason! One year earlier, a madman had killed his entire family in their sleep in this house, and ever since, no one got over the stigma associated with it.

As soon as the young family moves into the house, strange things begin to happen. George becomes moody and worn out, their youngest daughter has an invisible friend, and eventually freakish accidents happen. The longer they stay inside the more horrific the accidents become and eventually it seems as if George is on the brink of falling into a pit of madness. Wide-eyed and with an axe in his hand, his wife suddenly realizes that George looks just like the killer did one year earlier. They have to get out of the house, before the house gets them!

"The Amityville Horror" is a tight and suspenseful film that uses the viewer’s imagination to create its tingles rather than bombarding us with truly terrifying images. Most of what you see – or thing you see – is coming from your own mind. The film always keeps this suspense threshold very high and as we watch the situation getting progressively more dangerous, we are getting more and more caught up in the horrifying history of the mansion. Many of the elements in the film are reminiscent of films like "The Exorcist" and "The Shining" but at the same time, the movie manages to create a very unique, creepy atmosphere.

The film features a good cast with James Brolin as the family head who gets increasingly withdrawn and appears truly possessed at times. Although he never changes his clothes, we believe his character, that he has moments of sanity within his attacks of possession. Margot Kidder is putting in a good performance as Kathy, and especially her portrayal of growing fear and suspicion plays very well.

MGM Home Entertainment is presenting "The Amityville Horror" in a <$PS,widescreen> presentation as well as a <$PS,fullscreen> presentation on this disc, but sadly neither is without its flaws. The <$PS,widescreen> transfer is sadly not <$16x9,anamorphic>, and the <$PS,fullscreen> transfer is a <$PS,pan and scan> version that crops the mage on both sides. The transfer itself exhibits quite a bit of grain, and what is more distracting a large number of speckles, scratches and negative dust marks. Although I generally do not pay overly attention to such blemishes, I found them truly distracting in this case and a clean-up would most certainly have helped make this a much better presentation.

Sadly, the transfer also suffers from serious discoloration. Many shots are inconsistent in their coloring and an oversaturation of blue can be found almost throughout the film, occasionally replaced by an over emphasis on red. Given its grain and general lack of definition, the transfer appears washed out in many instances. Black levels are generally good, but the lack of definition gives shadows a murky feel without much detail. Some edge-enhancement has been applied to the transfer, introducing ringing artifacts in many shots and the compression of the film also shows signs of <$pixelation,pixelation> and other digital artifacts.

"The Amityville Horror" comes with monaural audio tracks in English and Spanish, but unfortunately there too are some serious problems noticeable. Given the age of the film, there is a noticeable limitation the frequency response, creating a harsh sounding presentation without much going on in the spectrum’s lower end. While that may be excusable, dialogues in the film are often distorted and muffled at others, creating a very inconsistent audio presentation of the movie. A full remastering and re-mixing of the audio track to give it a more natural and balanced feel should have been arranged for this release. There are no extras on this disc other than the theatrical trailer. Not even biographies or production notes can be found on this disc.

On a different note I also want to point out that the MGM trailer on the disc – and on many others – is infernally loud. I immediately had to lower the volume on our set up after inserting the disc, as the lion’s roar was unbearably loud. However the movie itself is not mixed at the same level and as a resutl when I started the film, at first I thought audio is missing entirely over the opening credits, as the subtle music was so low that it was inaudible. More consistency and a bit of QA checking could avoid such problems before a DVD hits the streets.

One thing is clear, you won’t buy "The Amityville Horror" for its presentation on this DVD, and you will inevitably be disappointed by its flawed presentation. The quality of the disc is mediocre at best and shows many problems in the video and the audio department. Flaws, by the way, that may have been acceptable two years ago, but can no longer be justified with the current status of DVD in the marketplace. This is clearly a quickly done conversion of an existing Laserdisc or VHS transfer that does not give any merit to the DVD format. As a matter of fact it makes these deficiencies even more obvious.

However, if you are interested in the film itself, and enjoy the movie for its own sake – like I do – this DVD can still make a valid addition to your library, if only because it gives you the chance to see the film in your favorite format without the inherent distractions and inconveniences of other home video formats.