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The Amityville Horror Collection

The Amityville Horror (March 27/05)

Though it's spawned several sequels and even a remake, The Amityville Horror just isn't a particularly effective horror flick (particularly when compared to The Shining, which arrived in theaters less than a year later). This is mostly due to several laughable elements in Sandor Stern's screenplay, in addition to an almost unfathomably over-the-top performance from Rod Steiger. The story revolves around a married couple (played by James Brolin and Margot Kidder) who move into a large house with their three kids, only to discover that it's haunted (a young man murdered his entire family there a year earlier, we learn in the film's opening moments). The acting in the film seems to fall into one of two camps: subdued indifference (Brolin) or broad histrionics (Steiger, Kidder, virtually everyone else in the movie). In terms of the former, Brolin's George is emotionally distant right from the get-go (for no apparent reason, either), making it impossible to sympathize with him once the really bad stuff starts to go down. Then there's Steiger's amazingly hammy performance, which - one would imagine - is supposed to come off as intense, but serves only to elicit laughter from the viewer. While there are a few suitably creepy moments, it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend one's disbelief as the contrivances begin to pile up (would any rational person stay in this house for more than a few days?) Finally, there's the film's conclusion, which is shockingly anti-climactic (the movie essentially just ends). That The Amityville Horror is generally considered a classic horror flick is somewhat baffling, though it certainly looks a whole lot better when compared to its sequels.

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Amityville II: The Possession (March 28/05)

Despite being billed as a prequel, Amityville II: The Possession is essentially just a remake of the original - complete with one character going completely nuts. Soon after the Montelli family moves into that infamous house, teenaged son Sonny (Jack Magner) finds himself unwittingly possessed by some kind of deranged demon - a turn of events that forces the young man to finally stand up to his abusive father and seduce his younger sister (with the latter featuring a sequence that's so woefully misguided, it has to be seen to be believed). The Montelli's are so dysfunctional, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between their relationships pre- and post-move (the father, in particular, is such an obnoxious lout, it's impossible to understand why his wife would stay married to him). But that's the least of the film's problems, as it essentially ends at around the one-hour mark - after which it becomes a second-rate Exorcist rip-off. The rampant silliness of the movie's first half is certainly preferable to the utterly dull second half, most of which revolves around a priest's efforts to save the possessed young man (resulting in long, needlessly drawn out scenes in which the holy man must beg for permission to perform an exorcism). As far as pointless sequels go, Amityville II: The Possession certainly ranks right up there.

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Amityville 3-D (March 28/05)

While it's not quite as awful as the second installment, Amityville 3-D is nevertheless a fairly useless and entirely forgettable entry in the ongoing Amityville Horror series. The film revolves around a skeptical journalist (Tony Roberts) who moves into the infamous Amityville mansion despite the protests of his friends and family, and soon discovers the reason he was able to get the place at such a bargain. Amityville 3-D is, generally speaking, thoroughly bereft of any interesting ideas, as evidenced by the film's absurdly underwhelming climax (which involves, no kidding, a psychic reading of the house). Roberts, best known for his work in some of Woody Allen's earliest films, effectively steps into the shoes of a leading man, and it's hard not to get a kick out of an appearance from a very young Meg Ryan. But the film's 3-D effects are more of a distraction than anything else, as frisbees are flung at the screen, flies float inches from the camera, etc (it's somewhat baffling that MGM didn't include a 3-D version in this set). Having said that, it hardly seems likely that Amityville 3-D would really be improved by working 3-D effects (that's the least of the film's problems).

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About the DVDs: MGM Home Entertainment presents each of these films with surprisingly clean, crisp transfers, and the set includes a bonus disc of supplemental material. The Amityville Horror also comes with a commentary track, a 21-minute featurette, and various promotional materials. The bonus disc includes two documentaries from The History Channel and a brief look at MGM's new remake.
© David Nusair