Release Date(s)1979 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)American International Pictures (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
“Get out!” When those two words are spoken in a horror film, they should always be heeded, and yet no one ever seems to learn that lesson until it’s too late. That’s certainly true of the characters in Jordon Peele’s sleeper hit of the same name in 2017, and it was equally true of the Lutz family in director Stuart Rosenberg’s The Amityville Horror. Audiences didn’t heed the warning either, despite the fact that there were plenty of fair questions to be raised about the Lutz’s account, and so the film became a wildly successful independent production. The buzz from Jay Anson’s bestselling book certainly didn’t hurt, but it also helped that the cinematic adaptation was riding on the coattails of Seventies A-list horror hits like The Exorcist and The Omen. Yet despite the presence of A-list talent like Rosenberg, James Brolin, and Margot Kidder, The Amityville Horror is pure B-movie schlock from beginning to end. The most important credit in that regard is executive producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, who certainly knew how to make a lot of money on this kind of material without having to spend very much to do so. The Amityville Horror managed to earn $86 million in 1979 on a budget of $4.7 million, making it one of the highest-grossing independent films up to that point in time. (The previous year’s Halloween had grossed a bit less, though it was arguably more profitable thanks to an even lower budget.)
Anson’s book purported to tell the true story of George and Kathleen Lutz, who had purchased a house in 1975 that contained malevolent spirits, and they ultimately had to flee for their lives. The house had been the site of a gruesome multiple murder at the hands of Ronald DeFeo, Jr. the previous year, so they were able to buy it at a bargain price, but things started to go wrong for them almost immediately. The house was also supposedly built on Native American burial grounds, adding to the supernatural shenanigans. The problem is that aside from the very real DeFeo murders, none of the Lutz’s claims have ever been verified. Their account has changed over the years as well, and various lawsuits have dogged their story for many years—The Washington Post even published a story about the early legal issues back in 1979 with the pithy headline “The Calamityville Horror.”
Sandor Stern’s screenplay strays freely from the book, adding even more incidents to spice things up, and changing other details as well. It was still billed as a true story, which isn’t really an issue given the fact that George and Kathleen Lutz never really earned the right to that description in the first place. As a film, The Amityville Horror is every bit as fanciful as the book that it was based on, so in that sense, it’s completely faithful to the source material. It achieved the exact same goal, too, which was to make a lot of money. Pairing George and Kathleen Lutz with Samuel Z. Arkoff turned out to be a marriage made in heaven, although their own marriage ended in 1980, and their other unions ended up being filled with acrimony and legal disputes. George Lutz was still filing lawsuits just a year before his death in 2006, claiming that he was defamed by the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, indeed.
Cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp shot The Amityville Horror on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This presentation features a 4K scan from the original camera negative, graded for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is included on the disc). The opening titles have the expected softness due to the generational loss from optical printing, but once they’re over, everything is as sharp and detailed as the lenses and film stocks would allow, and there’s minimal damage on display. The textures are refined, though they’re hardly the last word in fine detail. The HDR grade is restrained, but the contrast is strong, with deep blacks, and the colors look faithful to Koenekamp’s intentions. Grain is generally managed well, but there are a few points where it gets a little noisy, such as the background sky in the shot at 4:40 when they first open to door to the boathouse, but that may be something that’s barely noticeable on a smaller screen. This isn’t necessarily a dazzling 4K presentation, but it’s an accurate one, and it’s a subtle improvement over all previous home video versions.
Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. Vinegar Syndrome describes the 5.1 track as the “original and unaltered theatrical surround mix,” and the 2.0 as an “alternate stereo mix.” The Amityville Horror was released widely in optical mono, but there were also a few 35 mm prints that had a 4-track magnetic soundtrack, so that’s the only theatrical surround mix that could have been used for this 5.1 track. The 2.0 track is more of a mystery, as Dolby Stereo was the only game in town in 1979 for optical stereo surround sound, but The Amityville Horror wasn’t released in Dolby. It may be a fold-down of the discrete 4.0 channels from the mag soundtrack, with or without encoded surrounds, but that’s difficult to determine as there’s very little surround activity even in the 5.1 version. (It doesn’t help that Vinegar Syndrome always refers to 2.0 tracks as “stereo” even if they’re surround encoded, so the description can’t be taken at face value.)
In any event, the 5.1 audio here does offer the original 4-track mag soundtrack in relatively unaltered form, with the mono surround channel simply split into L/R, so it’s the most accurate to the theatrical experience—at least for theatres that were equipped to run the mag striped prints. It’s also the best choice from a sonic perspective, although the differences between it and the 2.0 are relatively minor. Most of the stereo spread comes from Lalo Schifrin’s score, with limited environmental effects like rain or thunder also spread across the screen. There’s little real surround activity other than reverberations from the front channels. The low end is understandably limited, but the dialogue is clear, although it can sound a little harsh at times. Like the video, this isn’t necessarily reference-quality audio, but it’s still the best that The Amityville Horror has ever sounded on home video.
(H/t to Michael Coate for his invaluable assistance in providing details about the theatrical exhibition of The Amityville Horror.)
Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K Ultra HD release of The Amityville Horror is a two-disc set that includes a 1080p Blu-ray copy of the film. The insert features new artwork designed by Robert Sammelin, with a spread on the flip side that’s not visible unless you pull out the insert. (The discs are housed in a black amaray case, but Sammelin might have intended the insert to be in a clear one instead so that the spread would be visible when the case is open.) There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 6,000 units, featuring the Sammelin artwork. The extras include one new featurette, plus a mixture of archival material from previous releases:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer
- My Amityville Diaries (HD – 21:03)
- For God’s Sake, Get Out! (Upscaled SD – 21:34)
- Brolin Thunder (HD –16:00)
- Child’s Play (HD – 16:38)
- Amityville Scribe (HD – 16:26)
- The Devil in the Music (HD – 14:04)
- Haunted Melodies: A Journey Inside the Music That Makes Horror Come Alive (HD – 9:56)
- Video Introduction by Dr. Hans Holzer (Upscaled SD – 1:20)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:29)
- Still Gallery (HD – 5:32)
- TV Spot (HD – 1:02)
- Radio Spots (HD – 7 in all – 3:43)
The sole new extra is My Amityville Diaries, a making-of documentary that features interviews with Sandor Stern, as well as actors Don Stroud, Meeno Peluce, Marc Vahanian, and Amy Wright. Produced by Brad Henderson, it takes a brief look at the development process for the film, as well as the casting, shooting, and theatrical release. Stern explains what he felt was key to making the story work, and Peluce tries to read some subtext into a film that frankly doesn’t have very much. It’s a decent overview for those who aren’t familiar with the film, but it does avoid mentioning any of the controversy over the story’s authenticity.
Brolin Thunder, Child’s Play, Amityville Scribe, and The Devil in the Music were all produced for the 2017 Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. Brolin Thunder features the actor discussing his career and his early interest in becoming a director, as well as why he ended up moving into acting instead. He then covers his involvement with The Amityville Horror, including his process of creating the character. Child’s Play is an interview with Meeno Peluce, who relates his memories of making the film, and of seeing it for the first time. He tells a story about Margot Kidder that’s... well, let’s just call it interesting. Amityville Scribe is an interview with Sandor Stern, who describes his path to becoming a screenwriter and working on The Amityville Horror. He also gives more details about the challenges that he faced in making the story work for the screen. The Devil in the Music profiles the legendary Lalo Schifrin, who recounts his journey from Argentina to the United States, and explains why he wanted to write for the movies and television. He does spend some time talking about working on The Amityville Horror, but the best parts of the interview feature him sitting at his piano and playing snippets of his music—among other things, he performs a nicely jazzy version of the Mission: Impossible theme.
Haunted Melodies: A Journey Inside the Music that Makes Horror Come Alive was created for the 2013 Blu-ray from Shout! Factory. It’s another interview with Schifrin, this time more focused on his work on The Amityville Horror, though he does briefly cover Amityville II: The Possession as well.
The rest of the extras were originally produced for the 2005 DVD from MGM, though they’ve commonly been included in most releases since that time. For God’s Sake, Get Out! is a making-of documentary by Greg Carson that features interviews with both James Brolin and the late Margot Kidder. It’s the only extra to include Kidder, so it’s invaluable for that fact, as she provides a different angle on the production. There’s an interesting section that cross-cuts between the two of them discussing working with each other, with Brolin being coy about the experience, but Kidder dishing all the dirt in self-deprecating fashion. Brolin is more open about his own work, admitting that he went too far over the top at a few points in the film. Unlike My Amityville Diaries, they both freely discuss their skepticism over the story’s veracity. The Video Introduction is by Dr. Hans Holzer, PHD in parapsychology and author of Murder in Amityville. He describes himself as the first and only person with a true academic background to visit the Amityville house, and says that he can help separate fact from Hollywood fiction. It’s really just him providing his own bona fides for his commentary track. The actual commentary is certainly going to be a matter of taste. In terms of separating facts from fiction, he does point out the differences between the Lutz’s account and the film, but he takes everything else at face value, including disputable assertion that the Amityville house was built on Native American burial grounds. True believers will probably find some interesting material here, but everyone else may want to give it a wide berth.
It’s a pretty comprehensive collection of extras, but it’s not quite all-inclusive. Missing from the 2005 The Amityville Horror Collection DVD boxed set are the two episodes from the History Channel series History’s Mysteries, which included Amityville: The Haunting and Amityville: Horror or Hoax?, as well as the brief On Location: The Amityville Horror featurette. The 2017 Second Sight Blu-ray also included the 2012 documentary My Amityville Horror, which focuses on Daniel Lutz. Finally, the 2019 French Blu-ray from Bach Films had two interviews with Stephane Bourgoin, Amityville: The Facts and Amityville: The Film, as well as a third interview with Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, none of which are included here.
Regardless of how you may feel about either The Amityville Horror or the Lutz family, Vinegar Syndrome’s new UHD is definitely the best way to experience their story on home video. Personally, I would have preferred the inclusion of more extras from the skeptic’s point of view, but that’s just me. For fans of the film, this is still a great set, and it’s a must-buy.
- Stephen Bjork