October 29, 2013

THE LITTLE MERMAID: What to Expect from Your Dumb-Ass Kid

Starring the voices of Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hacket. Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker. (1989, 82 min).

Any of you reading this who had kids after 1984 are probably familiar with the book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the de-facto Bible/how-to guide/horror novel for new parents worldwide. You likely received one or more copies from friends or relatives convinced you’d be a prenatal failure without it. My wife and I got three copies during our first pregnancy…one we kept and referred to on a regular basis, one we returned to Target in exchange for extra diapers (after Natalie was born, we quickly discovered free diapers are the greatest gift of all), and one we eventually re-gifted to another expectant couple. Someone even gave us a copy during our second pregnancy, so either they hadn’t been keeping up on current events or felt we totally fucked up the first time.

That book's author, Heidi Murkoff, is no expert. She was just another expectant mother with a shitload of questions during her own pregnancy, and was savvy enough to collect all the answers into a book that has since sold a gajillion copies (as an author whose two novels have collectively sold less than a thousand copies, I fucking hate her). This book is useful enough to keep you from running around the house like you’re on fire whenever a complication arises. However, it’ll just-as-often have you wondering why the hell you and your spouse decided to fornicate in the first place, because babies are fucking scary.

But not as scary as teenagers…

"I hope this doesn't sound weird..but could you
but those seashells back on?"
It’s interesting to note that Ms. Murkoff was able to parlay her literary goldmine into a whole series of What to Expect books, with topics ranging from newborn babies to the toddler years, but stopped short of providing parents with the one how-to manual they’ll need the most…What to Expect When Your Once-Adorable Child Turns Into an Irrational, Moody, Self-Centered Prima Donna. That’s because there’s no one who can answer any of her questions. Modern science knows more about the hunting patterns of extinct primates than the inner workings of a teenager’s brain, which is a shape-shifting chasm of drama, resentment, primal urges and an inexplicable taste for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. No truly useful book exists, and none ever will (no, not even the gut-churning Chicken Soup series).

But you don’t need a book to show you what to expect when your darling little dumpling turns into Damian Thorn. Once you’ve discovered the inevitable three sixes on his or her scalp, just pop Disney’s The Little Mermaid into your DVD player and you’ll get a sneak preview of what the next eight years are gonna be like. If you’re a parent, chances are this movie is already lying around somewhere in the house or the backseat of your SUV, so I probably just saved you some money.

The Little Mermaid is, of course, a modern Disney classic, which almost single-handedly resurrected its animation department after over 20 years of churning out dull, unimaginative kiddie fodder, and the first animated Disney movie many adults went to see even if they didn’t have children. If it weren’t for the success of The Little Mermaid, spearheading the so-called Disney Renaissance, we wouldn’t have gotten Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, Mulan or Tarzan.

Even though it's one of Disney’s best films, it features the dumbest, most impulsive & irrational main character in the studio’s history…Ariel. Despite being born into royalty and comfort, her every need tended to, this teenager defies her father at every turn. She ventures to places she’s forbidden to go, refuses to follow through on her obligations and values the advice of friends over family. And this is before her chance encounter with Eric, who she falls head-over-heels in love with the moment she lays eyes on him. You want to talk about irrational? After alienating her entire family, she runs away, feeling sorry for herself, only to run into Ursula, who encourages her wayward behavior by telling her everything she wants to hear. So Ariel forsakes everything to be with a guy she’s never actually spoken to (I wouldn't have blamed ol' Dad if he suddenly decided to turn his Trident on his own kid to zap some sense into her).

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like the mindset of every modern teenager rendered suddenly stupid by hormones. They stop thinking rationally, shunning family and friends because they’re convinced their first love will last forever and no one else understands how they feel. We’ve all been there, done that. Yours truly went to the ultimate extreme and married his high school sweetheart right after graduation, despite all the clear-thinking folks in my life with totally rational arguments why marrying at 18 was a bad idea. Even with hindsight, I'm still shocked that Ariel is the Disney character I can most-relate to (I always assumed it was Goofy).

This is why The Little Mermaid is arguably the most realistic depiction of teenage infatuation that currently exists on film. It accurately conveys the idiotic conflict and drama you can expect when your own kid’s hormones start raging. When you're considering getting rid of all those old Disney videos your kids no longer watch, you might want to think about hanging onto this one for future reference, because some of you parents will inevitably hear "But, Daddy, I love him!" as your kid's dumb-ass, argument-killing response to any logical retort you think you have in your arsenal. You're gonna want to be mentally prepared for that.

October 27, 2013


Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, James Woods. Directed by Roland Emmerich. (2013, 131 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

With hindsight, White House Down was doomed to fail. Not only did it get lost in an already-crowded summer movie season of superheroes, animated sequels, raunchy comedies and horror films, it was the second of two action movies released this year with the exact same plot. The first, Olympus Has Fallen, came out in the spring with little or no box office competition and was a moderate hit. While it was a well-made and entertaining time killer, there was nothing special about it. The success and failure of both movies was obviously a matter of timing.

Kinda sad, really, because White House Down is actually the better of the two, which is saying a lot because I really liked Olympus Has Fallen. I truly appreciated the R-rated intensity of Olympus, making it a decent Die Hard rip-off. White House Down is more blatantly ridiculous, but because it has a lot more humanity, clever character banter and humor, it’s more of a kindred spirit to Die Hard than a mere clone.

"Sorry, man...must've been those refried beans!"
In this one, Channing Tatum plays John Cale, a state capitol police officer who hopes to become a secret service agent. His estranged daughter (of course) is on-hand to tour the White House while he’s failing his job interview. That’s when rogue mercenaries, led by disgruntled government head Martin Walker (James Woods), lay siege to the White House. Like most films of this type, the initial reason for the siege is just a ruse for a more ominous agenda, but never mind that. What’s ultimately important, from an entertainment standpoint, is that Cale is forced to, not only protect President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), but kill as many evil sleazy, black-vested bad guys as he can in order to save his daughter.

It’s a pretty generic Die Hard story, but made a bit special by director Roland Emmerich. Yeah, I said it…Roland Emmerich, the same guy who directed Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, the same guy who’s typically listed by pompous critics as one of those blockbuster directors responsible for the dumbing-down of modern American movies. While part of me wants to agree with those critics, I have to admit, despite their idiocy, his films are always a lot of fucking fun (yeah, even Godzilla). And even though most of his movies run well-over two hours, they never feel that long. A film like White House Down is no exception and he puts his stamp all over it.

So yeah, the movie is big, dumb, loud and total cotton candy for the brain. But hey, who doesn’t love cotton candy? This film didn't deserve its unceremonious death at the box office. So do yourself a favor...pick it up, put it in and crank up the volume.

SPECIAL FEATURES: DVD Featurettes: A Dynamic Duo (Channing Tatum & Jamie Foxx); Men of Action (stunt training); Meet the Insiders (supporting cast); Roland Emmerich - Upping the Ante

(OUT OF 5)

October 24, 2013

THE BIRDS vs. Ritchie Blackmore

Starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. (1962, 119 min).

I was a freshman in high school when I first discovered the eardrum-shattering glory of Deep Purple, best-known as the “Smoke on the Water” guys. Even today, every living soul on Earth knows that song, the one classic tune where any wannabe rocker can pluck-out the opening riff less than 10 minutes after picking up a guitar for the first time.

I got into them a few years after they’d broken up, when I bought a cassette of their greatest hits at a used record store, mostly because of “Smoke on the Water” (who doesn’t love that song?). When I popped the tape into my stereo, I was totally blown away by how heavy these guys really were…”Smoke on the Water” was a mere ballad compared to “Space Truckin’,” “Highway Star,” “Fireball,” “Speed King” and “Burn.” This was when my musical tastes were leaning in a harder direction and Kiss just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Even though AC/DC and Van Halen were rising in popularity, Deep Purple was the heaviest shit I ever heard, the one band that made my bedroom walls rattle with a satisfying bottom-heavy drone.

Musically obsessive as I was, I bought most of their other albums and played them incessantly, which sounded totally awesome in the car once I got my license. There was nothing cooler to me than rolling down the windows of my VW Bug and cranking Purple’s Made in Japan as I cruised 82nd Ave on Friday night (though none of my peers would agree). But alas, there was always a bit of sadness attached to my infatuation with Deep Purple, because they had long-since split up. Although I also really liked Rainbow, the band former-Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore formed after leaving the group, they didn’t provide quite the same rush.

So imagine my joy when, in 1984, the classic Deep Purple line-up reunited for a brand new album and concert tour. Second only to a Beatles reunion, this was like the second coming of Christ. It goes without saying I listened to the new record until the needle wore down and bought two concert tickets the day they went on sale. Hell, I even threatened to quit my job when my asshole boss tried to tell me I couldn’t have that night off.

When the lights of Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum went down and Purple tore into “Highway Star,” I could barely contain myself. This was Deep Purple in the flesh, blasting out classic after classic like they’d never been away…Ian Gillan’s blood-curdling screams, Blackmore’s rock-god poses as he shredded his Fender Strat, the unholy noise roaring from Jon Lord’s Hammond organ. For the next two hours, I never sat down. The show was as glorious as I always imagined it would be…save for one thing…

After climaxing with a smoldering 15 minute version of “Space Truckin’” (always my favorite Purple song), the arena went dark, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. We knew what was coming next. Purple had already played most of their classics, along with a few new tunes. All that was left was their biggest, most famous song, rightfully reserved for the encore. We waited in the dark, a legion of lighters raised as we roared in anticipation of the opening riff to the most iconic hard rock anthem of all time.

"Feel a buzz? Even a little?"
Instead, the house lights went up. The show was over. The wave of cheers instantly turned to boos of disapproval. I stood dumbfounded. This had to be a mistake. Surely they weren't gonna leave without playing “Smoke on the Water.” This was their signature fucking song…for them not to play it was as inconceivable as the sun refusing to come up in the morning.

But Deep Purple didn’t return. To this day, it is by far the most WTF end to a concert I’ve ever experienced. While the show was great, I left feeling a little unfulfilled, cheated and let down.

Ritchie Blackmore was always my favorite member of Deep Purple. He wrote a majority of the music, looked the coolest on stage and arguably had the most appreciable talent. It's also been well-documented that he was a moody, contentious and insufferable dick, prone to wild tantrums and mood swings (probably why no two Rainbow albums ever featured the same line-up). So if he didn’t feel like playing “Smoke on the Water” on a given night, that was it, and he didn’t give a damn if his fans approved or not. Apparently, this happened at a lot of Deep Purple shows.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is a lot like that Deep Purple concert I attended. I have to assume there were legions of Hitchcock fans back in‘63, groomed on his previous genre-defining films, who walked out of The Birds feeling like I did when shuffling out of the Richfield Coliseum…what the fuck?

During its entire running time, The Birds is arguably one of Hitch’s greatest, most original masterpieces. It’s a film with no music score, perfectly-paced suspense, innovative visuals and deliberately shallow characters. Every animal-on-the-rampage film released afterwards owes a hell of a lot to Alfred Hitchcock…until the climax.

Oh, wait…there is no climax? You mean I’ve been watching this relentless exercise of horror, only to have all the surviving characters simply drive away in a convertible? Not even an ambiguous fade-to-black? Just a cutaway to the Universal Pictures logo? No end credits? Surely there must be a problem up there in the projection booth! Someone must have forgotten to spool the final reel!

But indeed, The Birds ends as abruptly as the Deep Purple concert I attended in ‘84...no climax, no capper, no resolution. The film simply stops.

According to numerous sources, The Birds was originally supposed to end on a more apocalyptic note, with millions of birds lining the Golden Gate Bridge, suggesting this was a global thing. But that scene never got filmed. So it simply ends.

Why? Because Alfred Hitchcock was the true star of his movies and got to do whatever the hell he wanted. Everyone else involved, cast & crew, no matter how famous, were underlings, and he treated them as such. Like Blackmore, Hitch had the talent and moxie to justify such behavior. Think about it…if you were a Universal Studios exec back then, would you dare dispute any creative decision made by the guy behind Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo and Psycho? How do you argue with a mind like that and still retain your job? Hitchcock may have been a genius, but he was also kind of a dick.

Hence, The Birds has no ending, no resolution, and we were all forced to accept it, much like I was forced to accept a Deep Purple concert without “Smoke on the Water“ as the logical capper to the evening. I have no problem with open-ended conclusions, but this was more of a cinematic 'fuck you.' There must have been scores of Hitchcock fans who felt just as let-down in 1963 as I was in 1984, when Ritchie Blackmore decided we weren’t worthy of the climax we were expecting.

It's still a great movie, though.

October 21, 2013

Book Review: GUILLERMO DEL TORO's CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (My Notebooks, Collections and Other Obsessions)

By Guillermo del Toro & Marc Scott Zicree. (2013, 256 pages)
Harper Design Books

I wouldn’t call myself a Guillermo del Toro fan per se. He has directed films I like very much, like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy & Blade II (the best of the trilogy) and some which left me cold (Pacific Rim & Mimic). But his unique visual flare is always enough for me to take notice when his name is attached to a film. He’s a much more creative stylist than, say, Tim Burton, who’s fast-becoming a one trick pony. Unlike Burton, del Toro uses his talent to serve the story (even when he’s a director-for-hire), not vise versa.

But if you’re reading this right now, you are likely already a big fan. You’re also probably wondering if Cabinet of Curiosities is a career retrospective, a biography, a behind-the-scenes look at his films or a lovingly-assembled picture book. Actually, all of the above apply, which makes this hefty (and expensive) volume somewhat unique.

The primary focus of Cabinet of Curiosities is on the personal notebooks del Toro writes and illustrates while planning and visualizing his films. The book is filled with pages from these notebooks (mini works of art themselves), including a slew of original concept designs (some which made it to the screen, some which didn’t). Accompanying the illustrations and scribblings are interviews with del Toro (conducted by co-author Mark Scott Zicree), as well as the occasional essay written by cast members, associate and peers.

Turnips from Hell
We also learn a great deal about del Toro’s formative years in early chapters…how his family, environment, various storytellers and filmmakers influenced and shaped his future. One interesting aspect of the book is del Toro’s story isn’t some rags-to-riches thing; his father won a lottery, which allowed him access to all kinds of classic literary influences.

Since I’m no del Toro expert, I was especially intrigued by the section which covers Bleak House, a separate home from where he and his family live, which is filled with his personal collection of movie props, paintings, rare books and memorabilia. The place is apparently a sanctuary he visits twice a day when he’s in town, and the photos (inside and outside) are fascinating. The guy even has a replica of the demonic vehicle from that obscure 70’s kitsch classic, The Car. After reading this section, I was torn between hating the guy and worshipping him…he’s living the dream few horror fans can even fathom.

All this is assembled in a large, hard-cover coffee table book of beautifully-rendered pages. However, it does help if you are a big fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work, because this book comes with a hefty price ($60 for the basic hard-cover, several hundreds more for a limited edition).

(Out of 5)

October 14, 2013


In anticipation of the October 29th release of MONSTERS UNIVERSITY on Blu-ray Combo Pack, check out some bonus clips below!

Drama Class (Deleted Scene): Click Here
Designing Hardscrabble: Click Here
Mike & Sully's Theme with Randy Newman: Click Here

October 10, 2013

THE MEDUSA TOUCH: The Greatest Movie Mash-Up

Starring Richard Burton, Lee Remick, Lino Ventura, Harry Andrews. Directed by Jack Gold. (1978, 105 min).

I remember when Paul Newman died. I felt kinda sad because he starred in some of my favorite films growing up, like The Towering Inferno, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Slap Shot. Sure, he’d been in dozens of classics before then, but the 70s were my formative years and, unlike Richard Burton, whose film career was winding down (Exorcist II, anyone?), Newman was still a huge and respected star.

I teach middle school, and I mentioned Newman's passing to my students the day after he died. None of them even knew who he was until I added he was the voice of Doc Hudson in Cars. Why would they? He was never part of any other film that would appeal to them. Still, it was kind-of depressing. The passing of an icon is always sad, but you really feel your age when you realize that person is no longer an icon to everyone.

Similarly, I didn’t know Richard Burton from Richard Petty when I was in middle school. My first exposure to him was in The Medusa Touch, only because it was a movie that looked all kinds of awesome…a mash-up of supernatural horror and epic disaster. Those were my two favorite genres, and both huge in the late 70s. I didn’t give a damn who the actors were…I just wanted to watch a plane slam into a skyscraper because some twisted old dude willed it to.

Richard Burton watches his own performance
in Exorcist II.
Burton plays John Morlar, a reclusive and unstable writer who confides in his psychiatrist (Lee Remick) that he has a telekinetic talent for causing disasters (a trait he’s had since birth). Anyone who pisses him off (parents, teachers, neighbors, bosses) meet terrible fates soon after. Morlar is nearly murdered in the opening scene. Through flashbacks and an ongoing investigation into the crime by Detective Brunel (Lino Ventura), we learn how powerful Morlar’s wrath can be. After the aforementioned plane crash, even though he’s on life-support in the hospital, Morlar’s rage continues, causing the destruction of  London’s Minster Cathedral and a nuclear meltdown.

After a somewhat slow start involving the investigation, The Medusa Touch is a lot of morbid fun. Despite the seriousness of the story, some of the early, less spectacular deaths seem intentionally comical. Still, the major appeal of the movie lies in the more epic scenes of destruction. The plane crash is phony-yet-cool, kinda like the train wreck in The Cassandra Crossing…we know we’re watching miniatures blowing up, but the attention to detail is similar to the fun of gazing into an immaculately-detailed dollhouse. The effort it takes for special effects guys to create scenes like this is far more fun to watch than a modern-day computer geek putting something similar together on a laptop.

"Got a Sharpie? We should draw on
his face."
Then there’s Burton. Like I said, I didn’t know who he was back then, but there’s one single scene about midway through that convinced me he was pretty cool. As Morlar comes home, he discovers his cheating wife getting ready to leave with her new boy-toy. On the way out the door, she chides, “Don’t expect me to come back.” With a steely gaze and only the slightest hint of a smile, Morlar calmly replies, “I won’t.” I love that scene, chilling and hilarious all at once, simply because of Burton’s performance.

That was all it took for me to pay more attention to other old Richard Burton movies showing up on TV (Cleopatra, Where Eagles Dare, etc.). I mostly came away thinking Richard Burton pretty-much played the same character in all his roles, but hey, isn't that what Harrison Ford does now?

I’m sure some of my students will eventually stumble across classic films and realize Newman did a lot more than provide a voice in Cars. Similarly, I hope they’ll discover an actor like Robert DeNiro was once much more than the paranoid father-in-law in Meet the Parents. But will they embrace classics like Goodfellas or Cool Hand Luke with the same level of love? That’s hard to say, because although Richard Burton has appeared in more than his share of classics, The Medusa Touch remains my favorite, simply because that was his first movie which ever made an impression on me...both his performance and the bitchin' scenes of destruction.

Despite my obvious nostalgic fondness for this film, The Medusa Touch at least deserves to be remembered as a movie which had the audacity to combine the terror of The Omen & Carrie with the visuals of Earthquake & The Towering Inferno into a single outrageous, flamboyant spectacle.

October 9, 2013

10 Movies That Will Destroy Your Faith in Mankind

1. WALL-E - The more I think about our increasing dependence on gadgets and machines, the more Wall-E comes to mind, when the entire human race is so lazy and helpless that we literally cannot get out of our chairs to save our own asses. Not only that, we've screwed up our own planet so bad that we leave machines behind, hoping they will clean it up for us. Wall-E takes place in the far distant future, but I think we are already there.

2. THE TRUMAN SHOW - Back in 1998, this was science fiction, and most of us simply saw it as Jim Carrey's first attempt at serious acting. But 16 years later, look at the masses who tune-in to reality shit on MTV. We'd rather watch a bunch of bimbos and douchebags fight and fornicate than the work of real writers and actors. Then we turn these assholes into celebrities. Just recently, I asked my middle school students who Paul Newman was. Only three out of over a hundred students raised their hands, but nearly all of them shot their hands up when I mentioned The Situation.

3. BLACK SUNDAY - Back in 1976, the idea of terrorists attacking Americans on our own turf was the stuff of speculation. Then 9/11 happened.

4. SCHINDLER'S LIST - Do we even need to explain why?

5. THE HAPPENING - This is the most unintentionally funny film since Twilight, except for one part, when Mark Wahlberg explains to his classroom how the disappearance of bees will screw up our whole ecosystem. Since then, I've discovered that diminishing bee populations are indeed a big real-life concern among entomologists, and it's our fault. Now I’m too scared to even take a magazine to smash the occasional rogue bee which happens to buzz into my house.

"Thinking bad! Reacting good!"
6. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) - Remember how Gaston whips the village into such a hate-mongering frenzy that they storm The Beast's castle, even though The Beast had always kept to himself and done nothing  to affect them whatsoever? Replace The Beast with two gay guys trying to get married and you have the same scenario in real life.

7. JACKASS - While I hate admitting these films are pretty damned funny, I've never felt compelled to engage in such behavior myself. Still, there have been legions of impressionable idiots who go one step further and commit similar acts to post on YouTube. Of course, parents blamed Jackass for their own kids killing or injuring themselves trying to perform these stunts. I keep forgetting we live in an age when none of our own actions are actually our fault.

8. ANY MOVIE WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY JASON FRIEDBERG & AARON SELTZER - These two guys are the geniuses behind such cinema shit as Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans & Vampires Suck…lowest-common-denominator ‘parodies’ of whatever is culturally relevant at the time of their release (the fact they often satirize films released only a few months prior to their own movies is evidence of how quickly this crap is thrown together). Yet, despite their films regularly appearing on iMDB’s ongoing list of the 100 worst movies of all time, nearly all of them have turned a profit. This says less about Friedberg & Seltzer’s filmmaking skills than it does about the expectations of the average moviegoer.

9. COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT - The more technologically-advanced our gadgets become, the less thinking we have to do for ourselves, and we fucking love it. Hell, we don't even know, or care, how the shit works, as long as it's easy to use. I just saw a news segment about the new generation of smart phones which allow you to share shit with others simply by mashing your devices together so they can exchange the cyber version of bodily fluids. Our toys are now smarter than we are and we don't give a damn. Colossus: The Forbin Project warned us about this over 40 years ago.

10. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - I cannot recall a recent movie that has brought more stupidity out of people than this one. Due to the tragic shooting incident during a midnight premiere in Colorado, theater chains around the world delayed premieres in a reactionary assumption that The Dark Knight Rises was somehow the catalyst. One idiot on ABC news revealed the shooter was a Republication Tea-bagger as though it were relevant to the story. Then there’s our beloved Rush Limbaugh, who arrogantly declared the Bane character was a swipe at Mitt Romney because the former presidential candidate was involved with Bain Capitol (even though Batman’s Bane was introduced nearly two decades before most of us ever even heard of Romney). Great research, Rush!

October 3, 2013


THE AMITYVILLE HORROR Starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. (1979, 119 min).
AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION Starring James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Andrew Prine, Jack Magner, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn. Directed by Damiano Damiani. (1982, 104 mn).
AMITYVILLE 3-D Starring Tony Roberts, Tess Harper, Robert Joy, Candy Clark. Directed by Richard Fleischer. (1983, 93 min).
Shout!Factory/Scream Factory

For a brief time in the late 70s, The Lutz family was a household name. Their horrific account of a month of terror in their demon-infested new home was the subject of Jay Anson’s book The Amityville Horror, which scared the living shit out of damn-near everyone and became a phenomenon similar to The Da Vinci Code…the book everyone just had to read. It wasn’t particularly well-written, but what made it truly terrifying was, unlike The Shining or The Exorcist, the Lutz’ story was supposedly true.

Naturally, Hollywood came calling, and The Amityville Horror was adapted into a film in 1979 by American-International (one of their few big-budget attempts to compete with the major studios). In ensuing years, the Lutz’ story has been pretty-much declared total bullshit, but that didn’t stop Amityville from becoming a brand name and long-running franchise. This boxed set features the first three films, the only ones which were actually released theatrically.

"No, I will NOT add more cowbell!"
In the original Amityville Horror, James Brolin & Margot Kidder play George & Kathy Lutz, who learn why they got their new home so cheap…the last family who lived there were all murdered. Worse yet, the evil which possessed one of the sons to commit this horrible act is still in the house, and they don’t like the Lutz' presence one damn bit. Like the book, The Amityville Horror isn’t particularly well-made, nor is it all that scary. But even though it takes creative liberties by changing details and condensing the story, the movie is a lot of silly fun and seldom boring. There’s also some unintentional humor to be found, mostly because of the performances (Rod Steiger, in particular, attacks his role as a priest with all the overwrought thespianism he can muster). For horror fans who were around when it was originally released, The Amityville Horror is a nice trip down memory lane (still more fun than the pointless 2005 remake), and Lilo Schifrin‘s score remains one of the best ever composed for a horror film.

Burt Young knows just how to handle Jehovah's
Witnesses who show up at the door.
The same cannot be said for Amityville II: The Possession, which is more technically-proficient and better-acted, but far more disturbing. This one is loosely based on the book, Murder in Amityville (about the actual murders which took place before the Lutzes moved in), where a young man slaughters his entire family, supposedly because he is possessed. What makes this film sort-of an ordeal to sit through is the oppressive & sleazy tone. Top-billed Burt Young is an abusive, despicable lout, and the incestuous relationship between his teenage kids will make you want to shower-off the grime after watching. For added fun, little children get shot. Amityville II is arguably the best-produced in the entire franchise, but while the special effects are impressive and the story fairly interesting, this is far from what you’d call a fun movie.

Everything looks 3-D after a few shots of Ouzo.
Amityville 3-D is a sequel in name only, made to capitalize on both the brand name and a brief resurgence of 3-D at the time. Hence, it’s more of a thrill ride than an actual film, and totally defanged of any cutting-edge terror by aiming for the kiddie crowd with a PG rating. It probably boasts the best cast of the three, but they are given nothing to do but react to the proceedings, none of which are particularly scary (or even interesting). I’m also sorta saddened that Richard Fleisher (director of classics like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Tora! Tora! Tora!) resorted to helming cynical products like this in order to stay employed. On the plus side, the 3-D is fairly impressive compared to other movies released at the time (like Jaws 3-D and Parasite), and the film is presented in 3-D on disc for the first time.

All three films are products of their time, released when most of us were still buying into the whole Lutz story. None of them have aged too well, but any horror fan with a respectful nod to the past has to appreciate them for the brief pop-cultural entities they once were. And since this boxed set includes some nifty extras, it's a worthwhile purchase those those who fondly remember these films.

SPECIAL FEATURES: AMITYVILLE HORROR: “For God’s Sake, Get Out!” documentary with James Brolin & Margot Kidder; Lalo Schifrin featurette; audio commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer, Ph.D in Parapsychology; trailers; radio spots / AMITYVILLE II: Interview with director Damiano Damiani; interviews with Tommy Lee Wallace, Andrew Prine, Diana Franklin & Rutanya Alda; audio commentary by author Alexandra Holzer; trailer / AMITYVILLE 3-D: Candy Clark featurette; 2D & 3D version of the film; trailer

(Out of 5)