• Amityville: The Cursed Collection (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: October 29th, 2019.
    Director: Sandor Stern/Tony Randel/ John Murlowski/Steve White
    Cast: Patty Duke, Jane Wyatt, Fredric Lehne, Stephen Macht, Shawn Weatherly, Megan Ward, Ross Partridge, Terry O'Quinn, Julia Nickson, Robin Thomas, Starr Andreeff, Allen Cutler
    Year: 1989/1992/1993/1996
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    Amityville: The Cursed Collection – Movie Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome assembles on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in the world the four ‘cursed’ Amityville films produced by Steve White. Each of the four films in this set revolves not around the original Long Island home that started it all but a cursed object, which allowed White to move the locations from New York to California. As such, the movies are quite different, and honestly not as effective as the original trilogy, but they’re pretty entertaining in their own ways and judged on their own merits, horror fans should get a kick out of these.

    Amityville – The Evil Escapes (1989):

    In the first movie, directed by Sandor Stern (who wrote the original 1979 The Amityville Horror) and made for TV, we open with a scene where a group of priests run into the familiar Amityville, Long Island home where this all began. A younger priest, Father Kibbler (Fredric Lehne), sees a demonic face in an old lamp. From there, we cut to an estate sale of some sort where a woman named Helen Royce (Peggy McCay) buys the ugly old lamp as an expensive gag gift her sister, Alice Leacock (Jane Wyatt). She ships it to California just as Alice’s daughter, Nancy Evans (Patty Duke), arrives with her three kids in tow – Amanda (Zoe Trilling), Brian (Aron Eisenberg) and young Jessica (Brandy Gold), the later of whom is still traumatized over the recent loss of their father.

    Anyway, Alice sets up the lamp and weird things start happening. At first, it seems like an accident when Nancy burns her hand on a kettle but from there, it gets worse. Housekeeper Peggy (Lou Hancock) and handy man Danny (Jamie Stern) bring the lamp up to the attic – where you always store creepy antiques in horror movies – after which, Jessica starts getting attached to it, claiming that when she looks at it, she sees her father. Soon enough, Danny’s hand has been mashed up in the garbage disposal, Jessica is freaking out, Alice is freaking out from the stress and Father Kibbler is trying desperately to get in touch with the factory and do away with the evil lamp once and for all.

    This one feels like the made for TV movie that it is, though there are a couple of set pieces here that would have been pretty strong by 1989’s standards (added later for the home video release, supposedly), but if it isn’t a particularly good film it’s entertaining enough. The film does attempt to ramp up the tension between family members in the same way that the first Amityville film did so successfully, but it never quite gets to that level. The concept of the haunted lamp is kind of goofy, made all the more so by the fact that said lamp is an absolutely hideous looking thing, to the point where, when it’s supposed to be scary, it’s just rather silly.

    Patty Duke is decent enough here, and supporting work from the rest of the cast isn’t bad. Aron Eisenberg has awful hair and both he and Zoe Trilling are the living embodiment of bad eighties teen/tween fashion in this picture. It’s very much a product of its time in that regard.

    Amityville - It's About Time (1992):

    Jacob Sterling (Stephen Macht of General Hospital fame) is a well to do architect that travels a lot for business. While away in Amityville, Sterling picks up an antique clock for his home, which, upon his return, he places on the mantle over the fireplace. Of course, this being a clock that once lived in the Amityville house, there's something not quite right about it - there are demons inside and it was created by a French necromancer!

    As the clock ticks away, it starts to spread an evil influence around the home beginning with Jacob himself who begins to act in increasingly bizarre and angry fashion. Next to fall prey to the clock demons (ha!) is his son, who the cops bring home one night after busting him for poisoning some of the local dogs. To make matters worse, Jacob's teenage daughter, Lisa (Megan Ward), starts dressing like a hooker and vamping it up. The only one who doesn't seem to be affected by the clock is Jacob's love interest, Andrea (Sean Weatherby) but... get ready for it... TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

    Also known as Amityville 1992, this dark film, directed by Tony Randel, has an unexpected sexual twist to much of the violence and bloodshed. Amityville - It's About Time is the best of the four films in the set thanks to some marginally unnerving set pieces and a few legitimately surprising moments. That said, while it's better than the other films, it's still not a particularly good movie. It has very little to do with the continuity of the first few films in the series and if you took out the flashback scenes that attempt to link it to the other movies, it wouldn't be an Amityville Horror film at all. The R-rating does help things here, however and if you’re in a rather non-discerning mood and just want to zone out on some cheap horror, this will fit the bill in that regard.

    Some decidedly nasty gore set pieces make it an okay trash film and there are a few neat ideas with the way that the clock affects those in the home that are swatted around the movie, but it's not enough to really save it. The acting is bad, the storyline is predictable, and the premise more than a little goofy. Interestingly enough, this was directed by Tony Randel, the same man who directed Hellbound: Hellraiser II a few years prior in 1988. Maybe it’s unfair to expect better of Randel based on the quality of Hellbound, but them’s the breaks.

    Amityville - The New Generation (1993):

    Amityville – The New Generation, directed by John Murlowski, tells the story of Keyes Terry (Ross Partridge) is a photographer who lives in a communal loft with a bunch of other artists. One day a strange homeless man who Keyes photographs gives him an antique mirror which he takes back to the colony. Of course, this mirror is possessed and the people who come into contact with it start to see strange, horrible things. At first it seems like these are just nightmares but when the visions start proving to be prophetic, it soon becomes obvious that there are evil spirits at work.

    Terry O'Quinn of Lost and The Stepfather films pops up in this one alongside the instantly recognizable (and always lovable!) Lin Shaye, David Naughton of An American Werewolf In London and surprisingly enough John Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree - but the novelty bit part casting doesn't stop the film from falling prey to predictable plotting and some less than convincing effects work. That said, while it's obvious that these cult movie stars are really just phoning it in here, it’s cool to see them get some screen time.

    The mirror premise isn't a new one, it's been seen in countless other horror movies and the filmmaker's do little with it here to differentiate it from what's come before. The script makes an interesting connection to one of the original Amityville characters, which at least attempts to tie this story into the continuity established with the theatrical films, but doesn’t wind up meaning much when the end credits roll. The end result is a predictable film with no real scares – but a few minor moments of gore, an interesting and slightly creepy flashback scene, and unnecessary but very welcome nudity help to spice things up.

    Like the first two moves in the set, if you’re in the right mood for it, this is entertaining enough, if far from a classic.

    Amityville - Dollhouse (1996):

    The fourth and final film in the set, which was directed by Steve White (it is his only directorial credit), introduces us to a little girl named Jessica (Rachel Duncan). She wants a dollhouse, just like billions of other girls did when they were young. Her father, Bill Martin (Robin Thomas), obliges her and finds a neat old dollhouse (it was just hanging out in the shed behind his house for some reason) that, you guessed it, looks exactly like a miniature version of the instantly recognizable Amityville house from the original film.

    Bill takes it home for her despite some pretty serious red flags - inside the dollhouse are a bunch of strange looking dolls, and underneath the house in the shed was a newspaper article about a man who slaughtered his entire family. He pays no mind to any of this and just figures he got lucky finding this random doll house on his own property. Great parenting skills there, genius.

    At any rate, once the dollhouse is brought into the home, it's more or less a repeat of what's come before - the evil that lives within the dollhouse starts to take over the home and its residents (that's probably why the previous owners left it in the shed!). Strange things start happening and the residents run into problems with giant killer mice, giant killer spiders, and a zombie.

    Steve White, who went on to become a successful television and film producer (he produced Cabin Boy, so for that we owe him our eternal gratitude), handles directorial duties on this film but that doesn't mean it's any better than the other films in the set. This is a noticeably tamer film in terms of sex, violence or effects than the other earlier entries (leading one to wonder if White had a smaller budget to work with) and as such it's a pretty restrained picture.

    There's very little here to provide much in the way of scares, shocks or suspense and the cast don’t seem to be able to muster too much enthusiasm here. Again, the plot is predictable though the killer mice and the zombie are a nice touch, so bonus points for that.

    Amityville: The Cursed Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Each film in this collection is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on its own 50GB disc taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative and presented in 1.85.1 widescreen. They look quite good, showing very nice detail throughout and plenty of depth and texture as well. There are never any problems with print damage to note, the transfers are pretty much immaculate while retaining the expected amount of natural looking film grain. Color reproduction is consistently great, black levels are strong and skin tones look nice and natural. There are no problems with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction problems. Full marks across the board here, Vinegar Syndrome has once again done a very fine job with the presentation.

    English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo tracks are provided for each of the four films in the collection. Optional subtitles are offered in English only. Across the board, the audio here is clean, clear and nicely balanced. There are no problems with any hiss, distortion or sibilance and range is pretty solid. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow, there’s decent depth to the score and effects used in the films as well.

    Extras are spread across the four discs in the set as follows:

    Amityville – The Evil Escapes:

    The Return to Amityville is a video interview with director Sandor Stern that clocks in at fifteen-minutes. He talks about having to account for commercial breaks in the movie, how he came to write and direct this movie the same year he made a comedy called Fast Break, his friendship with Jay Anson and how he connected him to CBS, having to secure the rights to the book that the film was based on, the budget that he had to work with on this picture and the short shooting schedule they used, how and why the movie wound up taking place in California, finding a house in L.A. to dummy for the Amityville house, the effects used in the film, casting the picture and working with the main cast members in the picture, how he used a few family members in the production, working with producer Barry Bernardi, dealing with the elderly lady who owned the house that the bulk of the film takes place in and how he set this up for a sequel.

    Televised Terror interviews cinematographer Tom Richmond for fourteen-minutes about his work on the picture. He starts out by talking about how he got into the business after going to film school and hooked up with an agent who landed him the Amityville job. He notes that he also shot Hard Rock Zombies, how he got along with Sandor Stern (who he refers to as Sandy) at this point early on in his career, shooting in 35mm, getting to know Alex Cox and working with him, what he was responsible for on the shoot versus what Sandor did, working in the made for TV environment, why the movie is so bright for a horror movie and more.

    Amityville – It’s About Time:

    Time Pieces interviews director Tony Randel for fourteen-minutes. He talks about not using much from the past films and how this entry is more of a standalone film than a producer. He talks about working on the first two Hellraiser films and then connecting with executive producer Steve White who got him involved in this picture. He notes that there was a script but that he had some changes made to it, some of the themes that the movie toys with, auditioning cast members for the picture, his thoughts on the actors that populate the film, finding the location for the film and the house’s unsettling interior, what had to be done to get the house ready for the shoot, rehearsing for the shoot, working on a short schedule with a low budget, pre and post production work required, Daniel Licht’s score and more.

    Up next, in Clockwork we’re treated to an interview with producer/co-writer Chris DeFaria that runs seven-minutes. He too talks about Steve White bringing him onto the project, calling the author of a book who wrote a piece about possessed items, some of the limitations that they ran into on the production when it was originally intended to hit television and why they opted for straight to video instead, how he got to know and work with White, working with Republic Pictures on the film’s distribution during the direct to video boom, memories from the production itself and how certain mistakes stand out to him, certain things that were done in camera in terms of effects, and how the film was quite successful on a financial level.

    Amityville – A New Generation:

    The third film is the only one in the set with an audio commentary and this track comes courtesy of the film’s director, John Murlowski, and is moderated by Elijah Drenner. The track starts by covering how Murlowski came to be involved with this, his first Hollywood feature, after doing some educational films and getting connected to the production, specifically Steve White, through the wife of a cameraman that he worked with during those early days. He then speaks about how a lot of the cast members in the film were pretty accurate reflections of the characters that they played in the film, the effects shots that were required for the film, how and why cinematographer Wally Pfister would get frustrated during the shoot because of the rushed schedule, how the cast members in the film’s love scene had never done nudity before, being intimidated by Terry O’Quinn, storyboarding the film, how Lin Shaye wound up in the film, shooting on 35mm, his thoughts on the film as it was being made while watching the dailies, doing reshoots by himself on weekends and more.

    We also get two featurettes on this disc, the first of which is Through The Looking Glass, a new interview with Murlowski that runs thirteen-minutes. He talks about growing up in Minnesota and making movies with his friends out there that they’d show in the high school theater. From there, he talks about his professional training and film school, working on educational films and commercials where he learned how to run a crew and stick to a budget, getting the Amityville gig, the lighting and look of the film, working with the different cast members, the difficulty of having to shoot mirrors in a feature film and quite a bit more. This featurette also has a fair bit of tape-sourced behind the scenes footage included in it, which is cool to see.

    The second featurette is Malevolent Reflections, an interview with producer Christopher DeFaria that clocks in at just under five-minutes. He talks about Republic Pictures’ involvement in the production, trying to take the Amityville mythos out of the suburbs into a younger, urban setting. He talks about the use of the mirror in the film, shooting the movie in twenty-four days, Murlowski’s ambitious directing style, the quality of the in-camera effects work and his thoughts on the film overall and how he’s like to remake it someday. There’s some tape sourced behind the scenes footage included in here as well.

    Amityville – Dollhouse:

    Extras for the fourth and final film start off with Welcome To The Dollhouse, a nine-minute interview with director Steve White, who speaks about how the Amityville films are so well known, how the success of the original film was capitalized on with the sequels, some details about the real Amityville case, his work behind the camera on the four films included in this set, how George Lutz felt that the evil from the house followed him and how this led to the sequels included in this set. He tells some interesting stories about directing Dollhouse, shares his thoughts on Joshua Michael Stern’s script, the importance of working the original house into the film and how he didn’t get paid for directing the film because they went over budget! There are a few neat behind the scenes still used in this piece.

    Cinematographer Tom Callaway is up next in a featurette called Jump Into the Fire, a fifteen-minute piece where he talks about having to learn as he went on this shoot to a certain extent, how he got interested in photography as a kid which led to his getting into shooting Super 8mm films with his friends. From there we hear about how he moved to Los Angeles and started gaffing on a low budget horror movie called Bits And Pieces, getting the financing together to make his own $30k feature called Ghost Riders, taking different jobs from there for a while (like doing pyro on Creepozoids) and then doing DP work. He talks about working with different people in the business and different jobs that he did and then goes on to talk about shooting Dollhouse and some of the difficulty that entailed, especially during some of the night scenes. He also shares some notes about how he got the shots inside the dollhouse model, different lenses that were used and why, the rushed low budget schedule that he had to work on, why some of the lighting in the film is a bit flat, shooting the makeup effects and more. Again, some nice behind the scenes stills pop up here as well.

    Last but not least, in Demons In The Dollhouse we sit down with special effects artist Roy Knyrim that runs just under twelve-minutes. He mentions that the budget they had to work with wasn’t bad all things considered, but notes that it was challenging as they didn’t have a lot of build time for the movie. We hear about how he did some work for Republic which led to getting the work on Dollhouse, how it was crazy on the set, meeting Steve White and what it was like to work with him, coming up with the makeup used for the demons at the end of the movie, working with Jerry Macaluso on the sketches and clay sculptures that were then turned into molds, how they had no time for makeup tests and some other projects that he’s gone on to be involved with over the years.

    All four discs in the set also features menus and chapter selection.

    We also need to discuss the packaging. Vinegar Syndrome whiz kid designer Earl Kessler Jr. has created one of the coolest boxed set designs you’re likely to see. The four Blu-rays fit inside a very sturdy box that has artwork on all four sides replicating the look of the infamous Amityville Horror House. The top lifts off and the discs easily slide in and out – it’s very cool and a neat way to package these discs. Each film also comes with some cool reversible cover art, which is always a nice touch.

    Amityville: The Cursed Collection – The Final Word:

    Amityville: The Cursed Collection four of the franchise’s lesser sequels in superb quality, with some genuinely interesting extra features and with some kick-ass packaging. These movies definitely have a fan base, and if you’re in that group, there’s no reason to hesitate about picking up this set. While no one will likely argue that these movies are unsung classics, they’re entertaining enough if you’re in the right mood for them.

    Click on the images below for full sized Amityville: The Cursed Collection Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Killer Meteor's Avatar
      Killer Meteor -
      What happened to The Amityville Curse?
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      What the hell, Ian? You mention Megan Ward "dressing like a hooker" and you don't provide even one screencap? Very disappointed.
    1. moviegeek86's Avatar
      moviegeek86 -
      Amityville Curse isn't an official entry in the series.