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NEW RELEASES ON DVD

OK, so it wasn't a scandale of the caliber of the Hitler or Howard Hughes diaries, but back in the soporific '70s a lot people bought into the claim that the best-selling haunted house saga "The Amityville Horror" was on the up-and-up, even after at least one investigator debunked it.

Coming on the heels of "The Exorcist," the book and resulting 1979 movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder as newlyweds who buy the haunted house in Amityville were not only enormous hits, they were conversation pieces. Everybody had a theory about what had transpired in the house where, a couple of years before, a young man had brutally murdered his parents and siblings.

More than three decades later, "The Exorcist" is a horror classic; "The Amityville Horror," which also had Rod Steiger spitting scenery amid all the goo, is just another horror movie -- albeit one getting a remake next Friday. Considering that the current appetite for horror has propelled junk like "The Ring Two" and "Boogeyman" to the top of the box office, "Amityville" could be that rare remake that spawns a second-generation franchise.

That explains why the original movie is getting a DVD re-release (MGM, $14.95) and the studio is offering "The Amityville Horror Collection" ($39.96). The four-disc set contains the digitally remastered 1979 film, which has been given a new 5.1 Surround remix, and a commentary by Hans Holzer, everybody's first-call parapsychologist.

In addition, the set includes 1982's "Amityville II: The Possession," which sees Burt Young's far more dysfunctional family moving in -- you may find yourself rooting for the house -- and 1983's "Amityville 3-D." The latter's not presented in 3-D on the DVD, so don't go shaking the box in search of the glasses. It's a lot better than its predecessor, however, with a doubting Tony Roberts heading up a cast that includes Candy Clark, Lori Loughlin and a young Meg Ryan.

The sequels are also available individually for $14.95, but you'll have to get the box if you want the bonus disc "Amityville Confidential."

The week's list of recent theatrical releases is headed by "Sideways" (Fox, $29.98), the intelligent comedy that was just about everybody's favorite movie of last year. That's save, of course, for the Oscar voters who gave the best picture prize to "Million Dollar Baby" and inexplicably ignored Paul Giamatti's portrayal of Miles, the depressed wine-lover who takes old college buddy Thomas Haden Church on a wine-country tour in lieu of a bachelor party, and all those readers who continue to e-mail me mocking my praise and affection for a movie in which the characters are utterly unlikable and their problems uninteresting and unfunny.

I can only suggest they take a crash course in good taste and/or humanity and obtain this DVD for reappraisal, though its only significant extras are a commentary by Giamatti and Church and a few minutes of outtakes, and watch it again in an effort to see what flew over their heads. Or they could wait a few years for the inevitable special edition (which one hopes spends quality time with director Alexander Payne and his screenwriting partner Jim Taylor) that will secure its reputation as a modern classic.

In lieu of that, they could take another look at "Elektra" (Fox, $29.98), a spin-off of "Daredevil" again featuring Jennifer Garner as an assassin with a conscience and a smoking-hot red leather outfit. She goes up against a mystical order called the Hand, which, like Elektra, has its good side and its dark side.

Neither side is of much interest unfortunately, leaving us with little to think about except how badly Garner must have regretted signing on for an offshoot of a movie that itself was pretty lame. Three deleted scenes and a 13-minute making-of doc add the perfunctory to the pointless.

By contrast, if you skipped "Spanglish" (Columbia-TriStar, $28.95) based on reviews that found it condescending and trite, you may want to give it another chance. It's a story about how a Mexican maid (the lovely Paz Vega) causes her employer (Adam Sandler) to take a hard look at his neurotic wife (Tea Leoni) and her style of parenting.

The most devoted "West Wing" supporters usually argue that the series peaked in 2002-03, whose 22 episodes are collected on six discs as "The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner, $59.98).

As with previous "West Wing" boxes, extras include excised and elongated scenes and commentaries, including a final one from creator Aaron Sorkin, who left the show.

-- Terry Lawson,
Knight Ridder Newspapers

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