Hello all. Hope you had a good week.
Say, are you familiar with basics of what we call The Amityville Horror? You know, family moves into a steal of a real estate deal at 112 Ocean Avenue in the town of the same name, former site of a grisly series of murders. An entire family shot to death by Ronnie DeFeo, all asleep and laying stomach downwards, nary a peep out of any of them once or the neighbors once the terror began with the first crack of the rifle. The Lutzes couldn’t believe their luck when they found 112 Ocean Avenue at a bargain basement price; unruffled by the structure’s past, they moved in. Then fled 28 days later, citing unbearable paranormal and psychic phenomena.
Many of our younger readers are likely familiar with the 2005 film version of The Amityville Horror starring Ryan Reynolds. What folks interested enough to dig back in time would find is a story that completely engrossed America and other parts of the world back in the 1970s when the Lutzes came forward with their tale in the form of Jay Anson’s book of the same name. Some, like Lorraine Warren, still believe that the house gives off nothing but the worst psychic reverberations. Others claim to know that the author Anson, the Lutzes and their attorney fabricated an elaborate hoax over many bottles of wine — perhaps to escape a mortgage that was too tall to handle even given the property’s advantageous pricing, perhaps just as a reach for fame, some time in the limelight.
The Numbers – The Books and Films
This Renegade Writer has long studied the Amityville case from both a paranormal and entertainment standpoint. While the jury is still out for me, I tend to err on the side of caution and say that the Lutz’s story was a ruse. Still, horror was seen as walls were painted with blood and gray matter the night Ronnie DeFeo proceeded to kill his family in cold blood, saying later what is akin to the famous “the voices made me do it” claim. That’s horror enough, isn’t it? And people have been living at 112 Ocean Avenue ever since, not reporting anything at all out of the ordinary except for the occasional thrill seeker that wants to pay a pilgrimage to the famed site. (Note: activity usually picks up immensely about five weeks from now.)
Regardless of my or your feelings about the validity of any “hauntings,” one certainly can’t ignore the impact of the Amityville case on popular culture. There are monetary implications of the story being somewhat franchised as well. Consider that the Jay Anson book lays claim to almost 10 million copies in print. The original Amityville Horror film adaptation released in 1979 grossed over $86 million dollars (1979 dollars, which would translate to about $281M today). Lackluster sequels and direct-to-DVD continuations also had/have the ability to offer decent ROI. And that 2005 remake even did a solid $65M or so. Let’s face it; people in supernatural peril sell, especially when a story is rooted in “fact” and contains sympathetic characters the world can relate to.
But what it the people in said situation were not so sympathetic? What if other problems lurked in 112 Ocean Avenue that were human rather than supernatural? This is what struck me the hardest during a recent viewing of My Amityville Horror, the Inspiration of this week’s discussion.
The Inspiration – Daniel Lutz
In the documentary My Amityville Horror directed by Eric Walter, Daniel Lutz is interviewed at great length about his childhood and the period of time spent with his parents and siblings inside 112 Ocean Avenue, over 25 years after the purported events. If you come to this film like I did, hoping for some sense of closure, temper your expectations. There is no indefatigable proof to be found in Daniel’s statements, no outright denials that can finally put the issue of truth versus hoax to rest. Instead, Mr. Lutz steadfastly maintains that everything described in the 1970s actually happened. This is not proof because upon observing his testimony for the film’s running time, you can easily see the cracked foundation behind the sometimes calm, sometimes disturbed and aggressive facade.
There are, however, revelations that may point to why Daniel believes in the Horror.
He was 10 years old at the time of the events, and moved into the house with his birth mother, Kathleen and his two blood siblings. Stepfather George insisted that the children take his last name, which in Daniel’s mind was only a hint at the drama to come. Over the course of interviews contained within, My Amityville Horror paints George Lutz as a bit of a tyrant, militaristic raising and disciplining his stepchildren. Resentment seethes through Daniel Lutz’s words and expressions as he recounts instances of discipline and emotional pain. This eventually transforms into Daniel claiming that George researched and performed dark arts and summoning, but it is right before this transgression that we should hit the pause button and consider that man being filmed.
One of the best descriptions of Daniel Lutz in My Amityville Horror that I’ve read comes from A.V. Club. In their review, they describe the man as “A volatile, sometimes-belligerent interview subject—though there’s an air of practiced theatricality to his performance.” This is better than anything I could come up with. Watch this film and see Daniel alternately scream and cry to the camera, play his guitar with shades on in his garage, wonder about the fragility of his psyche. Do I think that George Lutz worshiped Satan or brought forth his minions? No. Do I think he abused and demeaned his 10 year old stepson? Can’t say, I wasn’t there. but it is certainly a possibility. The $64,000 question, though, is: did the loss of Daniel’s original nuclear family, integration into a new Lutz-named and Lutz-decreed family, and visions of losing his mother to a somewhat unknown man affect the boy who grew into the 47 year old divorced father of two depicted in this documentary? Absolutely.
Daniel Lutz will not be swayed in his beliefs about the occurrences in Amityville. Witness a particularly intense discussion with Lorraine Warren when, after talking a bit about the past, they pray and bond over what is supposed to be a religious relic, a shard of the cross used in Jesus’s crucifixion. Take heed at the very end of the film and Daniels enraged answer to the director asking if he would be willing to take a lie detector test to prove the validity of his claims. To be honest, it wouldn’t even matter if Daniel did admit to a polygraph; he believes, and the instrument measuring the truth would really only measure his belief anyway. I remain slightly in awe and also sympathetic to this man who has been affected by whatever happened in that house. I would encourage anyone with a passing interest in Amityville to check out My Amityville Horror, as long as you realize you’re going to be left searching for even more answers, the same as Daniel Lutz.