When I was in elementary school way back in the seventies, there was a rumor floating around the playground that Christopher Lutz, the middle child from the family that was immortalized in The Amityville Horror, went to our school. He would have been in the same grade as my older sister but, of course, he wasn’t in her class. In fact, no one knew what class he was in. I never met him, and I’m not even sure that he ever attended the school, but the rumor itself is evidence of how big of a pop culture phenomenon that The Amityville Horror had become.
At the center of this pop culture phenomenon was the Lutz family themselves. No matter how far from the house that they ended up, the Lutzes would forever be destined to live in its shadow. The oldest of the Lutz children, Daniel, explores what it has been like for him to be a real-life horror movie victim for the last 35 years in director Eric Walter’s compelling new documentary, My Amityville Horror.
For those who have not seen it (and everyone really should, since it’s one of the scariest movies ever made), The Amityville Horror is the reportedly true story of the Lutzes, a family of five who moved into a haunted house in New York in 1975 and fled 28 days later, leaving most of their belongings behind. The book, written by Jay Anson after hours of interviews with George and Kathy Lutz, was a huge bestseller and the subsequent movie captured the imaginations of people all over America. Since its release, the movie has been the subject of much scrutiny and skepticism as to how much of the story is true and how much is embellished, but the nay-saying of non-believers has not stopped the franchise from growing legs; not only has the original movie spawned eight sequels, but it also has earned the ultimate horror movie trophy, a 2005 Michael Bay-produced reboot.
What is accepted as fact is this: early in the morning on November 13th, 1974, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr., shot his mother, father, and his four brothers and sisters in the infamous house; on December 18th, 1975, The Lutzes moved into the house and on January 14th, 1976, they left. What happened during the family’s time in the house has been up for debate for years. The Lutzes claim that they survived a harrowing series of paranormal events, while many investigators doubt the entire story, saying that George and Kathy, along with Jay Anson, made the whole thing up to capitalize financially on the history of the house. Whether the events depicted in the house are true or not, My Amityville Horror makes one thing painfully clear: Daniel Lutz believes that they are.
In his interviews, Lutz comes off as antagonistic, intense, and confrontational. He seems to trust no one; he forces a therapist to tell him some of her painful memories before he’ll talk to her, he threatens to “have words” with an interviewer off-camera, and he “calls out” a couple of crew members for not believing in God. All of this gives him the aura of a soldier with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and provides an extra chill to his stories. He talks about his memories of the events in the house with a stunning clarity, as if they just happened yesterday; he remembers every swarm of flies and each cold spot in the house. Some of his stories are painful to hear, such as his retelling of the famous scene from The Amityville Horror where his hands are crushed by a falling window. Other stories, like when he recounts the time he met his sister’s imaginary pet demon pig, Jodi, are nothing short of terrifying. Daniel has no lost love for his step-father, George, even expressing relief that he is dead, and his tales of George’s dabbling in the occult and witchcraft bring a new set of theories to the table regarding the cause of the haunting. My Amityville Horror muddies the waters of an already famously controversial case of paranormal activity.
Director Eric Walters seems to skirt the issue of the authenticity of the haunting. My Amityville Horror is not about proving or discrediting the original book and movie. Instead, it aims to tell Daniel’s story, and Daniel’s story is convincing. He tells his side with conviction and determination, and whether what he says is true or not is irrelevant – the documentary is concerned only with the fact that he believes every word that he says. When an interviewer asks Daniel if he would object to taking a lie detector test (to which both George and Kathy agreed, and passed), Daniel predictably gets aggressive and angry, yet never answers the question. He not only believes his stories, but he can’t believe that anyone else would have the audacity to doubt him. He sticks to his guns, and it makes for some incredibly engaging interviews.
My Amityville Horror does put forward a few theories as to why Lutz believes so adamantly in the haunting, ranging from the simple reason that it really happened to the complex psychological explanation that he believes what his mother and stepfather ingrained in his mind at such a young age. At the end of the film, a title card shows on the screen saying that Daniel’s younger siblings, Christopher and Melissa (Missy), declined to participate in the documentary. Their reluctance to speak may be for any number of reasons, but there’s little doubt that they must have been affected by the Amityville phenomenon, just like Daniel. Maybe they just prefer to let sleeping demons lie.
Visit the official production website: http://www.amityvillemovie.com