It seems as if every few weeks, there is a mass shooting. Every news cycle seems to contain some account of a guy who mows down several people with a gun. I have often wondered, “Did mass shootings like we have today occur ten or twenty years ago? Thirty of forty years ago?” I guess the answer is – yes they did occur, but maybe not with such a high frequency.
There was one such shooting in Amityville, NY back in 1974. Twenty-three year old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr slaughtered his family with a .35 Marlin Rifle while they slept in their beds. He killed his parents along with his four siblings, ranging in ages from eighteen to nine. Ronald DeFeo currently resides in Green Haven Correctional Facility in NY where he is serving several life sentences.
What does one make of such a tragedy? The answer is: Movies, books. In short -The Amityville Franchise. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, but it is what it is. In one platform or another, millions of people have come to know the haunted house that is the subject of The Amityville Horror. There were several books on the subject and many more movies. Too many movies. There have been fourteen for heaven’s sake!
The tragic tale of the DeFeos is true. It’s what happened afterward that is subject to speculation. What happened in the house a year or so later after the murders varies from source to source. Any understanding of what may or may not have occurred at 112 Ocean Drive is also contingent upon one’s belief in paranormal phenomena. If you believe in ghosts and demons, then it is quite possible you can believe the accounts of George and Kathleen Lutz who lived in the Amityville house several months after the murders took place. If you don’t believe in such entities, then it’s easier to dismiss their story as a hoax.
As far as ghosts and demons are concerned, I remain safely neutral. I’m not saying I disbelieve but, well, there just haven’t been too many occasions where a spirit has gone a floating across my path! Or, as my dad used to say when I asked him if he believed in ghosts, “Nah! I haven’t seen one of them in years!” In other words, I am not here to verify the accuracy of this tale. What I am going to do is judge the content and scariness of the story and not how well it translates into this thing we call “truth”. However, toward the end of the review, I will bring up various articles that aim at getting at “the truth” because the search for the facts are indeed a tale unto itself and part of the larger story.
The basics of the story are this – George and Kathleen Lutz, along with Kathleen’s three children, move into the DeFeo house. 28 days later, they flee, leaving behind all their possessions. They claim to have fled demonic activity. It is implied that the demonic manifestations that haunted them are the same forces that drove Ronald DeFeo to murder his family. After a while, they had their story published in a book written by Jay Anson. Following this was the 1979 movie.
I will begin with the book, then go on to review both the 1979 and the 2005 movie
Warning: There will be major spoilers ahead
Amityville Horror the book – by Jay Anson and George and Kathleen Lutz
Before reading the book, I was told that it would be much scarier than the movie. It had been a long time since I had seen the film, maybe thirty years or more. I don’t remember the film being all that frightening. Of course, I had seen it on terrestrial television; it was heavily edited. Finally, two weeks ago, I saw the uncut, original film. It was pretty creepy, but would the book be better?
Answer: yes. I do admit that I wasn’t super impressed with the first few pages. It reads like a logbook polished up with narrative. There are a lot of dates and times, sentences like “They moved in on December 23.” But this is the prologue, and it is necessary in order to summarize the timeframe. The rest of the book captures this timeframe in detail, day by day. It is a diary detailing the supernatural disturbances that haunt the Lutz family for 28 days as they try and fail to make a home out of colonial house on Ocean Drive.
The disturbances increase in both intensity and frequency until they have no choice but to flee.
The book also chronicles the plight of Father Frank Mancuso. He arrives at the Lutz’s early on to bless the house. Upon arrival, he is overcome with a sense of dread. He feels deathly ill. And he hears a voice that told him to “Get out!!” After this, Father Mancuso is plagued with a serious flu. It gets worse whenever George Lutz tries to contact him. When he calls, static often disrupts the conversation and the line goes dead. Then the flu symptoms increase in severity. Blisters appear on his hands.
Some of the disturbances that the Lutz family experienced include:
- Cold spots
- Unwarranted psychological stress
- Windows opening and closing
- Doors being ripped from their hinges
- Gelatinous mass dripping from walls
- Toxic smells
- Ghostly figures
Here’s a breakdown on how the house affected some of the family members individually:
- George Lutz – He is cold all the time, even when the house is warm. He is irritable, withdrawn, avoids going into work. He hears things, such as an invisible marching band traipsing through his living room. Prone to nightmares. His body levitates while sleeping.
- Kathy Lutz – Felt the presence of a woman. On several occasions, felt ghostly arms wrapped around her; hands pressed against her shoulders. Saw her body mutate into that of an old crone. Her body also levitates while sleeping.
- Missy Lutz – Befriends a demonic pig named Jodie. George catches a glimpse of this pig through the window. Kathy sees its glowing red eyes
The book also has diagrams of each of the three floors of the Amityville house.
All in all, it is an excellent and scary read. And yes it is much scarier than the film, but the movie is pretty scary as well.
Amityville Horror the Movie – 1979 – Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
On Rottontomatoes.com, this film only has a 24% approval rating among critics. This surprises me. The Amityville Horror certainly isn’t the best haunted house film out there, but it’s not so bad. In fact I’ll say it’s “pretty good,” so long as “pretty good” stands for slightly less than “good.” The establishing shots of the house are excellent. Who can forget those creepy attic windows that look like jack-o-lantern eyes! I love the background music. Now-a-days, creepy music is often replaced by the sounds of electronic jolts and thuds. Nothing tops mood setting music such as this:
Who can resist those singing children and their haunting “la la’s”?
The book is better, but the film stands on its own. There are several differences between the book and the film and I will outline them later in the review. The book is able to cover more ground, but that is to be expected since the book has 300 + pages compared to the film’s 2 hours of footage. What the film is able to capture with its limited amount of time is done reasonably well. The mood is eerie, the characters are mostly well developed, especially Rod Stieger as Father DeLaney. Katherine Lutz’s character could have used a bit more development.
Amityville Horror the Movie – 2005 – Andrew Douglas
Yeah, this film isn’t all that good. I was enjoying it in the beginning and accepting of some of the “modern renovations.” I get it. People don’t have imaginations anymore. If a film is to be about ghosts, people want to see the ghosts, and they want them quick. So unlike the first film, there are a lot of shots of ghosts. Or should I say “flashes of ghosts.” They come and go quickly like a fast food meal. I enjoyed seeing the ghosts. I really did.
But as the film moved along, things went too fast. Too much noise and chaos, too much “in your face.”
Here’s something I have to mention. In the first film, George has an awesome line. In response to how he feels about purchasing a house where a mass murderer occurred, he says, “Houses don’t have memories”. He is proven wrong, but that sentence says a lot. Change the “don’t” to “do” and you have a four letter sentence that compacts so much and describes haunted houses to a tee. In the 2005 film the line is, “Houses don’t kill people. People kill people.” Cringe time! Save that slogan for the NRA.
Here are the different ways each medium deals with some of the story’s main themes:
Psychological Profile of family:
Book – Whole family is on edge, psychological strain. Both George and Kathy hit their children. Kids are restless
1979 film – Mostly focuses on George. House works on him, making viewers think he might kill his wife and children in the same way that Ron Defeo slaughtered his family.
2005 film – George goes insane, becomes psychotic. It is the George Lutz of the 1979 film on steroids. A major rip-off of The Shining if you ask me.
Book – Blesses house, hears “get out”, gets violently ill, flu and rashes. When he gets better, he talks to George and gets worse again. Often calls to George are interrupted with static
1979 film – Has a different name. Comes to bless house, attacked by flies (Flies don’t harm him in book). It’s Kathy that reaches out to the Father, not George. Father ends up going blind and left for a shell of a man
2005 film– Very little coverage of the priest. Blesses house, attacked by flies. Won’t come back. Phone calls back and forth are removed from this film.
Book and 1979 movie – Imaginary friend of Missy, turns out to be real but only Missy can see her. Jodie is a pig. A demonic pig.
2005 movie – Jodie is a young girl, presumably a young sister of Ron DeFeo. Guess having a pig as a friend is too weird and abstract for the 2000 years, so in comes the little girl. “Bring back the pig.” I say. Now in the 1979 film, the pig is never shown, accept for the two glowing red eyes. In the 2005 film the little girl Jodie is shown several times. Still I vote for the unseen pig.
Book – there is no babysitter in the book
1979 film – Brief coverage of babysitter. She wears a dental retainer that covers half of her face. Jodie locks her in closet.
2005 film – Bigger deal of babysitter. She is a trampy stoner, and she teases her 12 year old boy seductively. She too gets locked in closet by Jodie.
Book and 1979 film – a secret red room is discovered. It emits bad vibes.
2005 film – more than a room. Passageway where George gets experiences flashes from the far back past. Indians were tortured in these hallways –tortured by a satanic priest named Ketchum.
Book – Pig and White hooded figure
1979 film – less visual manifestations than book. Mostly just eyes (red dots out window)
2005 film – Many- of Jodie the girl, of tortured Indian souls, of Ketcham.
So, is this a true story?
After the Lutz family fled the house, several paranormal teams investigated the house, including the famous Ed and Lorraine Warren. All of them claim to have felt some kind of unnatural presence. However, others have doubts. Locksmiths have investigated the house and have determined that the doors did not come off the hinges in the ways that the Lutz family has claimed. Also, in regards to the history of the house, long before the DeFeos – a history that is documented in the book – not true. The book claims that the house rests on a site where Shinnecock Indians had abandoned the mentally ill. But Shinnecock historians say this is false. Testimony from the real Father Mancuso has been sketchy.
It has been suggested by William Weber, lawyer for Ronald DeFeo, that the whole thing was a hoax. He said that he and the Lutzes concocted the story and were going to publish the book, but in the end, the Lutz’z sought Jay Anston to write the book.
On the other hand, Anston believes the story. In an afterword he says that there are just too many intricate details that couldn’t be made up. George Lutz died in 2006, but a year before his death, he stated in an interview that what happened to he and his family in the book was true.
In repsonse to some of the websites seeking to discredit the Lutz’s, George had developed his own sites:
The first leads to a page showing the house. When clicking on the links, there is a white screen with an internal server error. The second site leads to Yahoo – in Japanese!
What’s going on? Is it like with the phone line static – interruptions happening all over again? Are the demons fucking with George once again, preventing him from reaching out?
Whether true or not, the ghost story of Amityville Horror is indeed a good one. If it’s false, it is then a shame that the lives of the DeFeos were so exploited – real victims of murder – their tale being only a back story for a fiction Hollywood tale. When I think about it this way, I feel bad for even giving The Amityville Horror a moment of my time. But then again, tales will arise from tragedy, both real and fictional. There would be no Count Dracula without the real life Vlad the Impaler. So I suppose a good story is simply that – “a good story”, no matter where it comes from.
For further reading: