Ghosts and demons are scary, but they are nothing compared to the psychological scars people carry with them every day of their lives. This is the conceit of the documentary, MY AMITYVILLE HORROR, the best film to carry the AMITYVILLE moniker.
By now, most of you are familiar with the circumstances of the original Amityville haunting. In 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed his parents and siblings. All the bodies were found sleeping on their stomachs. They did not seem to be awakened by the sound of gunfire. One year later, George and Kathy Lutz, along with their children, moved into the DeFeo house at 112 Ocean Avenue. It was supposed to be the ideal home, a realization of the American dream. 28 days later, the Lutzes left in the middle of the night, taking only a few changes of clothes and leaving the rest of their belongings behind. The reason given would be known as the most notorious haunting in American history. Over the years, there have been many questions about whether the Lutzes really experienced such amazing phenomena or whether it was all a hoax.
If you ask Daniel Lutz, the oldest child of the family, he will tell you that it was definitely real. MY AMITYVILLE HORROR marks the first and only time Daniel has told his story. Few people realize that after the publishing of Jay Anton’s book and the initial press tour that followed, the Lutzes have had little interaction with the press. Meanwhile, Amityvillemania has snowballed into ten films including the remake, plus more marketing tie-ins than can be counted. For this, the family received very little, George Lutz having sold the rights early on.
Nearly forty years later, Daniel Lutz is an adult with a family. But he is also a very psychologically damaged person. When one comes across unexplained phenomena, there is immediate fear. But the story didn’t end when the Lutzes left the house. For decades, Daniel has carried the scars of not just those experiences, but the upheaval of his family dynamic and the media firestorm that followed the hauntings.
Daniel relates his story, sometimes staring directly into the camera in an Errol Morris-type style. His remembrance of his experience in Amityville correlates to the most shocking things we have heard about the case. He talks about his bed levitating so far off the ground that the headboard bangs into the ceiling He talks about killing swarms of flies, only to see the evidence disappear minutes later. He talks about seeing manifestations of demonic forces. He details all of these things, his head shaking as he holds the viewer’s gaze.
But he also tells of even greater, if conversely more ordinary horrors. He talks about how his family was never the same after his mother married George Lutz (Daniel and his two siblings were from Kathy’s previous marriage). Daniel has harsh words about his stepfather. He paints George Lutz as a man who needed to control everything and often got in over his head. He says George was physically and emotionally abusive to the family, even before they moved to Amityville. He also alleges that George was into the occult and tells an outrageous story to back up this questionable claim.
And then there was the time after the hauntings, where George was abandoned by his parents while they went on a press tour. After being reunited, Daniel’s relationship with George was even more strained. He also said he didn’t recognize his mother as the woman she once was. As Daniel grew into an adolescent, he became angry whenever anyone would refer to him as “the Amityville kid.” He left home at a young age and tried to find his own way in the world.
The Daniel Lutz of today is an angry and defensive man, for good reason. He has layers and layers of shielding, in order to protect the scared little boy who still exists deep within him. MY AMITYVILLE HORROR does not state whether the events in the house were real or not. It does state clearly that Daniel is convinced they were. You’re getting his story in this film, without anything tethering him as he unloads this frightening tale. This includes untold stories of the hauntings which are outlandish and terrifying. He also describes details of occurrences at which, according to Anton’s book, he was not present. Some of these strain the story’s credibility, but the film makes it clear that Daniel is not seeking fame or fortune and is being perfectly genuine when speaking. Even the filmmakers, both in the film and on the DVD commentary track, question whether some these things happened and offer several possible explanations for why Daniel believes them.
MY AMITYVILLE HORROR is directed by Eric Walter, who is known for running the largest archive of Amityville information on the internet. This is Walter’s first film and he directs it like a seasoned documentarian. This is arresting stuff. It grabs the viewer early on and never drags.
There are dozens of shows on television detailing haunted houses, spirits and other strange happenings. What makes MY AMITYVILLE HORROR so different, and so much better than any of them is in the human story that it tells. It’s not interested in wowing you with reenactments Daniel’s stories do give you chills, but even that is not the film’s main intent. The intent is to tell Daniel’s story, as he lifts the layers that have protected him for so long. The results are as tragic as they are chilling.
Did any of it happen? I don’t know. We’ll probably never know the truth about what happened and that doesn’t seem to be the point. MY AMITYVILLE HORROR is a deeply moving film that shows that there is a human face and vulnerable heart behind every horror story. ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Not rated, but the equivalent of an “R” for some salty language
– Running time: 1hr 29mins.
Extras on IFC Midnight’s DVD include:
- A decent and informative audio commentary with Eric Walter and producer Andrea Adams.
- “Living with Amityville,” a featurette detailing how Walter got acquainted with Daniel Lutz and convinced him to tell his story.
- Theatrical trailer