We all know the official story by now. In December of 1975, the Lutz family moved into a house in Amityville, Long Island where, thirteen months prior, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot six members of his family to death as they slept. It was because of this incident that the husband, George, was able to purchase the house at a reduced price of $80,000. Twenty-eight days after moving in, the Lutzes fled the house, claiming to have been terrorized by bouts of paranormal activity. These would include: Swarms of flies infesting certain rooms, despite it being the dead of winter; the appearance of a demonic pig-faced creature with glowing red eyes; green ooze emanating from the walls of the house; cold spots and foul stenches; the wife, Kathleen, levitating while lying in bed; and locks, doors, and windows becoming damaged by unseen forces.
Did any of this actually happen, or was it all a hoax conjured up and perpetuated by the Lutzes? To this day, no one knows for sure. What we do know is that the Lutzes’ claims inspired Jay Anson to write his 1977 book The Amityville Horror, which in turn would inspire ten feature films released between 1979 and 2011. We also know that no subsequent tenants of the house have reported any instances of paranormal activity, that there’s no real evidence to corroborate any of the claims the Lutzes made, and that the case continues to be a source of debate among researchers. Through it all, George and Kathleen would stick with their story, even after their divorce in the late 1980s. Both have since died. Kathleen had three children from a previous marriage, all of whom George legally adopted.
The eldest child, a son named Daniel, is the subject of My Amityville Horror, a documentary in which he’s interviewed by director Eric Walter, psychologist Susan S. Bartell, and investigative reporter Laura Didio. Much of the film is exactly what we expect it to be, namely Daniel giving his personal accounts of the paranormal activity that plagued his family in 1975, at which point he was only ten years old. He maintains that everything that was claimed to have happened in that house did actually happen. He could, of course, be lying, but I firmly believe that he believes. I also believe his assertions that his association with the case has been a source of great psychological distress, and that he has been trying for years to escape the stigma of being labeled “the Amityville Horror kid.”
Daniel Lutz, now a forty-seven-year-old electric-guitar player living in Whitestone, New York, has an intense, tormented aura about him. There’s clearly a lot of unresolved anger simmering deep within. Any subject that’s touched upon is approached with a great deal of caution, not on his part but on the part of those that interview him. He opens up, but he’s not comfortable with it. Consider his first meeting with Bartell; when he feels her questions are starting to get too personal, he stops her, explains that he doesn’t know her, and mandates that, if she wants him to continue, she must first tell him her most traumatic life experience. And then there’s the final scene, in which Walter asks Daniel whether or not he would be willing to submit to a polygraph test. Daniel’s reaction is restrained, but it’s obvious that, were it not for the presence of the camera crew, he would knock Walter’s block off.
What we see most of all is a man who still harbors a deep resentment of his stepfather, a divorced ex-marine who came into his life when he was a lost, vulnerable seven- or eight-year-old and forced him to take on a different last name. Daniel claims that George, a non-practicing Methodist, had an office filled with books pertaining to the occult, and that, even before they moved to Amityville, he witnessed George using telekinetic powers to levitate objects. Didio speculates that, once the Lutzes moved into the house, George might have practiced rituals that amplified the residual psychic effects of LeFeo’s murder spree. It’s also speculated that the negative energy produced by Daniel and George’s antagonistic relationship only worsened the paranormal activity. That’s certainly what Daniel believes.
But I’m making it sound as if this film has a definite agenda, namely to argue in favor of the Lutzes’ claims. It certainly might seem that way at first, since far more time is spent on subjects that believe or claim to believe. But there are moments when Walter plays devil’s advocate. He interviews, for example, Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology at UC Irvine. She claims that people have a tendency to exaggerate personal experiences to greater or lesser degrees, and that because we typically remember things in fragments, we often times fill in the gaps with other pieces of information, pieces that may or may not relate to us at all. In Daniel’s case, what he seems to remember might have been post-event suggestions made by the movie The Amityville Horror. I think the message of My Amityville Horror is that, for Daniel, the real horror had less to do with what he believes he experienced and more to do with the attention he received because of his beliefs.
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