My Life in Amityville: A Retrospective

I have never lived in nor visited the town whose very name inspires dread. Although I did recently read that the infamous High Hopes went back on the market. If I ever make Stephen King money, I’m buying that sucker! No, I’ve never been there, but I grew up with The Amityville Horror. It warped my young brain and shaped my imagination. So I’ve always felt like an unofficial resident.

The Amityville Horror wasn’t the first scary movie I saw. That distinction goes to the 1981 made-for-television This House Possessed. But it was The Amityville Horror that I most remember. And cherish. These were days long before every home featured a VCR, but this gem (it wasn’t even classic yet!) aired around Halloween just as surely as The Wizard of Oz followed Thanksgiving. The movie about 112 Ocean Avenue and the Lutzes influenced me more than any film or novel I have watched or read since. It pushed me towards my love of horror. And my life-long urge to write it. The images may be rudimentary these days, but indelible always to me: rocking chair moving all by itself . . . Jodie’s glowing red eyes at the second floor window . . . the babysitter scratching her nails bloody at the closet door. So many more!

I must have been in sixth grade when I bought The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson down in the basement bookstore that was my magical kingdom. I paid a buck for it. Probably less, because most of the paperbacks there were three for a dollar. Stephen King never scared me within a degree of what Anson accomplished. Even The Exorcist paled by comparison—though I must admit that I read William Peter Blatty’s classic as an adult. When the demon appeared at the foot of the kids’ bed, I was done for! Weak-kneed and whirling at the slightest sound, I finished the novel in two days. Not bad for a kid. To this day I love haunted house stories more than any other sub-genre. And believe me, I plan on adding my own entry into the canon.

I remember renting The Amityville Horror 2 from BJ’s, the little VHS rental store to where I pedaled my dirt bike every day during my childhood summers. I liked that movie quite a bit, reveling in the story of the DeFeos—the family before the Lutzes—and their son, Ronnie, who murdered his family and gave rise to the eventually haunting. I re-watched that one about a year ago, and it’s terrible. Given the sheer number of sequels, I might have missed one, but I doubt I missed the one that was any good. No, the near-endless battery of Amityville movies was not going to quench my thirst.

Thank you, Al Gore, for the internet! YouTube holds a treasure trove of Amityville documentaries. I’ve watched them all, generally dismissing the ones discrediting the haunting while giving the most credence to the ones perpetuating it. I mean really, can’t a guy believe in anything? Please!

The True Story of the Amityville Horror (originally an A&E documentary) is rich with history about the DeFeos. And George Lutz really did look just like Ronnie DeFeo! The Real Amityville Horror (right there on YouTube) and Netflix’s The Real Story: The Amityville Horror are both ultimately skewed to debunk the haunting. But they are full of great interviews with Lorraine Warren, Laura DiDio, and William Weber, all big names in the world of Amityville documentaries. The latter film also includes a brief history of the torture and burial of Native Americans on the land where the house would eventually be built. These stories became the basis of the 2005 remake’s subplot.

                           George Lutz 

                           George Lutz 

                        Ronnie DeFeo

                        Ronnie DeFeo

                             Daniel Lutz

                             Daniel Lutz

But the greatest of all Amityville documentaries came out in 2012. My Amityville Horror stars Daniel Lutz, one of the children who lived through the famed 1975 haunting. This feature-length doc details—in his own angry words—his experiences in that house and his life’s journey afterwards. This Michael Chiklis-looking guy is one of the most intense men I’ve ever seen. He manages to be more engrossing than the ghosts and terrors of High Hopes ever were. When he reunites with Lorraine Warren, a tender moment turns just plain weird. I talk often about multiple layers making a good movie great, and layers abound in this terrific film. It’s on Netflix, and I just might watch it again right now!

I’d like to think that the Amityville collection has something for everyone. The original is cream of crop 70s horror. The remake is contemporary and scary. Of course, all those documentaries fill the void for fans of true-crime horror and haunting stories. And 2011’s The Amityville Haunting gives found footage freaks a tour of the grand old house. If you’ve strayed away from this particular tale (or—gasp—ignored it completely), I encourage you to find one of the movies that suit your tastes and have a good time with it. Trust me.

And stay dark, my friends.

                     Amityville then

                     Amityville then

                    Amityville today

                    Amityville today