Friday, August 9, 2013

My Amityville Horror (2012) : Of Hauntings And Anger Management...

When I was ten years old, I got my hands on a book that was probably inappropriate for my age. No, no...not Valley of the Dolls (I waited till I was eleven to steal that one from under my mom's bed!) -  The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson.  Dare I say it wasn't exceptionally inappropriate, considering I'd already read The Shining, and I suppose if Room 217 hadn't kept me awake all night, then pigs with glowing eyes and swarms of flies shouldn't bother me too bad, right?  But even as a kid, my reasoning was fairly straightforward. It wasn't the made-up frights that scared me, it was the fact that something truly awful - evil, even - had happened at 112 Ocean Avenue.

The fact of the matter is, I wouldn't have moved into that house if you gave it to me. As beautiful as it was (and still is), six people were murdered in their sleep in that house. Do I really have to explain my reservations about living in a house where such a horrific act (SIX horrific acts) took place?  As entertaining as it may be to tour the house now, and I would love to do so - hell, I might even stay overnight and participate in a seance, let's just go for broke here - I WOULD NOT OR COULD NOT EVER MOVE INTO THAT HOUSE.  It's just too tainted. Not that I think the ghosts of the DeFeo family would prowl around and make my life a miserable mess, it's more like I don't think I could sleep at night knowing someone died violently right in the same room. And in the room beside me. And the room above me. That kind of thing would bother me more than a six figure mortgage. 

The Amityville Horror is a highly entertaining read, no doubt.  I am a raging fan of haunted house stories, it's one of my favorite sub-genres of horror, and as a pre-teen and going forward, I read a whole slew of those kind of books.  I don't remember thinking much about the Amityville book being a true story while I was reading it, it was more of an after-effect for me. Thank heavens there was no internet back then or I may have never joined the volleyball team or played in the band.

I also remember getting the book High Hopes: The Amityville Murders (1982) and devouring it like some kind of lunatic, though.  That book tells the story of Amityville murderer Ronald DeFeo, detailing the crimes and subsequent prosecution of said killer.  It is most certainly the book that jump-started my love of true crime (because I hadn't read In Cold Blood yet, folks) and got me interested in the details of the Defeo murders. 

Reading The Amityville Horror was a thrill. All the heinous things that supposedly happened to the Lutz family upon their arrival at the doomed house were the stuff of nightmares.  Basement rooms painted red, flies swarming the sewing room, doors slamming in the dead of night, demon pigs befriending the Lutz's young daughter, etc.  It all made for very good storytelling.
As I got older and read the book a few more times, and then saw the movie, I had to question how legitimate the Lutz's story was. As much as I wanted to believe in demons, ghosts, and the like, it was pretty hard  to imagine bleeding walls and priests that couldn't even bear to go inside the house.  Eventually the book was revealed to have been a hoax and though I had a tinge of disappointment, it really didn't surprise me. I just chalked it up to decent fiction and moved on.

When talk of My Amityville Horror first started to hit the internet, I was intrigued. It promised to yield never-before heard information from Daniel Lutz, the oldest member of the Lutz family and supposed "eye-witness" to the horrors of the house. He claimed to have experienced the harrowing events of the 28 days spent at the house first-hand, and assured us that this was no hoax.  So when I finally sat down to watch the film, it was with equal parts curiosity and trepidation.

First off, I have to say that Daniel Lutz is a truly messed up individual.  He seems very much a product of abuse and publicity. The degree of anger that this man holds inside is incomprehensible. Even though his mother Kathy and his step-father George are deceased, it's obvious he harbors an inherent contempt of them, in particular George. He details how he and his step-father never got along, even going as far as saying he hated him and was happy he was dead.

Regardless of how he feels about his parents, it's plain to see after listening to Daniel discuss the events in question, that he wholeheartedly believes he experienced an overabundance of  wild supernatural events within the house. He even claims to have been possessed himself.
Just the look of Lutz, like a hardened criminal if I'm being honest, can evoke many emotions - not many of them good.  He gives off such a despondent vibe throughout most of the film, and seems so positively sure of his memories of the past, it's actually pretty depressing. Perhaps this is the filmmaker's intention, to have us - the audience - feel badly for Daniel Lutz. When the man isn't angry, he's gloomy and obviously unhappy.  He has two children of his own now, and I really can't imagine what he must be like in day-to-day life. I'd love to think his kids don't see this side of him - or that it was put on for this production - but that's kind of hard to fathom.

If nothing else, he is certainly sure of himself.  Interviewers in the film rarely get the upper hand, as Lutz is ready to bark back at the drop of a hat. To anyone disagreeing with his "truths", he slams them with insults and gets pissed fairly quickly.  He immediately places most of the blame for his unhappy childhood on George, painting him as an abusive and intolerant man who treated him and his brother and sister like possessions, yet showed them no love.  He details them moving to the Ocean Avenue house, where supernatural events promptly started.  We're all familiar with the various evil happenings in the house - such as a priest not being able to go into the home to bless it - but with Daniel, you delve a little deeper, and he goes into further detail in particular about George. Whether or not you believe anything supernatural ever occurred in the Ocean Avenue home, George has made Daniel believe it. As an impressionable ten year old when they moved in, Daniel was both berated and bullied by his step-father and it's no wonder the fears in real life made the transition to young Daniel's inner mind.  He believes George was also possessed, and claims to have witnessed things such as George making things move with his mind. 
He almost lost me there. I nearly turned the DVD off.  Unfortunately Daniel just does not come across as very convincing, probably because of his hostile attitude. The poor guy is trying so hard to legitimize the story of the Amityville haunting, and instead I think he made me feel more bewildered.

To help his cause along and get his story told, Lutz has conversations with several people, including interviewers, investigative reporters and even Lorraine Warren, the psychic who with her husband Ed originally came to the Amityville house to research the haunting.  The Warrens are infamous in many circles, as they are thought to have exploited many families with their talk of demonology and psychic awareness. Whether or not you believe in their psychic prowess and ability to talk down demons, it certainly didn't help their believability status when the film crew goes to the Warrens' home (Ed passed away in 2006) and one of the first things you see is a pair of twin roosters - in separate cages - right in the living area of her home.

My Amityville Horror will certainly appeal to die-hard fans of the film, the book, and/or the actual DeFeo murders. Anyone with any inkling of interest about those "28 days of terror" that plagued the Lutz family after they moved into the nefarious house will get at least a moderate amount of enjoyment out of the film. Though it really is less a tale of a haunting than it is sitting through Daniel's tales of his wretched childhood and his abhorrence for his step-father that obviously left an indelible stain on his psyche.

Daniel Lutz does not consider himself "The Amityville Guy", he says he goes about his daily life without thinking about it 24/7. But it's a certainty that the juggernaut that is the Amityville "haunting" has affected every pore of this sad "survivor". I only hope getting these feelings out in the open has given him some kind of liberation from the misery and anger locked deep inside.


Rg Lovecraft said...

Oooh, I'm very excited about seeing this one. Whether or not it's all bogus, I find it very intriguing none the less. Should be an interesting watch.

Groovy blog by the way! Thanks so much for the follow, I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of your posts.


Christine Hadden said...

Rg: Thanks for stopping by and for the kind comments!

And yes, anyone with even a passing interest in the Amityville story should find this one intriguing.
Even if it is a hoax, it's still one of the most famous haunted houses in the world!

Doug Brunell said...

Okay, high weirdness here. I read "The Shining" at nine, and read Anson's "The Amityville Horror" in hardcover soon after it came out (my mom gave me her copy), which was also when I was young. We lived on the East Coast, so the house was in the news and on specials like "Evening Magazine" a lot. When the film came out, my mom took me. I was far too young for it. Anyway, years later I ended up dating a girl whose aunt dated DeFeo. Small world.

Christine Hadden said...

Wow Doug! That is so crazy! What a wild coincidence. Good thing she didn't marry him or she may not have lived to tell the tale...

And we must have been much alike in childhood - reading things well before we should have!

Doug Brunell, author of "Nothing Men" said...

I read "The Shining" when I was nine, which set me on this path of writing horror. I thank my parents for giving me that freedom, though when my mom borrowed the book after I read it she said, "I can't believe we let you read this." Hell, she bought me "A Clockwork Orange" when I was a young teen. She and my dad saw it at a drive-in when it came out. I asked her, "Was I conceived during it?" I thought that would be cool. She was fairly shocked I asked that and insisted I wasn't. I like to believe otherwise.