This review was originally published on August 9, 2012…
In 1975, 28 days after moving in, George and Kathy Lutz grabbed their family and ran away from their Amityville home, leaving all their possessions behind. The story of why they left the house at 112 Ocean Avenue, which was the site of a gruesome mass murder in 1974, became legend in 1977 when Jay Anson published “The Amityville Horror.” The book detailed the paranormal activity that plagued the Lutzes until they escaped, and the popularity of the tale lead to more investigation and a series of films.
Over the years, if not immediately, the validity of the haunting has come into question. Many believe it was a hoax, many believe it was real and none of us will ever really know. None of us except the Lutzes, that is. In filmmaker Eric Walter’s documentary feature My Amityville Horror, Daniel Lutz, a ten year old boy at the time of the haunting, tells his side of the story for the first time in over 35 years.
More than just a little bit guarded, Daniel recounts his memory of exactly what happened during that time while giving more insight into the family dynamic of the Lutzes. What we learn is less of a definitive confirmation of any paranormal activity in the house than a previously unknown perspective about life in the Lutz household, in particular Daniel’s not-so-good relationship with his stepfather, George, that includes accusations of occult practices that not only preceded the haunting, but also continued after the fact.
Still, even with the possibility of George Lutz being less a victim of a haunting and more an inviting participant, if you wish to look at it that way, it doesn’t change the fact that there were some very real, non-paranormal problems going on. George was often described by people as being intense and domineering, and even adults admit that he was someone that you had to be strong just to deal with. Imagine such a powerful personality lording over your life, and you can begin to see where some emotional damage could occur for a stepson. Couple that with Daniel’s own anger and resentment towards the marriage, only heightened by not just the haunting but the media circus to follow for years, and you’ve got one hell of a dysfunctional situation.
This is very much a one-sided affair; it is Daniel’s side of things, to be sure. One could argue that it is too one-sided, and as accusations mount even more in the direction of George Lutz, you want to hear some level of response, only you can’t because he is dead (though the film does do a good job of interjecting other perspectives, as objectively as possible, when able to do so). At the same time, if you believe what many say about the haunting, and that it was George Lutz’s guidance that dictated exactly how it was discussed and portrayed ever since it happened, then you could say you’ve already got George’s side of things. Now, who do you believe?
My take is that there’s a lot we know, and a lot we’ll never know. All parties involved have reasons to keep secrets, or time has passed so much that it’s unreasonable to think that anyone’s recollection of events would be flawless, let alone a child’s, especially considering the haunting has become so much a part of legend that it’s almost impossible for the legend of it to not intrude on the memory. That said, Daniel Lutz is a man haunted by his past, regardless of whether that past visits him as a ghost.
My Amityville Horror is extremely well-done for what is essentially one man sitting and telling his story. The film mixes in different perspectives by including Laura DiDio, the TV journalist who early on also investigated the story of the haunting, in a number of the interviews with Lutz, and keeps things intimate and yet still interesting with its choice of style and edit. In other words, it’s an easy watch, though powerful, even if the subject matter isn’t always the easiest to swallow. While the original book and articles about the haunting may be the launching point for many, as of right now, this is the definitive Amityville Horror story for me.
On a side note, there’s a sequence in the film where Daniel meets with Lorraine Warren, half of the famed demonology team (her husband Ed has since passed on) that investigated the Amityville House when the story originally broke. While the film maintains its focus on Daniel’s journey and exploration of the past, assisted by the long-delayed meeting with Lorraine, I couldn’t help but want to see a documentary of a similar style about her and her deceased husband. I’m not talking about a flick where we try to figure out if Ed and Lorraine are full of s**t or not, I’m talking about a documentary where we finally get their full story, outside of the hype of the cases they investigated. There is a story there, but I digress.
When it comes to the Amityville Horror, folks are naturally going to be spurred to wonder whether or not the haunting actually happened, or if it was a hoax. Whether or not you believe that anything paranormal occurred is irrelevant, however, because a very real tragedy with less supernatural origins was taking place everyday in the Lutz household. When your home life becomes as embattled and dysfunctional as Daniel Lutz would have you to believe his youth was, you don’t need to have a ghost chasing you out of your home to make you want to leave it. Whatever the truth is behind the emotional trauma Daniel endured pre and post Amityville is where the horror lies, and we may never get the full story there either.