My Amityville Horror
Despite a fairly laughable title (add the word "house" to the end and it sounds like the name of a Fisher Price movie play set), "My Amityville Horror" is an engrossing and uneasy documentary about the oldest son of one of the most famous families of the last fifty years.
In 1974, George and Kathleen Lutz moved with Kathleen’s three children into a beautiful home on Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. They thought they had found paradise. But within hours of arriving, strange paranormal occurrences began to take place. As the incidents increased in intensity and violence, the family escaped the home after just 28 days. The rest is pop culture history.
The incidents became a worldwide bestselling book, the family became a household name, the book was turned into a film starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, and the story has continued to live on decades later. George and Kathleen are both gone now, but Daniel Lutz and his two siblings Christopher and Melissa are still alive. It is important to note that both Christopher and Melissa declined to take part in this documentary. Daniel, however, allowed full access to his memories and feelings and it is here that the film finds its soul, however damaged that soul may be.
Daniel, now 47, is a personable, yet severely angry and twitchy man. He is extremely sure of himself and doesn’t take any crap from anyone. He can be a funny guy, but for the most part, the walls he has built up to guard his true emotions are strong and thick. You can’t get at them without a fight or without the threat of getting punched in the face for asking the wrong questions. (The last few minutes of the film are a prime example.) In fact, Daniel is so tightly wound my hands were clenched throughout much of the film in fear he would suddenly lash out - verbally or physically - at whomever was in front of him. It was nerve-wracking and fascinating all at once.
What Daniel does in the film is attempt to explain just how the events affected him and his family. He admits to despising his stepfather George (so much so that he admits to trying to kill him numerous times) and is gleeful at the fact that George is dead. He reveals that at age 13 ½ he left home with the okay of his mother in order to escape the pain of his past, a past that would follow him wherever he went, for he will forever be known as the "Amityville Horror kid."
Occasionally, Daniel opens up about some of the events that occurred in the house including his levitating bed, being momentarily possessed, killing hundreds of flies that were there one minute and gone the next, having his hands flattened in a windowsill, and seeing a demonic presence enter their kitchen and sit down. Some of these stories are unnerving and others seem suspect. For example, in both old footage of George and in Daniel’s interview, we hear about how Daniel’s fingers were literally flattened by a slamming window. And when they say flattened, they mean it. Flat like a pancake. Skin on skin. But then they state that as they went to get ice to soothe his hands, they were miraculously back to normal. Yet... one of his fingers remains crooked. Clearly this seems impossible, but Daniel is so convincing and so detailed with his accounts of what happened, you honestly believe him. There are scenes were he describes meticulously how an event occurred and even gets noticeably unnerved by the memories.
It isn’t until we learn more about his stepfather that things get a little suspicious. He states that George was into the occult and could literally move things with his mind. He insists he saw this occur and told not only his mother, but also his therapist. He also admits that when reporters came around - one being Laura DiDio, a reporter who covered the case - he was upset that he never got to tell his side of the story. But if he is admitting that what happened in that house is true, then how would his story have been any different than what his parents claimed?
He so clearly believes these incidents occurred, that you want to believe him so you can understand how he got to be the way he is. But you also wish he’d find the right therapist to bring out the truth about his relationship with his stepfather which seems to be the clue to all of this. It IS interesting to hear more about the final night in the house since the Lutzes were notoriously close-lipped about it as apparently the events were too horrific. Or were they?
World-renowned demonologist Lorraine Warren was one of the first people (along with husband Ed who is now deceased) to investigate the haunting. It’s fascinating to watch Daniel go back to see her and then to watch the craziness unfold. When she finally shows everyone a silver cross that, when opened, reveals a splinter of wood that supposedly came from the cross on which Jesus was crucified, well, any sort of factual account seems dubious.
I won’t reveal any more of the factoids here, but I will say that director Eric Walter does a fine job of keeping the pace moving and giving us enough new information that the film doesn’t drag. By this time, we all know many of the facts of the alleged haunting and while there is no in-depth look into the possibility that the events were a hoax, there are interviews with people that helped investigate the haunting as well as comments from psychologists that help explain what may or may not have happened in that house. Some are rational, some are not. And while we may still not know for sure what truly occurred in 1974, Daniel Lutz has become a vivid dynamic man whose past has tortured and defined him; and in that has somehow found a way to survive.
"My Amityville Horror" will be released in Los Angeles for One Night Only on Saturday, Mar. 16th at 10pm at the Laemmle Music Hall. The film will open in other cities across the country during the Spring. It will be On Demand beginning Mar. 15th on SundanceNow.