The Amityville Horror

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Title The Amityville Horror

An original edition of the book
Author Jay Anson
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror novel
Released 1977
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

The Amityville Horror is a best-selling book by the author Jay Anson which was published in September 1977. The book has also formed the basis of a series of films made between 1979 and 2005. The story is allegedly based on real life events, but has caused controversy over the reliability of many of its claims.


[edit] Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

In December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz and their children moved into 112 Ocean Avenue, a Dutch Colonial house in Amityville, a suburban neighborhood located on the south shore of Long Island, New York. Thirteen months before the Lutzes moved in, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had shot dead six members of his family at the house. After 28 days the Lutzes left the house, claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal phenomena while living there

[edit] The book

Jay Anson (1921-1980)
Jay Anson (1921-1980)
This section is based on the version of events in Jay Anson's 1977 book The Amityville Horror.

112 Ocean Avenue remained empty for thirteen months after the DeFeo murders until December 1975, when George and Kathleen Lutz bought the house for what was considered to be a bargain price of $80,000. George and Kathy had married in July 1975 and had their own homes, but wanted to start afresh with a new property. Kathy had three children from a previous marriage, Daniel, 9, Christopher, 7, and Melissa (Missy), 5. They also owned a crossbreed malamute / Labrador dog named Harry. During their first inspection of the house, the real estate broker told them about the DeFeo murders the previous November, and asked if this changed their opinion about wanting to buy it. After discussing the matter, they decided that it was not an issue.

The Lutz family moved in on December 18, 1975. Much of the furniture of the DeFeo family was still in the house, since it had been included as part of the deal. A friend of George Lutz learned about the past history of the house, and insisted on having it blessed. At the time, George was a non-practicing Methodist and had no experience of what this would entail. Kathy was a non-practicing Catholic and explained the process. George knew a Catholic priest named Father Ray who agreed to carry out the house blessing. (In Anson's book the priest is referred to as Father Mancuso. This was done for reasons of privacy and the now-deceased priest's real name was Father Ralph J. Pecoraro).[1]

How the house was advertised
How the house was advertised

Father Mancuso was a lawyer, a Judge of the Catholic Court and a psychotherapist who lived at the local Sacred Heart Rectory. He arrived to perform the blessing while George and Kathy were unpacking their belongings on the afternoon of December 18, 1975, and went in to the building to carry out the rites. When he flicked the first holy water and began to pray, he heard a masculine voice say clearly "Get out!" When leaving the house, Father Mancuso did not mention this incident to either George or Kathy. On December 24, 1975 Father Mancuso telephoned George Lutz and advised him to stay out of the room where he had heard the unearthly voice telling him to get out. This was a room on the second floor that Kathy planned to use as a sewing room, and had formerly been the bedroom of Mark and John DeFeo. The telephone call was cut dead by static, and following his visit to the house on Ocean Avenue Father Mancuso allegedly developed a high fever and blisters on his hands similar to stigmata.

At first, George and Kathy Lutz experienced nothing unusual in the house. Talking about their experiences subsequently, they reported that it was as if they "were each living in a different house."

Some of the experiences of the Lutz family at the house have been described as follows:

  • George would wake up around 3:15 every morning and would go out to check the boathouse. Later he would learn that this was the estimated time of the DeFeo killings.
  • The house was plagued by swarms of flies despite the winter weather.
  • Kathy had vivid nightmares about the murders and discovered the order in which they occurred, and the rooms where they took place. The Lutzes' children also began sleeping on their stomachs, in the same way that the dead bodies in the DeFeo murders had been found.
  • Kathy would feel a sensation as if "being embraced" in a loving manner, by an unseen force.
  • Kathy discovered a small hidden room (around four feet by five feet) behind shelving in the basement. The walls were painted red and the room did not appear in the blueprints of the house. The room came to be known as "The Red Room." This room had a profound effect on their dog Harry, who refused to go near it and cowered as if sensing something negative.
  • There were cold spots and odors of perfume and excrement in areas of the house where no wind drafts or piping would explain the source.
  • The Lutzes' five year old daughter, Missy, developed an imaginary friend named "Jodie," a demonic pig-like creature with glowing red eyes.
  • George would be woken up by the sound of the front door slamming. He would race downstairs to find the dog sleeping soundly at the front door. Nobody else heard the sound although it was loud enough to wake the house.
  • George would hear what was described as a "German marching band tuning up" or what sounded like a clock radio playing not quite on frequency. When he went downstairs the noise would cease.
  • While checking the boathouse one night, George saw a pair of red eyes looking at him from Missy's bedroom window. When he went upstairs to her room, there was nothing to be found. Later it was suggested that it could have been "Jodie".
  • While in bed, Kathy Lutz received red welts on her chest caused by an unseen force and was levitated two feet off the bed.
  • Locks and doors in the house were damaged by an unseen force.
  • Cloven hoofprints attributed to an enormous pig appeared in the snow outside the house on January 1, 1976.
  • Green slime oozed from walls in the hall, and also from the keyhole of the playroom door in the attic.
  • A 12-inch crucifix hung in a closet by Kathy Lutz revolved until it was upside down and gave off a sour smell.
  • George Lutz tripped over a four foot high china lion which was an ornament in the living room, and was left with bite marks on one of his ankles.
  • George saw Kathy transform into an old woman of ninety, "the hair wild, a shocking white, the face a mass of wrinkles and ugly lines, the saliva dripping from her mouth."
George and Kathy Lutz surrounded by media coverage of the case
George and Kathy Lutz surrounded by media coverage of the case

After deciding that something was wrong with their house that they could not explain rationally, George and Kathy Lutz carried out a blessing of their own on January 8, 1976. George held a silver crucifix while they both recited the Lord's Prayer, and while in the living room George allegedly heard a chorus of voices telling them “Will you stop!”

By mid January of 1976, and after another attempt at a house blessing by George and Kathy, they experienced what would turn out to be their final night in the house. To this day, events of this night have not been disclosed fully by the Lutz family as they have described them as "too frightening."

After getting in touch with Father Mancuso, the Lutzes decided to take some belongings and stay at Kathy’s mother’s house in nearby Deer Park, New York until they had sorted out the problems with the house. On January 14, 1976 George and Kathy Lutz, with their three children and their dog Harry, left 112 Ocean Avenue leaving most of their possessions behind. The next day, a mover came in to remove all of the possessions to send to the Lutzes. He reported no paranormal phenomena while inside the house. [2]

Jay Anson is said to have based the title of The Amityville Horror on The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft, which was published in 1929. George and Kathy Lutz did not work directly with Jay Anson, but submitted 45 hours of tape recorded recollections to him which were used as the basis of the book. Estimates of the sales of the book range from three million to ten million copies, and the front covers of two of the editions of the book from the 1970s can be seen in this article.

The story of The Amityville Horror has been continued in a series of books by John G. Jones. These are The Amityville Horror Part II (1982), Amityville - The Final Chapter (1985), Amityville - The Evil Escapes (1988) and Amityville - The Horror Returns (1989).

In 1991, Amityville - The Nightmare Continues by Robin Karl was published. [3]

[edit] Criticisms

Another 1970s cover of The Amityville Horror
Another 1970s cover of The Amityville Horror

Much of the controversy surrounding The Amityville Horror can be traced back to the way that it has been marketed over the years. The cover of the book shown on the right implies that it is based on verifiable events. A quote from a review in the Los Angeles Times featured on the front cover of the book states: "A FASCINATING, FRIGHTENING BOOK... THE SCARIEST TRUE STORY I HAVE READ IN YEARS", while the tag line at the bottom states: "MORE HIDEOUSLY FRIGHTENING THAN THE EXORCIST BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED!" The reference to The Exorcist is revealing, since the 1973 film had been a huge box office success and was one of the major cultural events of the 1970s. Many of the incidents in the book recall the style of The Exorcist, and this is one of the reasons why it has aroused suspicion.

In the afterword of The Amityville Horror Jay Anson states: "There is simply too much independent corroboration of their narrative to support the speculation that [the Lutzes] either imagined or fabricated these events", but some people begged to differ. Almost as soon as the book was published in September 1977, other writers and researchers began looking into the events at 112 Ocean Avenue, and the conclusions that they reached were often at odds with those that had appeared in Anson's book. The role of Father Pecoraro in the story has been given considerable attention. During the course of the lawsuit surrounding the case (see following paragraph) Father Pecoraro stated in an affidavit that his only contact with the Lutzes concerning the affair had been by telephone. Additionally, Ronald DeFeo's defense lawyer William Weber claimed in a radio interview that Father Pecoraro had never at any time visited the house. Other reports say that Father Pecoraro did visit the house but experienced nothing unusual there. With regard to the hoofprint claims, subsequent research showed that there had been no snow in Amityville on the day in question. The claims of physical damage to the locks and doors were questioned since an inspection suggested that they were still the original items. The claim made in Chapter 11 of the book that the house was built on a site where the local Shinnecock Indians had once abandoned the mentally ill and the dying was rejected by local Native American leaders. [4] Neighbors of the house reported nothing unusual during the time that the Lutzes were living there. Police officers are shown visiting the house in the book and 1979 film, but records showed that the Lutzes never called the police during the period that they were living on Ocean Avenue. The response of supporters of the hauntings to the criticisms has been to argue that due to the subjective nature of paranormal phenomena, some of the events may have occurred as sensory illusions rather than as real events. (See also: Sleep paralysis). [5] [6] [7]

In May 1977 George and Kathy Lutz filed suit against William Weber, Paul Hoffman (a writer working on an account of the hauntings), Bernard Burton, Frederick Mars (both alleged clairvoyants who had examined the house), Good Housekeeping, the New York Sunday News and the Hearst Corporation (which had all published articles related to the hauntings). The Lutzes alleged invasion of privacy, misappropration of names for trade purposes, and mental distress, and claimed $4.5 million in damages. Hoffman, Weber, and Burton immediately filed a countersuit for $2 million alleging fraud and breach of contract. The claims against the news corporations were dropped for lack of evidence, and the remainder of the lawsuit was heard by Brooklyn U.S. District Court judge Jack B. Weinstein. In September 1979 Judge Weinstein dismissed the Lutzes' claims and observed in his ruling: "Based on what I have heard, it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber." In the September 17, 1979 issue of People Magazine, William Weber wrote: "I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine." Judge Weinstein also expressed concern about the conduct of William Weber and Bernard Burton relating to the affair, stating: “There is a very serious ethical question when lawyers become literary agents.” [8]

Kathy Lutz died of emphysema on August 17, 2004 and George Lutz died of heart disease on May 8, 2006. The couple were divorced in the late 1980s, but remained on good terms. George Lutz maintained that events in the book were "mostly true" and denied any suggestion of dishonesty on his part. In a television interview with the History Channel broadcast in October 2000 he commented: "I have never said it was a hoax and I never will, because it is not a hoax. That doesn't mean that everything that was ever said about it was true, but it is certainly not a hoax. I wish it was. It's not." The debate about The Amityville Horror continues, and despite the lack of evidence to corroborate much of the story, it remains one of the most popular haunting accounts in American folklore. The various owners of the house since the Lutz family left in 1976 have reported no problems while living there. [9] [10]

[edit] The films

Poster advertising the 1979 film version, showing the tag line "For God's sake, get out!"
Poster advertising the 1979 film version, showing the tag line "For God's sake, get out!"

At the most recent count, the story of The Amityville Horror has been the subject of nine films, which are as follows:

The best known of these films is the first version which was released in July 1979. The film was made by the independent production company American International Pictures headed by Samuel Z. Arkoff, and directed by Stuart Rosenberg. It starred James Brolin and Margot Kidder as George and Kathy Lutz. The part of the priest who blesses the house was played by Rod Steiger, whose name in the film is Father Delaney. The 1979 version and its two sequels were filmed at a house in Toms River, New Jersey which had been converted to look like 112 Ocean Avenue after the authorities in Amityville denied permission for location filming. The music score for the film was composed by Lalo Schifrin and nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to the score for A Little Romance by Georges Delerue.

The 1979 version took $86 million at the box office in the USA, making it one of the most successful films produced by an independent studio at that time. The film received poor reviews from professional critics, with Roger Ebert describing it as "dreary and terminally depressing". [11] The film grossed more at the US box office than the similar 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining (source: Box Office Mojo). [12] [13] [14].

Amityville II: The Possession was directed by the Italian horror film specialist Damiano Damiani and released in September 1982. It was based on the book Murder in Amityville by the parapsychologist Hans Holzer, and is a prequel involving the fictional Montelli family and their experiences at the house. This film set the pattern for low budget sequels with little reference to real life events in Amityville, and is the only other film in the series to feature music composed by Lalo Schifrin.

The first three films received a theatrical release while the sequels from the 1990s were released direct to video. Some of the direct to video films contain virtually no material relating to the Lutz family or the DeFeo murders, and concentrate instead on paranormal phenomena caused by cursed items supposedly linked to the house, such as the clock in Amityville 1992 - It's About Time and the dollhouse in Amityville Dollhouse from 1996. The Amityville Curse from 1990 is the most loosely based of all the films, since it deals with events in another haunted house in Amityville, Long Island rather than the house on Ocean Avenue.

One of the famous features of the Amityville Horror films is the distinctive pumpkin head appearance of the house, which was created by two quarter round windows on the third floor attic level. Following problems with tourists disturbing the peace on Ocean Avenue, these windows have been removed and the house as it stands today looks considerably different from its depiction in the films. The address of the house has also been changed in order to discourage tourists from visiting it. The house in Tom's River used as the location for the first three films has also been modified for the same reason. Although not all of the films in the Amityville Horror series are set at the former Lutz home on Ocean Avenue, the malevolent-looking Dutch Colonial house is used as the key image in promotional material.

In April 2005 MGM Studios released a remake of the 1979 film. George Lutz described the remake as "drivel" and sued the makers for defamation, libel, and breach of contract.

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

He objected particularly to the scene in the film where the male lead - named as George Lutz and played by Ryan Reynolds - is shown killing the family dog with an ax. The film also shows the George Lutz character building coffins for members of his own family. The defamation claim was dismissed by a Los Angeles court in November 2005, while other issues related to the lawsuit remained unresolved at the time of George Lutz's death. [15] [16]

The tag line for the 2005 version was "Katch em and kill em." This refers to the claimed link between the house in Ocean Avenue and John Ketcham, whose name has been linked to witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts but remains a controversial and elusive figure. [17] The house used in the 2005 version was in Silver Lake, Wisconsin, while much of the location work was shot in Antioch, Illinois.

"Jodie DeFeo", who appears as a prominent character in the 2005 film, is a fictional character and was not one of the victims of the shootings by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. in November 1974.

[edit] Additional information

The 1995 book The Amityville Horror Conspiracy by Stephen and Roxanne Kaplan was critical of the Lutzes' version of events
The 1995 book The Amityville Horror Conspiracy by Stephen and Roxanne Kaplan was critical of the Lutzes' version of events

During the period that the Lutz family was living at 112 Ocean Avenue, Stephen Kaplan, a self-styled vampirologist, was called in to investigate the house. Kaplan and the Lutzes fell out and Kaplan went on to write a critical book entitled The Amityville Horror Conspiracy with his wife Roxanne Salch Kaplan. The book was published in 1995 and Stephen Kaplan died of a heart attack in the same year. On the night of March 6, 1976 the house was investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband and wife team described as demonologists, together with a crew from the television station Channel 5 New York. During the course of the investigation a photograph was taken allegedly showing a demonic boy with glowing white eyes. The photograph can be viewed online at [1].The house was also investigated by the parapsychologist Hans Holzer. The Warrens and Holzer have suggested that 112 Ocean Avenue is occupied by malevolent spirits due to the past history of the house.

In recent years many websites devoted to the Amityville Horror have sprung up, often taking a strong stance either for or against the events. Virtually every aspect of the story has been disputed at some point, and rivalry between researchers has been a long standing feature of the case.

  • George Lutz registered the phrase The Amityville Horror as a trademark in 2002, and it is referred to as The Amityville Horror™ on his official website. [18]
  • The 2005 film says that the basement of the house was built in 1692, but 112 Ocean Avenue - also known as High Hopes - was built around 1924 for John and Catherine Moynahan. It is a six bedroom house in the Dutch Colonial revival style, with a distinctive gambrel roof. In the film versions, the house was renamed 412 Ocean Avenue. [19]
  • One of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Peter O'Neill, lived in the house from 1987 to 1997. [20] Also, the actress Christine Belford lived in the house from 1960 to 1965 [21]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

[edit] Skeptical articles

Amityville Horror saga

Amityville Horror (1979 original) | Amityville II: The Possession | Amityville 3-D | Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes | The Amityville Curse | Amityville 1992: It's About Time! | Amityville: A New Generation | Amityville Dollhouse: Evil Never Dies | The Amityville Horror (2005 remake)