Review: My Amityville Horror

The film is a tender character portrait rooted in deep curiosity and sympathy for its subject.

My Amityville Horror
Photo: Lost Witness Pictures, LLC

Released in 1977, Jay Anson’s book The Amityville Horror details the supposedly true story of George and Kathy Lutz, who bought a large Dutch colonial at 112 Ocean Avenue in suburban Long Island a little more than one year after 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo murdered all six members of his family inside the home. Upon moving in, the Lutzes, along with Kathy’s three children from her previous marriage, claim to have experienced severe paranormal activity, causing them to flee from the house a mere 28 days after moving in. Their story became a media sensation and would provide the basis for the original 1979 film, itself inspiring sequels, spinoffs, and remakes ad nauseam.

In spite of—or perhaps because of—rampant debate as to the legitimacy of Anson’s book, the events at 112 Ocean Avenue have become nothing short of folkloric, while the plight of those who actually lived through it has gone virtually undocumented. In My Amityville Horror, director Eric Walker shines a light on George and Kathy Lutz’s oldest child, Daniel, who was 10 years old at the time of the supposed hauntings. Decades after the fact, Daniel is an emotionally unstable wreck unable to shake the traumatic events he claims he experienced. The film is a tender character portrait rooted in deep curiosity and sympathy for its subject. As Daniel describes his past, the mysteries surrounding Amityville begin to clarify, and Walker provides rational evidence that goes a long way in explaining the true nature of the horror, reinforced by independent perspectives and investigative reports.

Walker dedicates the first half of the film to Daniel’s account of what happened during the 28 days he spent at 112 Ocean Avenue, and for what it’s worth, he corroborates much of what’s present in Anson’s book, recalling strange odors, levitating furniture, disembodied voices, and green slime oozing from the walls; he even recounts seeing a demonic pig floating in front of his sister’s bedroom window. Daniel relates these occurrences with fierce conviction, unwavering to the point of confrontational in his assertion that they actually happened, even as Walker presents him with counterevidence that disproves much of what the Lutzes told the media. These informative aspects of the film, bolstered by Walker’s airtight evidence, are fascinating, yet Daniel’s consistent denial imbues the film with a palpable sense of sorrow. As such, the film’s best moments are often its most uncomfortable.

In the film’s second half, Walker gradually illustrates that Daniel had much more to fear in the house than evil flying pigs. According to Daniel, and this is a claim subsequently backed up by Walker, George was a manipulative, physically abusive authoritarian who dabbled in the occult and tormented Daniel and his siblings with stories of the supernatural. Daniel describes him as the catalyst behind the home’s paranormal activity and even claims to have seen him exhibit telekinetic powers. The validity of the events notwithstanding, Daniel exhibits a palpable fear of his stepfather—a fear that often turned into aggression. In one of the film’s more emotionally naked moments, he even admits to Laura DiDio, a journalist who befriended the Lutzes when the story first broke, that he attempted to murder his stepfather on multiple occasions before he died in 2006 of natural causes. As Daniel becomes more transparent in his feelings toward George, it becomes clear that the horror of Amityville was in fact very real, even if it was nothing more than a fanciful manifestation of a deeply broken home.

 Cast: Daniel Lutz, Laura DiDio, Lorraine Warren  Director: Eric Walter  Screenwriter: Eric Walter  Distributor: IFC Midnight  Running Time: 88 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2012  Buy: Video

Drew Hunt

Drew Hunt used to be an editorial assistant at the Chicago Reader. Now he's a strategy manager at Capitol Records.

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