27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Eighteen

Originally Published Thursday 23rd October 2008

The Amityville Horror

Many times when you hear that the truth is stranger than fiction it turns out to be anything but. Film-makers, like any other creative people, like to embellish the truth for the purposes of drama, or tension, or just to be cool. Over the past eighteen nights I there have been a couple of films that have been based on true stories. The Mothman Prophecies and The Serpent & the Rainbow both developed on their original stories in order to make more entertaining films, both leaving their inspirations in the shade in terms of dramatic effect. In the case of “The Amityville Horror” the reverse is the case – the truth really is stranger than fiction. And better too!

The Amityville Horror (the original 1979 version) is based on a book about the events that occurred in a house in Amityville. One night, one of the original residents of the house goes on a killing spree and murders his sleeping brothers and sisters along with their parents. A year later and the house is up for sale at a knockdown price because of the murders. The Lutz family buy the house and move in. Over the course of 28 days they are subjected to all manner of horrors that finally drive them out.

Clark Kent’s beardy disguise went a little too far…

As horror films go the story is a bog standard tale of a haunted house that drives out the family living there, Amityville and Poltergeist are roughly the same basic story. What makes Amityville remarkable is that it is based on the very real events that took place in New York state. Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in 1974 and the real life Lutz family moved into the house a little over a year later, and after 28 days, fled the gaff saying that paranormal events drove them out.

Now, there is a lot of debate over the validity of the Lutzes claims and at this point it’s generally accepted that the events they say happened didn’t really and that the whole thing was really a cover for the fact that poor old George Lutz was broke and couldn’t afford the place, despite the bargain basement price tag. The media storm around the case in the 1970’s continued on into the early years of this century as Lutz trademarked the phrase “The Amityville Horror” as part of his ongoing attempts to cash in. He even went to court at one point, suing people for slander when they said he was full of shit. He lost out there too as the judge in the case ruled that he was actually full of shit.

As a movie Amityville is a little too bog standard. Poltergeist came along only three years later but showed how haunted house movies should be made, i.e. not on the cheap. For all the hype the 1979 flick seems cheap. The way the movie moves along and the devices used are brutal – the scene near the end with the pig with the glowing eyes is unforgivable! The way they try to drag religion into the story also stinks and was just an attempt to build on the success of other movies from the time that had big religious elements.

In watching Amityville though the hardest thing for me was trying not to laugh every time Margot Kidder was on screen – you may remember her as Lois Lane from the old Superman films. She flipped her lid in real life in the mid-nineties and I can’t help but wonder if it was brought on by her watching this film and realising what had happened to her career!

Two thumbs down for The Amityville Horror.

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