Flies. Bleeding walls. Demonic Pigs. Those eye windows. Everyone knows what I’m talking about. The Amityville Horror…probably the one horror franchise that should have died a long time ago and hasn’t. Now it looks like the mediocre 2005 remake has inspired a new generation of filmmakers to keep the horror alive, and I couldn’t be happier.
If you don’t know the story I’ll rehash it as quickly and succinctly as I can. In December 1975 George and Kathy Lutz moved from a tiny house in Deer Park, Long Island to a large riverfront home in affluent Amityville. The house was a steal at $80,000 mostly due to the fact that Ronald DeFeo Jr had shot and killed six members of his family in the same house a year earlier. DeFeo claimed he heard “voices” in the house that told him to do it. To add to the weirdness, not one of the family members woke up whie this was going on which was enough to get the townsfolk talking. Did the devil make him do it?
None of this bothered the Lutzes, not enough to turn down a great deal on a huge house anyway. They moved in and stayed less than a month. In mid January of 1976 they fled the house with only the clothes on their backs. The bank repossessed it and the Lutzes lost everything. The story they told caught the attention of the local news and a crew came to film the empty house which was still full of furniture, clothes and food. Their belongings were sold a few weeks later at garage sale. That summer several paranormal teams came to investigate the house. The most famous of these was led by famed “demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren. The local news broadcasted their investigation on television but nothing spectacular happened. But the story was out, and before long the Lutzes were featured in national magazines and started doing the talk show circuit. Then in September of 1977 the book “The Amityville Horror” was released. The shit storm began.
The cries of hoax started almost immediately actually, and continue to this day. The story of those 28 days is widely believed to have been cooked up by the Lutzs and attorney William Weber over several bottles of wine shortly after the Lutzs fled the home on Ocean Avenue. It so happened that Weber had been Ronald DeFeo’s lawyer and the story the Lutzes were telling backed up his clients claim of demonic influence. The tapes of those sessions that writer Jay Anson based his novel on are lost to history and George and Kathy Lutz have both since passed away, so the “truth” about this case will never be known. It is worth noting that the Lutzs stood by their story to the grave, and claim that the core of the story is the truth but that Jay Anson and the writers of the film expanded and dramatized it to the point that not much of either adaptation is anywhere near the reality of what they experienced. I tend to believe that. The few ghostly experiences I’ve had certainly paled in comparison to the bleeding walls and demonic pigs of The Amityville Horror and certainly wouldn’t pack theaters. What George and Kathy claim to have experienced was no less terrifying though.
Regardless of what you believe the house at 112 (now 108) Ocean Avenue is forever ingrained in the horror culture and has spawned 9 films and 7 or 8 books about what did and didn’t go on there. I love a good haunted house story and the 1979 film The Amityville Horror remains my favorite of the genre. I did not discover the story until 1985 or so. I was 14 at the time and I vividly recall it coming up in a discussion with my classmates about horror films. A Nightmare on Elm Street had just come out and the tween set was all abuzz about it. I mentioned seeing a commercial on tv for the original film and my friends told me it was far scarier than Elm Street and i had to see it immediately. I also remember being told about a scene where Kathy walks into her kids room to find the child being devoured by rats. Not sure where that came from because no such scene exists in either the book or the film, but it really made an impression on me. The film sounded terrifying. I read the book and finally saw the film about a year later when it came on television late one Saturday night. I was hooked.
The many many sequels in this series are generally terrible and a few of them are only connected to the original story by the weakest of threads. Amityville Dollhouse I am looking at you. I had high hopes for the remake in 2005 but it fell woefully short of doing the story justice. Sure it was an decent haunted house flick but had nothing to do with Amityville at all. After promising to “take the story back to its roots and be true to the Lutzes story” the filmmakers did exactly the opposite. There were some very effective scenes in it though. I recall the preview crowd I saw the film with in Atlanta breaking into applause after the famous GET OUT scene. And the scene with the babysitter was far more terrifying than the poor homely girl in the 1979 film with the head brace and bad skirt. I’ve read that there are actually two more remakes in development, yes two. Back in 2004 MGM had a remake in the works as well but Dimension beat them to it. Their’s was shelved but has been picked up and dusted off again. Another one involved George Lutz returning to Amityville 30 years later. If either of these gets released I’ll be surprised, but if so I hope they at least try to get it right.
What do I mean by getting it right? Well I’ll tell you. I think a movie based strictly on the novel could be very terrifying if done right. Given the amount of time George spent speaking about their experiences in the years since the film’s release I think there is enough material out there to put together a film that is true to both the Lutzes story and the mythology created by the film. As much as I’d like to say any remake should stick to the “facts” presented in the book and by Lutz himself there are things about the film I like too much to leave out. The image of the bleeding walls has stuck with me for decades.
You take this story and you dial the mayhem back a notch or two and make it more along the lines of Paranormal Activity and Insidious, shoot it in a replica of the real house built on the backlot and you’ve got a first rate haunted house movie.
Why am I going on about this now you ask? Well another film is much closer to reality called The Amityville Legacy from Hannibal Classics. This film is to be based on a novel called “Amityville: The Evil Escapes” by John G. Jones. Jones wrote several Amityville novels, including three about the Lutzes. The book “Evil Escapes” is about the horror that befell the unlucky souls who purchased the Lutzes discarded belongings at a garage sale. Two of the stories from the book were adapted for earlier sequels, Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes and Amityville 1992: It’s About Time. The former involves a hideously ugly lamp and the latter a clock. Another movie, Amityville: A New Generation concerned a possessed mirror. This new film takes a slightly different approach.
The Amityville Legacy will follow the Evans family as they cope with the loss of a beloved aunt who committed suicide, leaving her two kids to be raised by the Evans’ in their new house. Unfortunately, that peace of mind never comes after the father becomes obsessed with the Amityville house and remodels their home to look like it and the mother is plagued by nightmares and wakes up in terror every night. How this is connected to the house itself remains to be seen. The promo art for the film uses the drastically different version of the home as depicted in the 2005 remake. I’m sure it will be terrible and campy and I’m sure I’ll love it.
I could go on for hours about this story and these films, but I’ll spare you that. Suffice it to say that I’ll be watching any new Amityville project with great interest and will be sure to alert like minded individuals to the awesomeness of it all, bleeding walls or not. In the meantime I think it is high time I reread “Evil Escapes” to reacquaint myself with the story before this masterpiece hits the big (or small) screen.