My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I can say with some degree of certainty that Jay Anson’s 1977 novel “The Amityville Horror” not only ignited my love of horror and true crime, but my love of reading in general. I still have my original dog eared paperback that I got from my local used bookstore The Book Trader and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. I enjoy it more every time, but this time around I was being more critical, paying more attention to the mechanics of the story rather than just the events. Some of it is downright odd.
Before I get too critical let’s talk about the story itself. I can’t imagine there is anyone left over the age of thirty who doesn’t have some basic understanding of the Lutz’s story. Dream house turned nightmare. Tale as old as time. What I like about TAH is the strange events seem possible for most of the book. The stuff that happens is not so outlandish that you immediately discredit them and move on. Its the typical haunted house stuff you see on Discovery Channel late at night; creepy feelings, shadows, cold spots, noises, etc. One of the kids has an “imaginary friend”, George is cold and cranky. Hell who isn’t on Long Island in December?
In the latter third of the book the haunting kicks it up a notch or twelve. People begin levitating, demons appear in the fireplace and Satan’s pet pig gets physical. Through all of this poor Father Mancuso is battling the worst case of the flu in history. There are some really frightening sequences here, my favorite being the pig in the window. That bit gave little pre-teen me many sleepless nights. When the Lutzes finally do decide to leave the house and the weather seem intent on preventing their escape. Their final showdown in the house is truly scary.
Jay Anson was a journalist, and that shows in the matter-of-fact way he approached the storytelling here. The lore goes that after moving out of 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, NY George and his wife Kathy Lutz sat down with an attorney (not sure why) and many bottles of wine to tell their story. Anson crafted the novel from these recordings, and sometimes it reads like a transcription instead of a dramatic narrative. George did this, and said he felt like this. Kathy responded like this, and so on. Reading this after decades of reading some truly intense horror fiction the straightforward way the story is told diminished the terror a little for me. I caught myself realizing a passage was supposed to be scary by Anson’s use of exclamation points in some cases, which made me wince a bit.
The Lutz family has been vocal about the fact that Anson took their story and jazzed it up a bit to create more tension. That bit has always bothered me. I get moving events around to form a story that flows, but if you are going to slap “A True Story” beneath the title then you can’t make stuff up. It then becomes “Inspired by a true story” which is a better tagline for this novel.
Underneath the “My Haunted House” stuff is some more upsetting stuff that I had forgotten about. Anson writes about George and Kathy beating the children with “a strap and a heavy wooden spoon” after just a few days in the house and they threaten to do it again on several occasions. And the line “He sniffed her hair. She certainly smelled clean, he thought; he liked that. And she kept her children the same way, spotless” hits different after reading the book “My Sister’s Keeper” by Kathy’s sister. It’s creepy. Daniel Lutz has said George was controlling, and it sounds like that was putting it mildly. Daniel has also said George was interested in the occult and may have brought the evil upon themselves due to his practices. I didn’t know the man so this is just based on what I’ve read. I certainly didn’t believe the comments from George in the book where he claims to “not believe in that stuff.”
In the end this is still my favorite “true” haunted house story and definitely worth a read.