The Amityville Horror
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Defeo murders
that sparked the whole Amityville Horror legend.
You can read the story by clicking here:
And since Long Island is known for exactly three things…Billy Joel, Amy Fisher and the Amityville Horror house, this story has been getting a lot of front page attention lately.
I know that might not seem like a great set up for a story about my mom,
but bare with me, I'll get to it in a minute.
First a brief history lesson.
The house on 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York is not now, nor was it ever haunted.
Not even a little haunted.
Hard to believe right? I mean look at that place. It just screams Haunted.
The only thing that ever plagued that house was cheap interior decorating and nosey tourists.
The entire story is a hoax perpetrated by a financially ruined homeowner and a morally bankrupt author.
Here, in a nutshell, is what actually happened.
On November 13th 1974, a man named Ronald DeFeo killed his entire family – his mother, his father and his four siblings with a rifle.
He went from room to room and systematically took them all out one by one.
He then headed over to a local bar and told the bartender to call the police because "someone shot my mom and dad".
Defeo was tried and convicted. He was found guilty of six counts of second degree murder and is currently locked up at the Glen Haven Correctional Facility, where he will be until they wheel him out in a body bag.
Look at those beady little eyes. Not even a glimmer of crazy.
Fast forward to December of 1975.
George and Kathy Lutz, along with Kathy's three children from a previous marriage, move into the, now vacant DeFeo house.
They are there for exactly 28 days before leaving in the middle of the night.
In the book "The Amityville Horror" written by Jay Anson and published in 1977, the Lutz family claims to have been terrorized by all sorts of paranormal shenanigans.
Everything from ghostly voices, to visions of demons, to walls oozing slime.
And after a month of nearly nonstop spectral harassment, they simply couldn't take it anymore and fled into the night, leaving all their belongings inside the house, never to return.
Admittedly it all makes for a very good story.
It's a shame none of it is true.
The simple fact is, George and Kathy Lutz bought into a house they could not afford.
After all, it's a 5 bedroom Dutch Colonial with 3 1/2 baths located on the water in an affluent section of Long Island. In today's market, the house would sell for a cool 1.5 million.
And poor George wasn't exactly setting the world on fire with his failing land surveying business.
Desperate and apparently with no other options, they simply left the house and concocted the haunting story to try to gain some publicity and with that, some much needed cash.
The house itself has changed owners a few times since then. All without a single instance of paranormal activity.
None of the owners, past or present, have reported any cold spots, bleeding toilets, disembodied voices or phantom pigs roaming the upstairs halls (a claim allegedly made by the Lutz's daughter Missy)
And that's basically the gist of it.
What you've heard about the house being haunted and the mysterious "red room" in the basement and the priest covered in flies…all of that is complete fiction. Dreamt up by Jay Anson in his aforementioned book.
A book I am very familiar with because it was the first thing I can remember scaring my mom.
I've mentioned before that my mom was, with all due respect, a coward.
I say that freely because she herself has said it that way.
She wasn't a big fan of horror movies, but she did enjoy being scared.
And even though she would get very scared and the smallest things, in the end, she always enjoyed the experience.
Weird, I know.
And I remember quite clearly, her reading the Amityville Horror book and being scared by it.
So much so, that she would sleep on the couch in the living room with the TV and lights on.
Truth be told, she read it several times and each time it would be the same thing.
On the couch – lights and TV on for at least a week.
I remember once asking her about the book. I think I was drawn to it because of the eerie looking house on the cover – an iconic image if ever there was one – and her saying something like "Oh no, you can't read that! It will give you nightmares"
Years later I did end up reading it. In fact, I read the same copy she did. She kept it in her nightstand for over twenty years.
And you know what? It's actually pretty good. One that I would recommend reading – if you take it for a work of fiction.
If you're looking for historical accuracy, you'll be deeply disappointed. Possibly even offended.
But as far as ghost stories go, it's pretty good.
Plus, for us, it's a local legend which adds a level of inferred plausibility.
"Hey, this happened right in our backyard!"
In 1979 American International Pictures released the first, of what would become many, movies about the Amityville house.
Simply titled "The Amityville Horror" and based on the Anson book, the movie put a few B-list Hollywood faces to the names that most of the country had only read about.
By this time, I was 7 years old and a huge fan of horror movies.
My dad had done a good job of raising me on a steady diet of old Universal monster movies and Famous Monsters magazines.
So when I saw the first commercials featuring the same house, with the twin evil eye windows, that had been so prevalent in my own house for the past two years, I became as excited as a kid on Christmas.
I knew I had to see this movie!
And it didn't take my mom much convincing either.
Sure, she played the old "It's an R rated movie and I'm afraid you're much too young for this kind of thing" card…but the truth is, we both knew I was going and she was taking me.
She wanted to see it almost as bad as I did.
I think she might have had a crush on James Brolin at the time and he was cast in the lead as George Lutz.
So yea, there wasn't much of a struggle.
We ended up going to an old RKO Twin theater in Commack, not far from our house.
"Twin" meaning they only had two theaters. Yes kids, this was back before 20 theater multiplexes.
You had your choice of either seeing this movie or seeing that movie and that was plenty of choices.
It was me, my mom and I think her friend Stephanie, although I'm not 100% sure.
What I am sure of is, as soon as the lights went down and Lalo Schifran's famous theme started to play, my mother became a perfect physical representation of the term "chicken shit".
She hid her eyes.
She threw her popcorn in the air.
And she begged us to leave.
And that was probably all within the first 30 minutes.
In a darkened room, filled with strangers, more people watched my mom then they did the actual movie.
She made the proverbial spectacle of herself.
And when the movie ended and the house lights came up, everyone looked over to the crazy woman sitting in her chair, shaking.
Several people…not one…not two…several people came over to ask her if she was ok.
But it didn't end there….
I wasn't a "bad" kid per se. In fact, by all accounts, I was a very good kid.
But I was a bit mischievous and could never pass up a good joke or prank.
My mother referred to this as me being "peppery".
"Oh Michael's a good but he's a little peppery" is something I heard pretty frequently.
Knowing that this new Amityville phenomenon was a perpetual source of fear for my poor mother, gave me near limitless source of ammunition in which to terrify her.
And I did.
During the day I would cover the kitchen table in hundreds of hand-cut paper flies to replicate a scene in the movie.
At night I would hide under her bed for hours waiting for her to lay down just so I could whisper "GET OUT" and hear her scream.
I would put on a halloween mask and sneak up behind her or I would wait in the backseat of her car for just the right moment to jump up and yell "Gotcha!".
Like I said, not a bad kid…just peppery.
Anyway, this went on for probably a month or so.
Back then you could get a lot of mileage out of life's simpler pleasures.
But I guess eventually I got tired of beating a dead horse and my scares petered out.
The movie itself went on to be a modest hit and two and a half years later, the sequel Amityville II: The Possession came out.
This time the movie was loosely based on the book "Murder in Amityville" by Hans Holzer and was a prequel that in a roundabout way, told the original story of the DeFeo murders.
Essentially explaining what led to the Lutz's terrifying ordeal from the first movie.
And although it was still very much a work of fiction, this movie claimed to tell "the real story".
Even though it changed all the names, dates and actual events.
Needless to say, I wanted to see it but I thought that after the hell I put my mom through the first time, there was no way she was going to take me again.
Surprisingly enough, she agreed without much hesitation.
She seemed a little apprehensive, but we ended up back at the same RKO Twin and in the same theater as the last time.
And when the lights went down and the movie started playing, to my surprise, my mom just sat there.
Watching the movie.
Not slinking down into her seat.
Not looking away.
In fact, she looked bored.
On screen people were getting killed, demons were jumping around, things were exploding and yet, she didn't scream or sigh once.
When the movie was over, she looked at me and said "What a crock of shit. That was awful."
She asked me if I liked it, and of course I said yes.
She replied by saying "But it was so unrealistic."
Now, to be fair, the movie is unrealistic as it deals directly with demon possession. However, there is a very scary and suspenseful scene in which the main character, the one based on Ronald DeFeo, guns down his entire family.
Just like DeFeo did.
In real life.
That really did happen.
Google it if you don't believe me.
But to my mom, this movie was improbable.
So, simply put, to my mother, a movie that was based on a book that was a complete work of fiction was not only scarier, but more realistic then a movie based on a book based on actual, well documented events.
And to make matters even more surreal, in 2005 Dimension Films released yet another big budget remake of the original Amityville Horror story. Again based on the Jay Anson book.
This was a somewhat modernized retelling of the Lutz's story that not only talks about Ronald DeFeo, but shows him onscreen (The original 79 version only alludes to him).
After watching this new version my mother said, quite clearly, "Who watches this crap?"
But when I asked her is she wanted to re-watch the original (I had the DVD in my hand at the time) she said "Oh no, much too scary!"
That story makes me laugh every time I think about it.
I have a series of DVD's that I watch every year around Halloween.
It's become a tradition for me and it helps get me in that Halloween spirit.
The original Amityville Horror is one of them.
By today's standards, it's not a great movie.
In fact, it's pretty slow and suffers from a lot of over-the-top, ham-fisted performances.
But I have a soft spot for it, so it will always be in my Halloween rotation.
I didn't watch it this year. First time in almost a decade.
I just couldn't bring myself to sit through it.
The nostalgia that I felt when I watched it had been replaced by sadness and I didn't want that feeling of grief to become associated with yet another thing that I once cherished.
I know, I know, it's just a stupid movie…and you're right, it is.
But it's also something tangible that I attribute to a very fond memory I have of my mother.
Of the time we spent together.
I know I'll get back into my usual routine. Eventually.
I know that one day I'll sit down with a big bucket of popcorn and watch the supernatural exploits of the Lutz family again.
I know that one day I'll even reread the Jay Anson book.
Just not now.
But one day.
I'll get there.
I'm sure of it.
And if I don't, I can always have my wife claim that I've been possessed by evil spirits and have her try to sell my story to the media.
"The Terror of Sound Beach" has a nice ring to it.
I hope they get Matthew McConaughey or Jared Leto to play me in the movie.
I wonder if I'm too old for cheek bone implants.
I love you mom