The Real Haunted History Of 'The Amityville Horror'

80s Expert
By Gareth Bellamy
October 25, 2019 6:00 AM ‐ Movies
The Amityville Horror
As it's the season of scary movies, we've been analysing some of the real life haunted histories of Hollywood movies. Today it's the turn of one of the most enduring horror franchises of recent years, The Amityville Horror.

The original film, 'The Amityville Horror' was released in the summer of 1979. Produced for a fairly modest budget of only $4.7 million the film went on to gross nearly $90 million, making it one of the highest grossing independent pictures ever made.

The basic plot of the first film is that multiple murders had been carried out an address in the village of Amityville, in New York State, USA. A short while later a family move into the house and suffer all manner of strange events which are believed to be related to the murders, the family are eventually driven from the house. This 'haunted house' inspiration has, to date, given rise to a stunning 23 films, some only loosely based on the original plot, some released straight to video, and a fair few of them not really worthy of the title.

This article is looking specifically at the original film – The Amityville Horror. 

There's nothing to make the film stand out in particular. It has a solid central cast, including James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger, who play their roles in a very straight way – little over-acting on display here. Directed effectively by Stuart Rosenberg, the film does a great job of creeping you out, maintaining a tense atmosphere throughout. So far, so normal, but what was it about this fairly average sounding horror film that made it such a success then, and has inspired so many reinterpretations?

The reason is, it is based on fact, and it started with a mass murder...

The Shootings

The Amityville Horror

On November 13th, 1974, at about 3 o'clock in the morning, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo shot his parents and his four siblings, aged between 9 and 18, dead in his family home at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville. Each victim was found lying face down on their bed.

Despite initially claiming a mob hitman had killed his family, DeFeo soon confessed to his crimes. DeFeo, a regular user of LSD and heroin, mounted a defence of insanity, claiming he'd heard his family plotting against him so was forced to kill them in self-defence. On November 21 1975, he was found guilty on all six counts of murder and sentenced to six concurrent sentences of 25 years to life. He's still very alive and serving his sentence in the Sullivan Correctional Facility New York.

The Lutz Family Move In

The Amityville Horror

Just over a year after the shooting the Lutz family, consisting of George and Kathy Lutz and their three children, moved into the house. Despite being told about the shootings in their house during the purchasing process, the Lutz's went ahead with the purchase, a contributing factor being the discounted price of the house.

The house came complete with most of the DeFeo family furniture. A family friend, knowing the history of the house, insisted on having the house blessed by a Catholic priest. This kicked of a whole series of paranormal events, which included:

- As the priest started to bless the house, he heard a voice demanding that he 'get out' of the house. The priest developed a high fever and blisters on his hand similar to stigmata, crucifixion marks.

- Even in winter the house was plagued by flies.

- Kathy Lutz had vivid nightmares about the murders, while her children would sleep in positions similar to the positions of the dead bodies of the DeFeos.

- George Lutz would wake up at 3.15 every morning, the time of the killings.

- Cold spots and smells of excrement were found in specific places in the house.

- The family found a small room hidden behind shelving in the basement which was painted red. Their dog was scared of the room.

- The family's five-year-old daughter invented an imaginary friend who was a demonic pig-like beast.

- They'd hear old music playing from unoccupied parts of the house.

- The doors and locks of the windows were damaged by a mysterious force.

- Cloven hoof prints considered to be caused by an enormous pig were found in the snow outside the house one day.

- One of the claims in the book that perhaps the original murders were related to the house being built on the area where the local Native American Indian tribe, the Shinnecock, had abandoned their mentally ill and dying.

The list goes on and on, until eventually in January 1976 the family were forced to flee the house and never return.

The Book Is Published

The Lutz family submitted over 45 hours of tape recordings of their experiences in their house to author Jay Anson, who wrote up their story as The Amityville Horror, a book which has gone on to sell over 10 million copies. Like The Exorcist, the strong sales of the book made it highly likely a film adaptation would be made.

The Truth Comes Out

However, over time, a lot of questions have been asked about the accuracy of the book, and the original 'paranormal' events upon which it is based.

Subsequent owners of the house have reported nothing untoward happening, except sightseers interested in the house having seen one of the films or reading the book.

The story about the house being built on land related to the local Native American Indian tribes was stated as incorrect by the tribe.

No corroborating evidence for any of the claims in the book was ever produced, and it turns out that one of the defence lawyers for Ronald DeFeo was involved in the creation of the book in a very specific way. In a 1979 interview with People magazine he stated "I know this book is a hoax. We (meaning himself and George and Kathy Lutz) created this horror story over many bottles of wine." 

Questions were asked about the ethics of defence lawyers profiting in this way from a murder trial.

So, it would appear the story of the hauntings and paranormal episodes at the house was dreamt up to make a lot of people wealthy from a best-selling book. Yet, despite this clearly being a hoax, the fact remains, the story is rooted in the tragic mass murder of a family. It is perhaps this truth which makes watching the original Amityville Horror film such a creepy experience. Yes, we know the details are hokum, but their origin is something all too real.

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