Written and Directed by: Eric Walter
Starring: Daniel Lutz, Susan Bartell, and Laura DiDio
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I just wanted somebody to believe me."
In the forty years since the Lutz family’s ordeal at 112 Ocean Avenue, there’s technically been no evidence uncovered to verify an actual haunting, yet the story still persists despite this and the various allegations that the family orchestrated an elaborate hoax. What My Amityville Horror supposes is that any and all possibilities are true, with only one thing remaining incontrovertibly true: Danny Lutz—the family’s oldest child—is still haunted. It would seem that something happened inside that house, be it supernaturally-tinged or an even more sinister, human force that has left Lutz scarred and forever on the defensive.
Eric Walter’s documentary initially chronicles Lutz’s life before, during, and after the Amityville affair, with his testimony serving as the most compelling evidence that something awful happened once George Lutz came into his life. Whether Lutz was the actual source is left up to debate, as the film paints a fairly one-sided picture without the involvement of the other children (or the parents, both of whom have passed away now). What is clear is that Danny Lutz clearly, sincerely believes it to be true and doesn’t even hesitate to delight in the fact that his tyrannical stepfather is no longer among the living.
As you might expect, there’s something (by his own admission) that’s a little off about Danny: still oddly childlike and prone to verbal outbursts (his camera captures him chastising the production crew a few times), you sense that it’s a constant struggle for him just to hold it together, at least when he’s confronted with the demons from his past. Otherwise, he has adjusted well-enough in adulthood: he holds down a steady job and plays guitar on the side. He’s charming and inviting when he wants to be, too, with his distinct Long Island accent sometimes making him feel as though he’s just a character in a movie; even without his bizarre history, he’d be charismatic enough to listen to as a human being.
But of course, that history overwhelms Danny to this day; since childhood, he has struggled with being labelled “the Amityville guy” (something that his stepfather took a sick pride in, it is noted), and those events have never quite left him, neither in his waking life, nor in his dreams, as he still finds himself reliving episodes from those 28 horrific days. The infamous events are recounted from both his perspective and those on the periphery of the ordeal, such as the investigative reporter contacted by the family. Adherents to Amityville lore will no doubt find them quite familiar: the DeFeo murders set the stage for the supposedly supernatural events that followed, such as the Satanic swarm of flies and the accident involving a window that left Danny’s hands crushed (until they miraculously healed themselves minutes later). Danny also provides other anecdotes involving the infamous red eyes that haunted the place, plus other interactions with the spirit that resided alongside the Lutzes.
For a stretch, My Amityville Horror is committed to tales like this to reinforce the legend, as it were. After a seemingly endless horde of derivative “sequels” diluted the Amityville brand, this film brings the horror back into focus. In fact, you could make the case that this is certainly the most terrifying thing to bear the Amityville banner in over thirty years, if not the most terrifying thing to ever bear it. When shorn of the sensationalism surrounding the event, The Amityville Horror is a bone-chilling account of (allegedly) unfathomable occurrences.
The documentary even features Lorraine Warren, who recalls her own experiences from within her spooky house; forgetting a moment the larger purpose of the film, this sequence acts as pretty scary stuff. No matter what you believe, it’s clear that Lutz and Warren are utterly convinced of the house’s horrors. A picture from the Warrens’ investigation that seems to have captured the picture of a mysterious boy is so unsettling that it might also convince you after all (this is apparently a quite famous photo that I had somehow never seen before—sure, it’s easily explained away, but Walter’s film frames it in such a sinister way that it’s hard to deny its power).
My Amityville Horror does aspire to move beyond simply reprinting the legend. Wisely, it doesn’t go so far as to assert any sort of veracity one way or the other. Doing so would be a fool’s errand, of course, but Walter goes out of his way to paint a fair portrait of the events by supplying the perspective of true believers and skeptics. One sequence notably cuts between separate gatherings of spiritualists and the journalists that covered the story for the local news; the former obviously feel the presence of some evil within the house, while the latter can only acknowledge that nothing unusual happened on their watch (save for the aforementioned bizarre photo and a camera operator’s freak-out). Viewers are essentially left in the same place they have been and will always be with this case: without resolution and wallowing in ambiguity.
On that front, any Amityville enthusiast likely won’t consider this very illuminating, but to leave it at that misses the point: My Amityville Horror is not meant to burnish or exploit this bizarre chapter in American folklore. Instead, it eventually brings Danny Lutz back into focus and portrays him as a psychologically fractured man caught between and utterly ignored by the opposing forces who have attempted to solve the case over four decades. All he’s ever wanted is for his voice to be heard: now that he has, it might be the most haunting thing associated with Amityville. Whether or not George Lutz conjured up spirits is irrelevant: what can’t be disputed is that he did invite this terror into his stepson’s life, and he still hasn’t quite recovered. Deep down, he’s still that same, traumatized boy whose fingers have never quite completely healed from their encounter with the window, never mind his perpetually tortured psyche. Forget image of those glowing, red eyes: My Amityville Horror supposes that the most sinister eyes in 112 Ocean Avenue belonged to the Lutz patriarch. Buy it!
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