The Amityville Horror
The first edition of the book
|September 13, 1977|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Followed by||The Amityville Horror Part II|
The Amityville Horror is a book by American author Jay Anson, published in September 1977. It is also the basis of a series of films released between 1979 and 2013. The book is claimed to be based on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family, but has led to controversy and lawsuits over its truthfulness.
On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed six members of his family at 112 Ocean Avenue, a large Dutch Colonial house situated in a suburban neighborhood in Amityville, on the south shore of Long Island in New York in the USA. He was convicted of second-degree murder in November 1975.
In December 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the house. After 28 days, the Lutzes left the house, claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal phenomena while living there.
- This section is based on the version of events in Jay Anson's 1977 book The Amityville Horror: A True Story.
The house at 112 Ocean Avenue remained empty for 13 months after the DeFeo murders. In December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz bought the house for what was considered to be a bargain price of $80,000. The six-bedroom house was built in Dutch Colonial style and had a distinctive gambrel roof. It also had a swimming pool and a boathouse, as it was located on a canal. George and Kathy married in July 1975 and each had their own homes, but they wanted to start fresh with a new property. Kathy had three children from a previous marriage: Daniel, 9, Christopher, 7, and Melissa (Missy), 5. They also owned a crossbreed Malamute/Labrador dog named Harry. During their first inspection of the house, the real estate broker told them about the DeFeo murders and asked if this would affect their decision. After discussing the matter, they decided that it was not a problem.
The Lutz family moved in December 19, 1975.[a] Much of the DeFeo family's furniture was still in the house, because it was included for $400 as part of the deal. A friend of George Lutz learned about the history of the house, and insisted on having it blessed. At the time, George was a non-practicing Methodist and had no experience of what this would entail. Kathy was a non-practicing Catholic and explained the process. George knew a Catholic priest named Father Ray who agreed to carry out the house blessing (in Anson's book, real-life priest Father Ralph J. Pecoraro is referred to as Father Mancuso for privacy reasons).
Father Mancuso was a lawyer, judge of the Catholic Court and psychotherapist who lived at the local Sacred Heart Rectory. He arrived to perform the blessing while George and Kathy were unpacking their belongings on the afternoon of December 18, 1975, and went into the building to carry out the rites. When he flicked the first holy water and began to pray, he heard a masculine voice demand that he "get out." When leaving the house, Father Mancuso did not mention this incident to either George or Kathy. On December 24, 1975, Father Mancuso called George Lutz and advised him to stay out of the second floor room where he had heard the mysterious voice, the former bedroom of Marc and John Matthew DeFeo that Kathy planned to use as a sewing room, but the call was cut short by static. Following his visit to the house, Father Mancuso allegedly developed a high fever and blisters on his hands similar to stigmata. At first George and Kathy experienced nothing unusual in the house. Talking about their experiences subsequently, they reported that it was as if they "were each living in a different house."
Some of the experiences of the Lutz family at the house have been described as follows:
- George would wake up around 3:15 every morning and would go out to check the boathouse. Later he would learn that this was the estimated time of the DeFeo killings.
- The house was plagued by swarms of flies despite the winter weather.
- Kathy had vivid nightmares about the murders and discovered the order in which they occurred and the rooms where they took place. The Lutz children also began sleeping on their stomachs, in the same way that the dead bodies in the DeFeo murders had been found.
- Kathy would feel a sensation as if "being embraced" in a loving manner, by an unseen force.
- George discovered a small hidden room (around four feet by five feet) behind shelving in the basement. The walls were painted red and the room did not appear in the blueprints of the house. The room came to be known as "The Red Room." This room had a profound effect on their dog Harry, who refused to go near it and cowered as if sensing something ominous.
- There were cold spots and odors of perfume and excrement in areas of the house where no wind drafts or piping would explain the source.
- While tending to the fire, George and Kathy saw the image of a demon with half his head blown out. It was burned into the soot in the back of the fireplace.
- The Lutzes' 5-year-old daughter, Missy, developed an imaginary friend named "Jodie," a demonic pig-like creature with glowing red eyes.
- In the early morning hours of Christmas Day 1975, George looked up at the house after checking on the boathouse and saw the pig standing behind Missy at her bedroom window. When he ran up to her room he found her fast asleep with her small rocking chair slowly rocking back and forth.
- George would wake up to the sound of the front door slamming. He would race downstairs to find the dog sleeping soundly at the front door. Nobody else heard the sound although it was loud enough to wake the house.
- George would hear what was described as a "marching band tuning up" or what sounded like a clock radio playing not quite on frequency. When he went downstairs the noise would cease.
- George realized that he bore a strong resemblance to Ronald DeFeo, Jr., and began drinking at The Witches' Brew, the bar where DeFeo was once a regular customer.
- When closing Missy's window, which Missy said Jodie climbed out of, Kathy saw red eyes glowing at her.
- While in bed, Kathy received red welts on her chest caused by an unseen force and was levitated two feet in the air.
- Locks, doors and windows in the house were damaged by an unseen force.
- Cloven hoofprints attributed to an enormous pig appeared in the snow outside the house January 1, 1976.
- Green gelatin-like slime oozed from walls in the hall, and also from the keyhole of the playroom door in the attic.
- A 12-inch (30 cm) crucifix, hung in the living room by Kathy, revolved until it was upside down and gave off a sour smell.
- George tripped over a 4-foot-high (1.2 m) China lion ornament in the living room and found bite marks on one of his ankles. Later this lion would reappear in the living room after George had moved it back upstairs into the sewing room.
- George saw Kathy transform into an old woman of 90, "the hair wild, a shocking white, the face a mass of wrinkles and ugly lines, and saliva dripping from the toothless mouth."
- Missy would sing constantly while in her room. Whenever she left the room, she would stop singing, and upon returning, she would resume singing where she left off.
- On one occasion Kathy heard what sounded like a window being opened and closed through the sewing room door even though she was sure no one was in there.
After deciding that something was wrong with their house they could not explain rationally, George and Kathy Lutz carried out a blessing of their own on January 8, 1976. George held a silver crucifix while they both recited the Lord's Prayer and, while in the living room, George allegedly heard a chorus of voices asking them "Will you stop?!"
By mid-January 1976, after another attempt at a house blessing by George and Kathy, they experienced what would turn out to be their final night in the house. The Lutzes declined to give a full account of the events that took place on this occasion, describing them as "too frightening."
After getting in touch with Father Mancuso, the Lutzes decided to take some belongings and stay at Kathy's mother's house in nearby Deer Park, New York until they had sorted out the problems with the house. They claimed that the phenomena followed them there, with the final scene of Anson's book describing "greenish-black slime" coming up the staircase towards them. On January 14, 1976 George and Kathy Lutz, with their three children and their dog Harry, left 112 Ocean Avenue, leaving all of their possessions behind. The next day, a mover came in to remove all of the possessions to send to the Lutzes. He reported no paranormal phenomena while inside the house.
The book was written after Tam Mossman, an editor at the publishing house Prentice Hall, introduced George and Kathy Lutz to Jay Anson. The Lutzes did not work directly with Anson, but submitted around 45 hours of tape-recorded recollections to him, which were used as the basis of the book. Estimates of the sales of the book are around 10 million copies from its numerous editions. Anson is said to have based the title of The Amityville Horror on "The Dunwich Horror" by H. P. Lovecraft, which was published in 1929.
The story of The Amityville Horror has been continued in a series of books by John G. Jones, with The Amityville Horror Part II (1982), Amityville: The Final Chapter (1985), Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1988), and Amityville: The Horror Returns (1989).
Hans Holzer wrote three books relating the story: Murder in Amityville, The Amityville Curse, and The Secret of Amityville. Murder in Amityville was used as the basis of the 1982 film sequel Amityville II: The Possession and the 1990 film The Amityville Curse was based on the book of the same name. William Weber, the defense attorney for Ronald DeFeo, Jr. at his trial, recommended Holzer to DeFeo in 1979 as a way for DeFeo to obtain a book deal telling his side of the story. The 1983 film Amityville 3-D was also turned into a novelization by Gordon McGill. The latest book is entitled Mentally Ill In Amityville, a factual account of the case by Will Savive, published in 2008.
Criticism and controversy
Much of the controversy surrounding The Amityville Horror can be traced back to the way that it has been marketed. One edition of the book has a quote from a review in the Los Angeles Times on the front cover stating: "A fascinating, frightening book... the scariest true story I have read in years", while the tagline states: "More hideously frightening than The Exorcist because it actually happened!". The reference to The Exorcist is revealing, because the 1973 film had been a box office success and had received generous media coverage. Many of the incidents in the book recall the style of The Exorcist and this is one of the reasons why it has aroused suspicion.
In the afterword of The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson states: "There is simply too much independent corroboration of their narrative to support the speculation that [the Lutzes] either imagined or fabricated these events," but some people remained unconvinced. Almost as soon as the book was published in September 1977, other writers and researchers began looking into the events at 112 Ocean Avenue and the conclusions that they reached were often at odds with those that had appeared in Anson's book.
The role of Father Pecoraro in the story has been given considerable attention. During the course of the lawsuit surrounding the case in the late 1970s, Father Pecoraro stated in an affidavit that his only contact with the Lutzes concerning the matter had been by telephone. Other accounts say that Father Pecoraro did visit the house but experienced nothing unusual there. Father Pecoraro gave what may have been his only on-camera interview about his recollections during a 1980 episode of In Search of..., a documentary series about the paranormal narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Father Pecoraro's face was obscured during the interview to preserve his anonymity. In the interview, he repeated the claim that he heard a voice saying "Get out," but stopped short of giving it a paranormal origin. He also stated that he felt a slap on his face during the visit, and that he did subsequently experience blistering on his hands. As with many areas of The Amityville Horror, the inconsistent accounts given by Father Pecoraro about the extent of his involvement with the Lutz family have led to more questions than answers.
The claims of physical damage to the locks, doors and windows were rejected by Jim and Barbara Cromarty, who bought the house for $55,000 in March 1977. In a television interview filmed at the house for That's Incredible!, Barbara Cromarty argued that they appeared to be the original items and had not been repaired. The That's Incredible! feature also showed that the "Red Room" was a small closet in the basement, and was known to the previous owners of the house because it was not concealed in any way. The claim made in Chapter 11 of the book that the house was built on a site where the local Shinnecock Indians had once abandoned the mentally ill and the dying was rejected by local Native American leaders.
The claim of cloven hoofprints in the snow on January 1, 1976 was rejected by other researchers, because weather records showed that there had been no snow in Amityville on that date. Neighbors reported nothing unusual during the time that the Lutzes were living there. Police officers are depicted visiting the house in the book and 1979 film, but records showed that the Lutzes did not call the police during the period that they were living on Ocean Avenue. There was no bar in Amityville called The Witches' Brew at the time; Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was a regular customer at Henry's Bar, a short distance from 112 Ocean Avenue.
Critics including Stephen Kaplan pointed out that changes were made to the book as it was reprinted in different editions. In the original hardcover edition, Father Pecoraro's car is "an old tan Ford" and he experiences an incident in which the hood flies up against the windshield while he is driving it. In later editions the car is described as a Chevrolet Vega, before reverting to a Ford.
In May 1977 George and Kathy Lutz filed a lawsuit against William Weber (the defense lawyer for Ronald DeFeo, Jr. at his trial), Paul Hoffman (a writer working on an account of the hauntings), Bernard Burton and Frederick Mars (both alleged clairvoyants who had examined the house), along with Good Housekeeping magazine, the New York Sunday News and the Hearst Corporation, all of which had published articles related to the hauntings. The Lutzes alleged invasion of privacy, misappropriation of names for trade purposes, and mental distress, and claimed $4.5 million in damages. Hoffman, Weber, and Burton immediately filed a countersuit for $2 million alleging fraud and breach of contract. The claims against the news corporations were dropped for lack of evidence, and the remainder of the lawsuit was heard by Brooklyn U.S. District Court judge Jack B. Weinstein. In September 1979, Judge Weinstein dismissed the Lutzes' claims and observed in his ruling: "Based on what I have heard, it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber." In the September 17, 1979 issue of People magazine, William Weber wrote: "I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine." This refers to a meeting that Weber is said to have had with George and Kathy Lutz, during which they discussed what would later become the outline of Anson's book. Judge Weinstein also expressed concern about the conduct of William Weber and Bernard Burton relating to the affair, stating: "There is a very serious ethical question when lawyers become literary agents."
George Lutz maintained that events in the book were "mostly true" and denied any suggestion of dishonesty on his part. In June 1979, George and Kathy Lutz took a polygraph test relating to their experiences at the house, which in Mr. Rice's opinion they both appeared honest. In October 2000, The History Channel broadcast Amityville: The Haunting and Amityville: Horror or Hoax?, a two-part documentary made by horror screenwriter/producer Daniel Farrands to mark the 25th anniversary of the case. George Lutz commented in an interview for the program: "I believe this has stayed alive for 25 years because it's a true story. It doesn't mean that everything that has ever been said about it is true. It's certainly not a hoax. It's real easy to call something a hoax. I wish it was. It's not."
The debate about the accuracy of The Amityville Horror continues and, despite the lack of evidence to corroborate much of the story, it remains one of the most popular haunting accounts in American folklore. The various owners of the house since the Lutz family left in 1976 have reported no problems while living there. James Cromarty, who bought the house in 1977 and lived there with his wife Barbara for ten years, commented: "Nothing weird ever happened, except for people coming by because of the book and the movie."
The Amityville Horror has been the subject of a series of films which are dramatizations:
- The Amityville Horror (1979)
- Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
- Amityville 3-D (1983) (made in 3-D, and has also been released as Amityville III: The Demon)
- Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)
- The Amityville Curse (1990)
- Amityville: It's About Time (1992)
- Amityville: A New Generation (1993)
- Amityville Dollhouse (1996)
- The Amityville Horror (2005 remake)
- The Amityville Haunting (2011)
- The Amityville Asylum (2013)
- Amityville Death House (2015)
- The Amityville Playhouse (2015)
- Amityville: The Reawakening (2016)
The 1979 film, based on Jay Anson's novel, is the most well known in the series. James Brolin and Margot Kidder portray the couple George and Kathy Lutz. The part of the priest who blesses the house (renamed Father Delaney in the film) was played by Academy Award-winning actor Rod Steiger. The first three Amityville films received a theatrical release, while the fourth film was made for television by NBC. The sequels from the 1990s were released direct to video, and contain virtually no material relating to the Lutz family or the DeFeo murders. Instead, they concentrate on paranormal phenomena caused by cursed items supposedly linked to the house.
One of the famous features of the Amityville Horror films is the distinctive pumpkin head appearance of the house, which was created by two quarter round windows on the third floor attic level. The windows are often illuminated in the films, giving the appearance of malevolent eyes. The first three films were filmed at a house in Toms River, New Jersey which had been converted to look like 112 Ocean Avenue after the authorities in Amityville denied permission for location filming. Although not all of the films in The Amityville Horror series are set at the former Lutz home on Ocean Avenue, the distinctive Dutch Colonial house is traditionally used as the main image in promotional material.
In 2005, a remake of the original Amityville Horror film was released, with the tagline Katch em and kill em, referring to the claimed link between the house in Ocean Avenue and John Ketcham, whose name has been linked to witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts but remains a controversial and elusive figure. This version exaggerates the isolation of 112 Ocean Avenue by depicting it as a remote house similar to the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining. In reality, 112 Ocean Avenue was a suburban house within 50 feet (15 m) of other houses in the neighborhood. The house used in the 2005 version was in Silver Lake, Wisconsin, while other location work was shot in nearby Antioch, Illinois. The child character Jodie DeFeo, appearing in the film, is fictional and was not one of the victims of the shootings by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. in November 1974. George Lutz described the 2005 remake as "drivel" and sued the makers for defamation, libel, and breach of contract. He objected particularly to the scene in the film where the male lead – named as George Lutz and played by Ryan Reynolds – is shown killing the family dog with an axe. The film also shows the George Lutz character building coffins for members of his own family. The defamation claim was dismissed by a Los Angeles court in November 2005, while other issues related to the lawsuit remained unresolved at the time of George Lutz's death.
The documentary My Amityville Horror was released in March 2013. It featured interviews with Daniel Lutz, one of the children who lived in the house during the period on which the book and films are based. Lutz echos the original story as told by his mother and step-father. He also makes additional claims that both he and George Lutz were possessed, that George Lutz demonstrated telekinetic abilities, and strongly suggests that George's dabbling in the occult may have initiated the demonic events.
Kathleen Theresa Lutz (October 13, 1946 – August 17, 2004) died of emphysema and George Lee Lutz (January 1, 1947 – May 8, 2006) died of heart disease. The couple divorced in the late 1980s, but remained on good terms.
During the period that the Lutz family was living at 112 Ocean Avenue, Dr. Stephen Kaplan, a self-styled vampirologist and ghost hunter, was called in to investigate the house. Kaplan and the Lutzes fell out after Kaplan said that he would expose any fraud that was found. Kaplan went on to write a critical book titled The Amityville Horror Conspiracy with his wife Roxanne Salch Kaplan. The book was published in 1995.
On the night of March 6, 1976, the house was investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband and wife team self-described as demonologists, together with a crew from the television station Channel 5 New York and reporter Michael Linder of WNEW-FM. During the course of the investigation Gene Campbell took a series of infrared time-lapse photographs. One of the images allegedly showed a "demonic boy" with glowing eyes who was standing at the foot of a staircase. The photograph did not emerge into the public domain until 1979, when George and Kathy Lutz and Rod Steiger appeared on The Merv Griffin Show to promote the release of the first film. 112 Ocean Avenue was also investigated by the parapsychologist Hans Holzer. The Warrens and Holzer have suggested that the house is occupied by malevolent spirits due to its history.
George Lutz registered the phrase The Amityville Horror as a trademark in 2002, and it is referred to as The Amityville Horror™ on his official website. Lutz claimed that the film producers embellished or fabricated events portrayed in the 1979 version and the 2005 remake. He also claimed that the producers of the 2005 film did not involve his family, and that they used his name without permission.
In recent years many websites devoted to The Amityville Horror have been created, often taking a strong stance either for or against the events. Virtually every aspect of the story has been disputed at some point and rivalry between researchers has been a longstanding feature of the case.
The house known as 112 Ocean Avenue still exists but it has been renovated and the address changed in order to discourage sightseers from visiting it. The famous quarter round windows have been removed and the house today looks considerably different from its depiction in the films. The house in Toms River used as the location for the first three films has also been modified for the same reason. For the 2005 film version, the house was renamed 412 Ocean Avenue. The 2005 film remake says that the basement of the Lutz home was built in 1692, but 112 Ocean Avenue – also known as High Hopes – was built around 1924 for John and Catherine Moynahan.
The local residents and authorities in Amityville, New York are unhappy with the attention that The Amityville Horror brings to the town and tend to decline requests to discuss it publicly. The website of the Amityville Historical Society makes no mention of the murders by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. in 1974 or the period that the Lutz family lived at 112 Ocean Avenue. When the History Channel made its documentary about The Amityville Horror in 2000, no member of the Historical Society would discuss the matter on camera.
The episode of CSI: NY first broadcast on October 31, 2007 was a Halloween edition based on The Amityville Horror. Entitled "Boo", it features a house in Amityville where a family has died in circumstances similar to the DeFeo murders.
In May 2010, the house was placed on the market with an asking price of $1.15 million. In August 2010, the house was sold to a local resident for $950,000. On August 21, 2010, the departing owner held a moving sale at the house, and hundreds of people turned up for the event. They were allowed to go inside the house, but not to visit the upstairs rooms or the basement.
a. ^ In the Prologue of The Amityville Horror, it says "They moved in on December 23". In Chapter 1, it says December 18. This discrepancy was criticized by Stephen and Roxanne Salch Kaplan in The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. Events in the book dated to the period before December 23 suggest that this date may be incorrect.
- Benjamin Radford writes about The Amityville Horror for Snopes.com
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- Judge tosses haunted house owner's 'Amityville' defamation suit – CourtTV.com
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- Holzer, Hans: The Amityville Curse: Fact or Fiction? (a 2007 reprint of Murder in Amityville, The Amityville Curse and The Secret of Amityville). ISBN 978-0-7607-8535-5
- Kaplan, Stephen and Roxanne Salch: The Amityville Horror Conspiracy (1995) ISBN 978-0-9637498-0-2
- Osuna, Ric: The Night the DeFeos Died (2002) ISBN 978-1-59109-586-6
- Savive, Will: Mentally Ill in Amityville (2008) ISBN 978-0-595-50312-4
- The Amityville Horror – website created by George Lutz and Tim Yancey; contains documents and interviews
- Amityville FAQ – FAQ on Amityville case with interviews and articles and message forum.
- The Amityville Files – The largest archive of Amityville-related research on the web
- The Amityville Horror (1979) on IMDb
- The Amityville Horror (2005) on IMDb
- The Amityville Horror (1979) at History vs. Hollywood
- USPTO Trademark: THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
- Ghostvillage.com – interview with George Lutz
- The Real Amityville: America's most popular true ghost story was a hoax Brian Dunning, Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena
- The Murder of the DeFeo Family from Crime Library on truTV.com
- Take a 3D walk through 112 Ocean Avenue based on the original blueprints of the house
- Skeptical articles