The Amityville Horror (- A True Story) is a best-selling book written by Jay Anson, and published in September 1977. It is also the basis of a series of films released between 1979 and 2005. The book is said to be based on actual paranormal events.
In December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz and their children moved into 112 Ocean Avenue, a large Dutch Colonial house in Amityville, a suburban neighborhood located on the south shore of Long Island, New York. Thirteen months before the Lutzes moved in, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had shot and killed six members of his family at the house. After 28 days, the Lutzes left the house, claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal phenomena while living there.
112 Ocean Avenue remained empty for thirteen 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 overlooked a river. George and Kathy married in July 1975 and each had their own homes, but they wanted to start afresh 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 of the previous November, and asked if this changed their opinion about wanting to buy it. After discussing the matter, they decided that it was not an issue.
The Lutz family moved in on December 23, 1975. Much of the DeFeo family furniture was still in the house, since it had been included as part of the deal. A friend of George Lutz learned about the past 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 the priest is referred to as Father Mancuso. This was done for reasons of privacy and the now-deceased priest's real name was Father Ralph J. Pecoraro).
Father Mancuso was a lawyer, a Judge of the Catholic Court and a 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 23, 1975, and went in to the building to carry out the rites. When he flicked the first holy water and began to pray, he heard a masculine voice say clearly Get out! When leaving the house, Father Mancuso did not mention this incident to either George or Kathy. On December 24, 1975 Father Mancuso telephoned George Lutz and advised him to stay out of the room where he had heard the unearthly voice telling him to get out. This was a room on the second floor that Kathy planned to use as a sewing room, and had formerly been the bedroom of Marc and John Matthew DeFeo. The telephone call was cut dead by static, and following his visit to the house on Ocean Avenue Father Mancuso allegedly developed a high fever and blisters on his hands similar to stigmata.
At first, George and Kathy Lutz 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 Lutzes' 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.
- Kathy 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 negative.
- 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.
- The Lutzes' five year old daughter, Missy, developed an imaginary friend named "Jodie," a demonic pig-like creature with glowing red eyes.
- George would be woken up by 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 "German 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.
- While checking the boathouse one night, George saw a pair of red eyes looking at him from Missy's bedroom window. When he went upstairs to her room, there was nothing to be found. Later it was suggested that it could have been "Jodie".
- While in bed, Kathy received red welts on her chest caused by an unseen force and was levitated two feet off the bed.
- 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 on January 1, 1976.
- Green 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 a closet by Kathy, revolved until it was upside down and gave off a sour smell.
- George tripped over a four foot high china lion which was an ornament in the living room, and was left with bite marks on one of his ankles.
- George saw Kathy transform into an old woman of ninety, "the hair wild, a shocking white, the face a mass of wrinkles and ugly lines, and saliva dripping from the toothless mouth."
After deciding that something was wrong with their house that 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 telling them “Will you stop?!”
By mid-January 1976, and 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 most 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.
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. During the course of the investigation Gene Campbell took a series of infra red 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 past history.
The Lutz decided to leave the house which was sold for $55,000, to Jim and Barbara Cromarty in March 1977. The various owners of the house since the Lutz family left in 1976 have reported no problems while living there. 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.
Kathy Lutz died of emphysema on August 17, 2004 and George Lutz died of heart disease on May 8, 2006. The couple divorced in the late 1980s, but remained on good terms. One of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Peter O'Neill, lived in the house from 1987 to 1997.
The house known as 112 Ocean Avenue still exists, but 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 Tom's River used as the location for the first three films has also been modified for the same reason. For the 1979 and 2005 film versions, 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 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 ten 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.
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 and Kaplan said that he would expose any fraud that was found. Kaplan went on to write a critical book entitled 'The Amityville Horror Conspiracy' with his wife Roxanne Salch Kaplan. The book was published in 1995 and Stephen Kaplan died of a heart attack in the same year.
The story of The Amityville Horror has been continued in a series of books by John G. Jones. These are The Amityville Horror Part II (1982), Amityville - The Final Chapter (1985), Amityville - The Evil Escapes (1988) and Amityville - The Horror Returns (1989).
In 1991, Amityville - The Nightmare Continues by Robin Karl was published.
Hanz Holzer wrote a prequel to the book entitled "Murder in Amityville". Which was made in response to Weber not getting the rights to The Amityville Horror. Murder in Amityville was written for the same reason Weber wanted to write the original book. To get Defeo a new trial. The latest book is the re-release of Hans Holzer's three Amityville books titled "The Amityville Curse: Fact or Fiction?" released through Barnes&Noble.
The Amityville Horror has been the subject of nine films, which are as follows:
- The Amityville Horror (1979)
- Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
- Amityville 3D (1983) (this film was made in 3-D, and has also been released as Amityville III: The Demon)
- Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989) (This was made for television by NBC)
- The Amityville Curse (1990)
- Amityville 1992: It's About Time (1992)
- Amityville: A New Generation (1993)
- Amityville Dollhouse: Evil Never Dies (1996)
- The Amityville Horror (2005) (remake).
The best known of these films is the first version, which was released in July 1979. The film was made by the independent production company American International Pictures headed by Samuel Z. Arkoff, and directed by Stuart Rosenberg. It starred James Brolin and Margot Kidder as George and Kathy Lutz. The part of the priest who blesses the house was played by Rod Steiger, whose name in the film is Father Delaney. The 1979 version and its two sequels 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. The music score for the film was composed by Lalo Schifrin and nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out to the score for A Little Romance by Georges Delerue. It is often claimed that Lalo Schifrin re-used his rejected score from The Exorcist in The Amityville Horror, but Schifrin has denied this in interviews.
The 1979 version took $86 million at the box office in the USA, making it one of the most successful films produced by an independent studio at that time. The film received poor reviews from professional critics, with Roger Ebert describing it as "dreary and terminally depressing". The film grossed more at the US box office than the similar 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining (source: Box Office Mojo).
Amityville II: The Possession was directed by the noted Italian director Damiano Damiani and released in September 1982. The film was based on the book Murder in Amityville by the parapsychologist Hans Holzer. It is a prequel set at 112 Ocean Avenue, featuring the fictional Montelli family who are said to be based on the DeFeo family. The story introduces speculative and controversial themes, including an incestuous relationship between Sonny Montelli and his teenaged sister, who are based loosely on Ronald DeFeo, Jr. and his sister Dawn. This film set the pattern for low budget sequels with little reference to real life events in Amityville, and is the only other film in the series to feature music composed by Lalo Schifrin.
The first three films received a theatrical release while the sequels from the 1990s were released direct to video. Some of the direct to video films contain virtually no material relating to the Lutz family or the DeFeo murders, and concentrate instead on paranormal phenomena caused by cursed items supposedly linked to the house, such as the clock in Amityville 1992 - It's About Time and the dollhouse in Amityville Dollhouse from 1996. The Amityville Curse from 1990 is one of the most loosely based of all the films, since it deals with events at an unspecified haunted house in Amityville rather than the house on Ocean Avenue.
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. 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.
A second film revolving around the Lutz family was going to be made to air on NBC. It would be based on Amityville: The Horror Returns. It was mentioned on the back of the book. However no film was made.
In April 2005 MGM Studios released a remake of the original 1979 film. George Lutz described the 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 ax. 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 tagline for the 2005 version was Katch em and kill em. This refers 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. The house used in the 2005 version was in Silver Lake, Wisconsin, while other location work was shot in Antioch, Illinois.
The child character Jodie DeFeo, who appears in the 2005 film, is fictional and was not one of the victims of the shootings by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. in November 1974.
The 2005 film version of The Amityville Horror 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.
Much of the controversy surrounding The Amityville Horror can be traced back to the way that it has been marketed over the years. The cover of the book shown on the right implies that it is based on verifiable events. A quote from a review in the Los Angeles Times displayed on the front cover states: "A FASCINATING, FRIGHTENING BOOK... THE SCARIEST TRUE STORY I HAVE READ IN YEARS", while the tagline at the bottom states: "MORE HIDEOUSLY FRIGHTENING THAN THE EXORCIST BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED!" The reference to The Exorcist is revealing, since the 1973 film had been a huge box office success and was one of the major cultural events of the 1970s. 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 an edition of In Search of... broadcast in 1980. In Search of... was a series of half-hour television documentaries about the paranormal, and was 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 has 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 since 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, since a check on the weather records showed that there had been no snow in Amityville on the day in question. Neighbors reported nothing unusual during the time that the Lutzes were living there. Police officers are shown 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, and Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was a regular at Henry's Bar, a short distance from 112 Ocean Avenue. James Brolin, George and Kathy Lutz during an interview on Good Morning America marking the launch of the first film version in July 1979
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 lie detector test relating to their experiences at the house, which they both passed. In October 2000 The History Channel broadcast Amityville - Horror or Hoax?, a documentary made to mark the twenty-fifth 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." 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.
Since the original Hardcover book was released in 1977, much has been changed in the book. The Hardcover books have had numerous changes between each other, however the most controversial change was from the hardcover to the paperback. The changes included changing the layouts of the house, naming the wrong rooms and changing a window to a door. Some names have been changed,or sentences re-written. The edit that brought up a lot of controversy was type of car the priest owned. In the book the hood of the car suddenly flips up and smashes the front window. The type of car the priest had does not have a hood that opens towards the window. This was addressed and changed. Then was changed back to the original car in the paper back version. Below are the edits.
Page 17 of the first edition hardcover reads "The Lutzes' driveway was so cluttered that he had to park his old tan Ford on the street." In later hardcover editions, the car is changed to an: "old blue Vega." Page 26 of the paperback reverts back to an: "old tan Ford."
In the sequel, the entire last night is changed to a longer and less chaotic account of the events. It resembles the 1979 film version. see also: The Amityville Horror Part II
- The Amityville Horror - website created by George Lutz and Tim Yancey. Contains documents and interviews.
- Amityville FAQ - FAQ on all aspects of the Amityville case.
- The Amityville Files - The largest archive of Amityville-related research on the web.
- Amityville Horror Truth - website and message forum. Also contains interviews and documents.
- USPTO Trademark: THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
- The Amityville Horror House Ghostly apparitions, Squealing Pigs and Oozing Goo!
- Ghostvillage.com - interview with George Lutz
- Ed and Lorraine Warren's version of the haunting.
- CourtTV looks at the case of Ronald DeFeo, Jr.
- Director of the 1979 film The Amityville Horror Stuart Rosenberg dies, March 15, 2007
- Take a 3D walk through 112 Ocean Avenue based on the original blueprints of the house