True Horror, True Crime: Amityville Horror

HORROR HOUSE The murderous history of the Amityville house has been the inspiration for several horror films and books. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of the year, when the ghouls come out to play, and fans of horror revisit their favorite creepy tales. This spooky season, we’ve decided to take on the most terrifying true crime stories that have been turned into movies.

One of the most infamous horror films in the history of true crime story retellings is “The Amityville Horror.” Originally filmed in 1979, the film portrays an idyllic family life of George Lutz and how he and his family were terrorized by the souls of another family that was killed in their Long Island home. The film was directed by Stuart Rosenberg, and was based off of a book written by Jay Anson in 1977, titled “The Amityville Horror”. While Lutz and his family are real and claim that everything in the book and the film was a true retelling, there has been great speculation over the events that occurred. What we do know is this: According to a Newsweek article published in 1974, 23-year-old Robert DeFeo Jr. brutally murdered his mother, father and four younger siblings in their sleep. The details Newsweek didn’t report, but turned into a franchise of fanatical retellings are now known as “The Amityville Horror.”

In 1975, less than a year after the murders, the Lutz family moved in with their three children. According to the film, the book and several first-hand interviews, the horror the Lutz’s claim to have experienced at their home was all real and true. In reality, nobody knows for sure what happened at the Amityville house, but the film, which was remade in 2005, and was the second highest grossing movie in 1979, is largely known to be one of the first filmed retellings of a true crime/horror story, and one of the catalysts that started the “true” horror movie retelling craze.

The 1979 film, for all of its cheesy effects, is well designed and believable. It draws out the lore of the film, but rather than sensationalizing the events like many horror films do, it highlights family dynamics and uses it to further the horror plot line. The shift in the father, George Lutz’s personality over the course of the movie is chilling, and the soundtrack adds to the drama. With doors flying off their hinges, babysitters being stuck in closets without locks and the imaginary friends of their children having terrifying motives, there’s plenty for horror fans to love. True crime fans may be disappointed by the lack of attention to the original murders and the drama and intrigue surrounding them, but for those who are just looking for a good scare, “The Amityville Horror” is right up your alley.

Unfortunately, the 2005 film was not nearly as successful or well executed as the 1979 film. The attempt to write a more compelling, modern narrative to the story not only deviated farther from the true historical events, it also made the storyline less believable. Add in some sub-par acting, costume and set design faux pas and changes to the storyline, and you have a good horror film, but a bad remake. If you take it at face value, the film is totally worth the time, but it doesn’t necessarily line up or compare to the original film.

If you’re in a #throwbackthursday mood and looking to incorporate some spooky scary fun, add the original 1979 film “The Amityville Horror” to your watchlist.