The Amityville Horror—first the 1975 news story, then the 1977 book, then the 1979 film, then its many sequels and remake—captivated the country, and the Long Island town became synonymous with haunted houses in the late 20th century. Skeptics, though, rapidly emerged, poking holes in the family’s story of spirits, demons, and unusual happenings until it’s now more or less agreed, at least among the commentariat, that the whole thing was a hoax. But at least one person still believes that paranormal horrors transpired at 112 Ocean Avenue, someone who was there—Daniel Lutz, the eldest “Amityville kid,” who goes public with his story in Eric Walter’s new documentary My Amityville Horror, which opens today at the IFC Center.
But Danny might believe a little too much. He doesn’t come across as a con artist—although the best con artists wouldn’t—but as someone deeply and genuinely traumatized by his childhood. He tells his story with different interlocutors: the director, a reporter, a reality-TVish psychologist, and a paranormal investigator, frankly (and with evident anger and pain) recounting the strange, increasingly absurd occurrences—like seeing an angry cartoon pig with teeth like a wolf and laser-like red eyes—he experienced, as well as his troubled relationship with his stepfather, George (played in the original film by James Brolin, later by Ryan Reynolds).
When Danny insists—insists—he witnessed George in a pre-Amityville garage moving tools telekinetically for his friends, he really starts to lose his credibility. Was George really a black magician? Did he summon an evil to that house? Was Danny possessed by a demon? Or was he an angry teenager with a shitty home life, the stepson of a serious sonofabitch? The film works best not as a ghost story but as a psychological portrait of a man in denial. Danny seems possessed most of all by a need to ascribe to real-world “evil” a fantastical origin, as though he’s unable to make sense of the world as it is.
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