Film Reviews

My Amityville Horror: Brutal Stepdad Is the Demon Here

In 1977 Jay Anson's bestselling book The Amityville Horror: A True Story rebooted the concept of the haunted house, forging a blueprint still used in horror literature and films around the world. To wit: A family is brutally murdered by one of its own, seemingly without cause, thereby making the house a portal of paranormal activity that includes demons, tortured spirits, and general, unexplainable spookiness. Already the source for ten "inspired by" films, the Amityville tale is now the subject of a documentary whose central flaw is its lead subject, Daniel Lutz, who was a boy of 10 when his family moved into the Amityville home and, by their accounts, lived through a nightmare that brought them infamy — and ultimately a broken family. Now a middle-aged man filled with both angst and anger, Daniel Lutz is determined to tell his side of the story — confirming that his family's story was true, while making clear that one of the biggest devils he encountered was his stepfather, George Lutz. The biggest thrill for those still interested might be seeing previously unseen family photos of the interior of the house (there are lots), which subsequent inhabitants have insisted is free of demon drama. While Lutz's onscreen credibility is wobbly (he often plays to the camera, veering from heartbreakingly believable to huckster), director Eric Walter brings in assorted therapists and experts in the paranormal to try to break down what might have really happened in the house during the family's 28-day stay. (Lutz's siblings declined to be in the film.) All are extraordinarily sympathetic to Lutz and the possibility of supernatural forces, but the consensus seems to be that a young boy chafed beneath the rule of a brutal stepdad, along with the psychic fallout, created his house of horrors.

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Ernest Hardy is a regular film contributor to the Village Voice,LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.