Every now and then I get a little re-obsessed with The Amityville Horror. I can’t help it. Even though I realize that the lion’s share of Jay Anson’s novel is completely fabricated, It made such a strong impression on me in my youth that I’m willing to shelve my doubts and just bask in the creepiness of the tale. There’s no denying that even if George and Kathy Lutzes’ account is hokum, young Ronald DeFeo, Jr. still murdered his entire family while they slept which is absolutely horrifying in and of itself. I have to admit too, that a part of me still holds a space for the possibility that the Lutz’s did experience something supernatural even if it wasn’t as extreme as they claim. After all, both of the Lutz sons Dan and Chris (youngest child Missy is keeping mum) who are now adults, still claim as much. Additionally, I do find it very easy to believe that if something truly awful happens in a home that some kind of bad energy lingers. Perhaps no other family who has lived in the house has experienced such things simply because they were not on the same dysfunctional demon-baiting wavelength as the DeFeos and Lutzes. On the other hand, life experience and common sense tells me that George Lutz, who (according to the book) was having financial troubles at the time, most definitely stole his brother-in law’s envelope full of wedding money. Ghosts have little use for cash.
I was probably about twelve when I first read The Amityville Horror and was born around the same time as the Lutz’s middle child Chris. Re-reading the book now brings me back to a specific time period that is so familiar and nostalgic for me. I remember absolutely believing every word because the cover of the paperback clearly said, “Based on a true story” and I readily assumed that the publishers would not be able to make such a statement if it wasn’t! I was further swayed by the fact that a great deal of the book involved a priest and everybody knows that they of all people are not allowed to lie. Plus the book had a map of the house, photos of George and Kathy and a drawing of Jodie by youngest daughter Missy. Further proof! For those who don’t know, Jodie was a giant pig who only deigned to appear or speak to the youngest child. Although there are two instances in the book (and movie) when the scamp materializes in a window and both instances are high points for me (I have to admit I’ve always been infatuated with Jodie and wish he could have his very own exhaustive franchise).
As adorable as Jodie may be there was another presence in the book that I recall terrifying me. During the Lutzes very last moments in the house (how I vibrantly recall laying on the dining room floor in our old home, on my stomach with the book in front of me speeding with great anxiety toward the book’s climax), father George looks up the staircase to see a faceless man in a hooded white robe pointing at him! The image that the book conjured in my imagination chilled me to my very core. After so much hemming and hawing on whether the pumpkin-eyed house was truly haunted, this scary dude made it a concrete, indisputable fact in my mind. Folks, you never want to see a guy in any color hooded robe ever and it’s especially not a good sign if said figure decides to point right at you! This guy solidified the book for me and so much so that when I finally was able to coax my parents to take me to the movie, I remember being very disappointed that no such scene occurs within the film. How could they leave out the best part of the book? I can't stay mad at the movies(s) though as they are responsible for two absolutely iconic Amityville scares. The priest vs. housefly confrontation and the babysitter trapped in the closet bit are pure Hollywood design and nowhere to be found in the book!
I recently re-read The Amityville Horror to see if it could scare me once again and although I’m still enamored with Jodie, much of the book doesn’t quite hold up. The robed figure still has a bit of bite left in him (could Jodie and he be one in the same?) but I’m not shaking in my shoes at the thought of green slime, levitation, and loud marching band sounds shaking the house in the middle of the night. At one point, when Kathy looks in a mirror and is repulsed to see an old version of herself looking back at her, all I could think was, “Welcome to my world.” Sadly, as an adult reading the book, the most upsetting part to me now is that in the heart of winter, as the Lutzes complain about the house being impossibly cold, they keep their poor dog Harry chained up outside (by a river no less)! I know things were different back then but this knowledge makes me think that maybe the Lutzes deserved whatever befell them! Hey, now that I think about it, I hereby curse everyone who mistreats animals to be visited by a scary hooded figure with an accusatory finger (I finally understand why he was pointing after all these years!) Huh, maybe, I can be one of these ghostly animal defenders in the afterlife! Dear Jodie, where do I sign up?