Traumafession:: The Amityville Horror (Book) By Unk

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?

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27 days ago

Funny thing about the Amityville story (or, more accurately, hoax). There was a similar story in Westfield, New Jersey (my state of birth), a decade ago, involving a mysterious letter-writer targeting the family that had just bought a house in town. Nothing overtly supernatural in this story, per se – just the threatening letters from someone nearby obsessively "watching" the house.

It's since emerged, thanks to dogged journalists, that the letter-writer is almost certainly the father of the family that bought the house, in a nonsensical attempt to get out of the house sale and get the family's money back (like George Lutz, this man was struggling financially with a house they could scarcely afford). The father legally lost that case in court.

The family didn't work with a journalist to peddle a "true" story, but they did sell their story to Netflix (far more than what they paid for the house). The Netflix series "inspired" by the "true" story is, unfortunately, pretty terrible (I'm not much of a fan of the 1979 Amityville Horror movie, but it is better than this streaming show).

There were a couple of "true" non-fiction follow-ups to the book (not written by Jay Anson). One, written by Hans Holzer, was adapted as Amityville II: The Posesssion, which is a terrific, sleazy, shameless movie that's a joy to watch. I'll assume the possession wasn't in the book (which I think focused more on the original DeFeo murders).

27 days ago

"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.”"

Spit take. I hear you, Unk. Funny how supernatural terror fails to get me going after my doctor tells me that "we need to keep a close eye on your ascending aorta". I should make horror film for my compradres in their fifties – "The Aneurysm".

This book though – we had the paperback in a hexagonal formica end-table/book storage thing. When I came across it mixed in with a heap of romance novels, my mother made the mistake of forbidding me to read it. It was "too scary". Of course I could not resist ssneaking it away to read after such high praise. As with so many things, after finishing it I cursed myself for failing to heed my mom's warnings.

RE: Guys in cloaks. True story. I was out with my dog at 2:30AM (she was old), walking her in a large field in Alexandria VA. This is by a little creek (Holmes Run) and some fog develops low over the field at night. I think that I'm the only person out there but then, far across the field, I see another dog-walker. He/it was tall and garbed head to toe in a billowing crimson cloak. Maybe silk? Surely oversized as it blew out behind the figure. The cloak's large hood hid any signs of humanity. Then there was the dog. Maybe an English wolfhound? It was huge, grey and freakishly skeletal, loping along in front of Mr. Cloak. I watched with deep fascination as they glided across the carpet of fog. They never came near and passed out of sight in a minute. Undoubtedly just an eccentric out walking their ancient giant dog at 2:30AM, but still creepy stuff.

Dr. Future
Dr. Future
27 days ago

Since people are telling their "strange people in cloaks" encounters here, I guess I should add mine. Back in I guess 2007 or 08 or so, when I was doing my original "Future Quake" show on the radio, I took my brother (who is twelve years older, and was a licensed minister) on a trip to Las Vegas to see a NASCAR race, because I don't think he had flown or been out west by that time. It wasn't hard to coax him to have us drive out for hours into the high desert after the race in our rental car to Area 51 that night.

After a couple of hour drive, we stopped at the famous "Little Al-e-Inn" roadhouse on its outskirts. I knew enough to pay the 33 cents to get the map from the owners for the location of the pivotal "black mailbox" to know how to get to the entrance of Area 51 – the one where if you proceed beyond it they shoot you, as they watch you there. By that time we got there it was turning pitch black, and there are no lights out there for miles. After driving many miles and watching the odometer closely (there are no visual cues out there in the dark), we found the black mailbox and turned at the critical juncture with our headlights. After several more easy-to-miss turns, each with terrain that was increasingly more difficult to negotiate, we finally made our last turn in the dark onto a road I would describe as almost boulders – something only a Humvee should drive – and the rental sedan was taking quite a beating, as we had many more miles to go, and the map had the famous "no admittance" sign at the installation laid out as the destination to the tenth of a mile, as we followed our odometer. As the last bits of darkness fell, my brother and I noticed that you could see for countless miles in all directions (even with headlights), and that it was so dry and dusty that our car, even going slow, would make massive dust plumes behind us that stayed in the air, even though we had to go slow. The only features on the horizon are what I remember as two small berms, not much taller than a person I recollect, between which the road turns right up to the entrance. As we were getting closer, I saw a red light, almost similar to a laser light, that kept dancing around in our rear window, and I thought it might just be a reflection of our taillights, but as a tapped the brakes I could see it was from somewhere else, and kept following us.

I always viewed my older brother as fearless as we grew up – the only movie I saw that ever spooked him at our local drive in was Night of the Living Dead, which he saw in 1969, and I remember the police coming at that time and confiscating the reels (the movie was gone from our area (and there was no cable or internet to pursue it) until midnight movies began in Louisville in 1976, and I got to see it with him as a twelve year old rite-of-passage thing (nothing bad-ass like that was at the movies yet at that time (Dawn of the Dead and The Thing would shortly change that)). I always remembered when he would get home at 2 AM or so after the triple feature was over, and as a night owl I would get up as a little kid and he would tell me about them. He loved laughingly the movie The Undertaker and Pals he saw there (part of an epochal triple feature touring at that time that included Corpse Grinders and the Embalmer), and laughed at seeing movies like Asylum (back then the trailers for all these movies, like Beyond the Door and Its Alive or Deranged, were more than scary enough for those who didn't get to go). The only time I saw him a little shaken was when he described the blow by blow of Night of the Living Dead, and as a five year old I memorized every detail, and as a twelve year old when finally seeing it, it didn't fail me.

Having said all this, when we got really close to the berms near the admission point it suddenly got really cold, which both of us noted, and I saw him unnerved as I had never seen my big brother before. As we pulled up slowly around and between the small berms to see what it was hiding (if anything), suddenly we saw there a car pointed outward, the opposite from us, on the other side of the small rocky road. We never noticed anything about the driver because just outside the driver's door, seeming to have been having a conversation with the driver but turning to look at us, was a tall, gaunt man with stringy long gray hair and a long gray beard, wearing a cloak with a hood and holding a long staff in his hand, and just stared at us as we slowly rolled by. I remember asking my brother if we should stop and talk to them (because I talk to everybody), and he just stiffly said, "No, keep on going." A few feet beyond that was the famous sign that warns if you proceed you will be shot. We went to get out for a quick photo of me in front of the sign (quick because it was suddenly freezing, and we were a little unnerved), but suddenly the lights went out on the car that was still running; as I was using it to illuminate me, I had to run back to turn them on again. I quickly got in front of the sign and my brother took the picture, but then lights came on from both sides in front of us on hidden hills from military SUVS that lit us up, and then they started driving fast toward us, so it was another incentive to hurry back into the car and get out of Dodge. The curious thing is – while we did all that in less than a minute as we turned around, the car and the mysterious bearded and cloaked man just a few feet behind us were nowhere to be seen on the horizon, and no dust plume from the car was anywhere in all directions. As we went by there, looking, we asked each other, "Did you see all that too?," and we both confirmed it to each other, even every few years since then when we see each other. Another curious thing is that we took several pictures of the whole situation; in those days you had to send film off to get processed, and when I got it back there was a partially developed image of me by the signs, but the other pictures at that site were not only not in the collection, but even missing from the negatives, but all the other trip pictures were there intact.

I remember it being in that time period because not long after that I remember being a guest on Coast to Coast with George Noury about I book I had co-written, and I remember recounting to him and his audience this experience, asking if any listener had had a similar experience or witnessed such a person, but no one replied to me.

27 days ago

The Amityville Horror was a pivotal moment in my childhood. It was such a media sensation you couldn't help but hear details even if you didn't want to. Being horror obsessed I was very interested and both wanted to see the movie but was terrified of what I might be in it. I remember my parents going out one night and leaving us with a babysitter when I was around 9 years old. There was a documentary special about the case on TV that night but my parents specifically forbade us from watching it and left explicit instructions with the babysitter not to let us. Well of course she let us watch bits of it between manually changing the channel to whatever else was on that night. Freaked my little brother out and he ratted out the babysitter who never sat for us again. I felt bad for her because the parts I saw weren't even that scary but my brother was probably only 5 so I guess it's fair he was traumatized. At least Jodie didn't lock her in the closet…

I finally saw the movie when I was a few years older and read the book as a teen. The movie was just okay but I enjoyed the book quite a lot. Even if it's all BS it's still a good fictional ghost story. I tried reading the sequels by John G. Jones but his writing style didn't capture me the way Jay Anson's did. Plus the kids had different names in those books which I had a hard time getting past. (I think Jones used the kids' names from the movie – Greg, Matt and Amy – which were changed for some reason.)

Amityville II: The Possession was far more disturbing to me. The familial abuse in the first half of the movie is much more effective than the possession in the second half. Burt Young was so nasty I can't watch him in anything else. Amityville 3 feels like an episode of Goosebumps in comparison. I confess I have a soft spot for the made-for-TV Amityville: The Evil Escapes with Patty Duke and Jane Wyatt but I'll watch pretty much anything with Amityville in the title, although the 'sequels' have gotten ridiculous now. Amityville in Space, Amityville Karen, Amityville Vibrator!

26 days ago

I love Amityville 2, unkle lancifer! Burt Young’s abusive father is so evil, he’s more horrifying than the demon who possesses his son (though you can make the argument that the demonic possession is a metaphor or representation of the father’s abuse).

Geoff – the funny thing about Amityville 3-D is that the second half closely resembles Poltergeist, which was released the previous year. The timeframe is so narrow that it could be a coincidence, but the parallels are hard to miss.

Brother Bill
11 days ago

I wanted so badly to see the film when it came out (my interest was inflamed by segments about the hauntings on shows like Real People and That's Incredible) but was denied by my parents, being too young to see an R-rated film. So I tried to bargain them down to letting me read the book, but that was also denied! So I actually kept a smuggled copy of the paperback in my grade school desk and read it there.

Regarding the "pig"… I might be misremembering but I swear in the 2012 documentary My Amityville Horror, the (mostly insufferable) Daniel Lutz describes him as a "cartoon pig", and we are then shown a family photo at a diner or something that had a cartoon pig sign (suggesting this was the actual origin of this memory.) Did I just make all that up?