Just when you thought that the Amityville case was dead, Fantasia Film Festival revived it once again. There have been a variety of Hollywood films made about the 1973 case (1979 and 2005’s The Amityville Horror, 1989’s The Amityville Curse, etc.), in which Ronald DeFeo, 23, killed his entire family in their Amityville, NY home. The films’ primarily focuses have been the paranormal occurrences which allegedly influenced DeFeo and tormented the family which subsequently inhabited the house. It may seem uninspired to continually revisit the tale, but filmmaker Eric Walter has given this staple of American mythology a new spin. In his documentary, My Amityville Horror, Danny Lutz, a member of the family which moved into the house following DeFeo’s massacre and claimed that the house was haunted, comes forward for the first time in 35 years to share his story.
The documentary compliments the legend with a psychological study. As layers are slowly peeled back, we learn of Danny’s heated relationship with his stepfather, George; we bear witness to his own inconsistent recounting of the home’s strange activity; and we gradually become skeptical of the legendary ghost story. Walter uses shots and editing choices that create a distance between Danny and the story that has shaped him. Clips of him shredding a guitar are interposed throughout, but ultimately, through interviews, we discover that the tale has, indeed, possessed him in an abysmal way. We watch Danny cry while reuniting with Lorraine Warren (a paranormal investigator who was close with his mother), admit of his childrens’ disappointment in him, and recall his experiences with the case’s initial investigator, Laura Didio. The revelation of his tormented character is more bone-chilling than the Amityville mythology, itself; for it reveals how such a history can have fundamental, long-ranging effects on a family (e.g. having to co-exist with cinematic doppelgangers, who bear their family name, from an American horror franchise).
Whereas Walter spent ten years researching the documentary, it still fails to address certain details that could have provided more transparency about the case; however, this may have been a deliberate attempt to avoid isolating a key viewer demographic. Regardless, what is more fascinating than dwelling on whether the ghost-story was a fabrication, was plunging into Danny’s psychology and exploring the Lutz family web. In the end, all of the pieces do not add up to a cohesive narrative on the mythology of the Amityville hauntings; they manifest as fragments comprising the woeful personality of Danny Lutz.
Fantasia Film Festival is known for screening relevant and innovating horror flicks, yet what’s interesting is that sometimes the scariest content lies in subject matter that has been documented, as it inherently hits closer to home. Eric Walter has used Danny Lutz as a vehicle to rekindle interest in the Amityville franchise, and while it’s certainly a shame that no other family members would speak up, you’ll find that this meditation on Danny’s character is enough to inspire both cinematic and historical debates.
by Olivia Saperstein