1. ‘The Amityville Horror’ is not based on a true story

The Amityville Horror was not based on a true story.

I’m sorry if that disappoints anyone, but we’re not free to change what is or is not true based only on what we find to be disappointing.

It’s also a bit odd that anyone would be disappointed to learn that a “horror” is not real. That’s like having a horrifying nightmare and then waking up disappointed to realize it was only a dream. You’re not supposed to be disappointed when you wake from a nightmare, you’re supposed to be relieved.

I know that the movie posters and book covers all said that this was based on a true story, but I’m afraid this is another disappointing truth: You can’t believe everything you read on movie posters.

Benjamin Radford wrote a lengthy debunking of the story for Snopes back in 2005, when the most recent movie version came out:

Researcher Rick Moran … compiled a list of more than a hundred factual errors and discrepancies between [author Joe] Anson’s “true story” and the truth.

“The Amityville Horror: A True Story” is not a true story.

… Over and over, both big claims and small details were refuted by eyewitnesses, investigations, and forensic evidence. Still, the Lutzes stuck to their story, reaping tens of thousands of dollars from the book and film rights.

The truth behind The Amityville Horror was finally revealed when Butch DeFeo’s lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he, along with the Lutzes, “created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” The house was never really haunted; the horrific experiences they had claimed were simply made up. Jay Anson further embellished the tale for his book, and by the time the film’s screenwriters had adapted it, any grains of truth that might have been there were long gone. While the Lutzes profited handsomely from their story, Weber had planned to use the haunting to gain a new trial for his client. George Lutz reportedly still claims that the events are mostly true, but has offered no evidence to back up his claim.

… The revelation that the story was based on a hoax has led to embarrassment, especially among the handful of “paranormal experts” who “verified” the fictional tale. The Lutzes must have had a good laugh at the expense of the mystery-mongering ghost hunters and self-proclaimed psychics who reported their terrifying visions and verified the house’s (non-existent) demonic residents.

Foremost among those “ghost hunters and self-proclaimed psychics” who confirmed this hoax were Ed and Lorraine Warren. They cited their paranormal and religious expertise, as well as Lorraine’s alleged extrasensory intuition, in validating a story later proved to be a total sham. So either the Warrens were knowing participants in the hoax, or they were themselves credulous dupes duped by their own eagerness to find devils in doorknobs and monsters under the bed.

This old MovieWeb interview with Lorraine Warren has me guessing maybe it was a little bit of both of those. Warren seems to have a Mike Warnke-esque knack for putting on the kind of show she knows will appeal to her devoutly religious target audience. But she also seems like a dealer who’s getting high on her own product — a victim of the “shut-eye.” It’s hard to tell whether or not she’s in on her own joke. Michelle Dean’s recent profile — “The Long, Strange Career of ‘The Conjuring’ Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren” — leans toward the more cynical interpretation.

As the headline to Dean’s piece notes, the Warrens are back in the news due to yet another horror movie adapting yet another of their cases as “religious demonologists.” The Conjuring reportedly plays up this religious aspect, and the movie studio has hired Grace Hill Media — the current go-to PR firm for this kind of work — to sell the movie to churchgoers.

Filmmaker brothers Chad and Carey Hayes say their film isn’t your typical “Christian” movie fare, but it nonetheless carries a strong religious message that can appeal to faith-minded audiences.

It is, they say, a “wholesome horror film.”

No it is not. It’s a hoax, just like the other stories of its kind sold by the Warrens and the Warnkes of this world to gullible audiences who for some reason wish these stories — and even worse things — to be true.

That “wholesome horror film” quote above comes from Kevin Eckstrom’s Religious News Service story, “Can a horror film lead people to God?

The answer to Eckstrom’s question is “No.” Or, at least, “Maybe, but not this horror film.”

This film is a pep rally for a witch hunt. Witch hunts do not lead people toward God. Witch hunts and witch-hunters lead people, instead, toward the lethal notion that it is their job to identify and destroy the enemies of God. The stories witch-hunters tell are never true stories, but the victims those stories produce are all too real. And there is nothing “wholesome” about that.

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