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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  • connorboone
  • Can’t help but think of Fatal Frame, a horror game which claimed to have been based on a true story and has never offered the slightest hint as to which story that might be, other than that it’s a mixture of two urban legends (which are not the same as “a true story”). To this day, this is the only website I can find which offers any basis to the claims, and numerous people have said that they’ve never heard of any such place, ritual, or legends.

  • Vermic

    Vampires in the Buffy-verse are subject to the whole crosses-and-holy-water thing, but I don’t think this was ever explained in universe.

    (Though I have a vague memory of Joss Whedon or somebody offering that vampires and Christians had had some nasty supernatural conflicts in the early days, and the weaknesses were a result of this, and not because Christianity is any more “correct” in the Buffyverse.)

  • I remember one TV special where Mrs. Lutz blamed transcendental meditation for the goings on at that house. She claimed that the paranormal events only started after she and her husband began experimenting with new age spirituality, and that she believed transcendental meditation opened the family up to diabolical influences. All this with the Warrens looking on and nodding solemnly. At that point, I didn’t really care if Amityville was real or not, I was just thoroughly pissed that they would so willingly scapegoat another esoteric tradition in an obvious effort to bolster their paranormal claims.

  • JustoneK

    are you sure that wasn’t a psychological horror game cuz wow

  • And, sadly, a part III.

  • Vermic

    To be honest, I’ve never understood the appeal of “based on a true story” in any context. Stories stand on their own as far as I’m concerned: the claim of a factual basis doesn’t make the tale any scarier, funnier, or whatever. In fact, if anything it’s a bit of a turnoff, like, don’t strain my suspension of disbelief further by asking me to believe this BS too, Mr. or Ms. Marketing Person. You’re just cheapening it for both of us.

    (Afterwards, it can often be fun to learn that the story I just experienced was BOATS, and then I can go and research it and learn a bit more. But it doesn’t make the original story any better or worse.)

    BOATS claims must matter to some people, though, based on the number of urban legends that get forwarded with them. Somebody takes a perfectly decent joke and then, for reasons opaque to me, decides that more people will pay attention if they think it really happened, so they clumsily preface it with “This came from a newspaper article in New Zealand in 1975! Wow!!” I don’t get it.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    (Clicks on the above link)


    Greetings, this is Jeffery Allen Weskamp’s mindless, souless body typing this message to this blog. I must now go forth and implement the entrance of the Great Old Ones into Earth’s dimension. I am now logging off. EOM

  • Jason Jones

    I have no doubts they’ll continue making Final Fantasys until the name stops drawing in big sales. As far as the running joke, I actually don’t mind that much. I just wish there were more creative turnover at SE, because I find the aesthetic that Tetsuya Nomura seems enamored with boring and uninspired.

  • DCFem

    If you haven’t yet, read the links in this post — very interesting stuff. But I must admit that the photo’s of the Warren’s have “grifters” written all over them. Maybe it’s just me, but they look like stereotypical con artists. No wonder the folks in Hollywood liked them, they look like a screenwriter created them.

  • By aesthetic, do you mean the art specifically? It does seem like an awful lot of gray gets used in every game from 12 onward…

  • AnonaMiss

    The only work that I’ve seen/read which benefitted from Based On A True Story was Apollo 13. I’m… not really sure why that is, actually.

  • Very tangential aside: Transcendental meditation comes up humorously in the book Tandia:

  • Daniel

    Heavenly Creatures is made all the more poignant and terrifying knowing it was based on a real event, but otherwise BOATS just makes me get extra picky and pedantic about every little bit of the film. I’ve never seen Paranormal Activity, but an old housemate of mine was amazed when he saw it and was utterly convinced that it was real.

  • Daniel

    I thought it was an unfortunately named medical supply shop.

  • Daniel

    Does that sound like a man who really had ALL HE COULD EAT?

  • Daniel

    Cat People led me to a religious conversion. I’m still awaiting the coming of Lewton’s Bus.

  • Omnicrom

    I’m all in favor of a creative turnover if it means Final Fantasy will stop sucking. It had been going downhill slowly since the merger but the most recent games have been atrocious and the absolutely horrible and relentlessly pretentious “Fabula Nova Crystales Saga” have demonstrated how far SE has fallen.

    Sadly the open armed embrace of cheap Fanservice that SE shows with Final Fantasy 13-3 has convinced me that without DRASTIC changes the franchise will never be good again. SquareEnix please stop. Cut the fanservice, drop the pretentiousness, quit the empty flash-in-the-pan style, end the incredibly cynical and ugly Fee to Play stuff, and actually remember why you ever had fans to begin with: You used to make DAMN GOOD GAMES.

  • Mark Z.

    I’d say because it forced the director to show some restraint.

    If Apollo 13 had been cooked up from scratch by a Hollywood writer, it would have been The Core.

  • Feygele Goy

    I’ll just say, “I’m always doin’ something, something for the BOY-oys…”

  • Launcifer

    Just so long as it’s the ’42 version rather than the ’82 one. I converted to the wrong version of Get Carter. It didn’t go well ;).

  • Daniel

    Ooooh, nasty! That’s like finding the remake of the Italian Job first. Or Gus van Sant’s Psycho. Ghastly.

  • I think I’ve gotten cynical over the years. When I went back and played older Final Fantasy games, all I could think was “This is exactly the same problem I remarked upon in their newer games.” Frequently.

    Can’t even call the fanservice a new issue — it dates back to the first FF game (the Medusa monster, even in pixelated form, stands at an angle to reveal pronounced breasts and an expanse of leg) and there has continued to be an element of it in every game since. They just emphasize it more now, and likewise, lazy plots have gotten a little lazier, but it all just continues a trend set early on by their past games.

  • Launcifer

    Having said that, watching the remake of The Wicker Man after the most complete extant copy of the original was possibly one of the most hilarious experiences of my life.

  • Daniel

    Not… the bees?

  • Launcifer

    All of it. It’s one of the most sustained examples of completely missing the point I’ve ever seen in my life.

  • Daniel

    However, it did give rise to the phenomenon known as the “Nicholas Cage” which happens when your face is entirely enclosed in wicker and you get hit by a flash of bees they’ll be conducted around the cage and be harmlessly earthed at the nearest flower. It doesn’t need to be a specially made mask- any wicker will do. A laundry basket. A chair. A different type of basket. Any wicker.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    Go to Charles Stross’s “The Apocalypse Codex” (book four of the Laundry series) for a fringe right-wing evangelical Christian megachurch as the really terrifying villains, as part of a Lovecraftian cult. He bases it just enough on real Christian groups like the Quiverfull movement and Rapture theology that it becomes a quite unpleasantly plausible front for a Great Old One cult. It’s definitely a more disturbing story than most any that claim to be based on something true.

  • Launcifer

    Even the late Alan Whicker?

  • Daniel

    In theory, yes, particularly if you are being attacked by euglossini bees which have scent baskets on their legs and are easily distracted by his distinctive scent. This is even more distinct now.
    However, this is only hypothetical. For decades scientists have been working on a synthetic Alan Whicker in order to help bee keepers and bee visitors, but it is too difficult to make a hollow Whicker. There are numerous prototypes knocking about on a small pacific island.
    There are too many Whickers.

  • Lori

    an old housemate of mine was amazed when he saw it and was utterly convinced that it was real.

    Now that’s just sad.

  • Ah, this is another reason I miss working at the (now-defunct) indie bookstore: we were allowed to file The Amityville Horror under Fiction, never mind what it said on the spine.

    When we somehow got in a Glenn Beck book, we were allowed to file that under Humour.

  • Launcifer

    And cue the music in 3…2…1…It’s!

  • Daniel

    Ladies and gentlemen a 1 a 2 a 1 2 3 4…


  • Daniel

    You have no idea. He insisted there was no editing as well. So days and days of recording UNEDITED came out at roughly 2 hours of film.
    The guy was a stray from Jeremy Kyle.

  • Daniel

    Serious question now, Cat People (original) or Return of the Cat People? Because the second one scares the bejesus out of me and I’ve been banned from singing the song that Simone Simon sings in it by my sister, who hasn’t seen it but is terrified of the song.
    So, which do you prefer?

  • For the most part, I adore Clive Barker’s writing. (Which is to say, I adore his imagination while finding his prose uneven but leaning heavily toward the poetic.) But I could not get through Mister B. Gone. I started skimming towards the end just to find out how it ended. I think the problem for me was the narrator, whom I simply could not take seriously. That, plus knowing from what history tells us that he must lose in the end, made me skeptical I’d buy any epiphany about his ultimate loss.

    Imajica remains one of my favorite re-reads, and I am living in gleeful antification of the next installment of Abarat.

  • The narrator always struck me as being simultaneously implied to be big, bad and fearsome — and being a complete wimp.

  • Panda Rosa

    I remember that one, actually the sword-wielding plumber made the whole film for me.

  • “Stairs! We have found stairs!”


  • I think that was probably the problem for me. That kind of character — the one who tells you over and over again what a ferocious monster he could be if he chose, but whom the text shows over and over again to be a coward — could be amusing if his bragging was entertaining enough, but for me it wasn’t. I kept wishing he’d get the hell out the way so I could pay attention to the story.

  • MarkTemporis

    Not only did they make up the Amityville Horror story, but the story itself bears a very close resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Colour out of Space” only with standard Native American witchcraft/Judeo-Christian satanic elements grafted on.

  • MarkTemporis

    Richard Pryor: “The reason people use a crucifix against vampires is because vampires are allergic to bullshit.”

  • To be fair, the first movie was based on the first half of the book. The sequel purported to be based on the second half. That there’s an idea with merit, if properly implemented. The movie we got is not the movie we deserved. (“You know what the book was missing, that our movie can provide? Immature pop culture reference jokes and also Howard the Duck!”)

    There is absolutely no excuse for part 3.

  • Launcifer

    To be honest, I rather prefer the original version because it’s so…. left-field, I suppose – especially when placed alongside the Universal horror films of the time. It’s also probably the most interesting take on that particular horror staple until Ginger Snaps (or possibly Company of Wolves, largely because Angela Lansbury just creeps me out in that).

  • Wow. Also, links to Agony Booth really should come with a warning. “Here be lots of gay-bashing and gender-policing.” Yeesh.

  • Daniel

    See that’s why I like Return of the Cat People more, because you get the psychological horror of the child turning her parents’ guilt into a spirit pal. There’s also the old lady in the house who refuses to acknowledge her own daughter which is heartbreaking. The uncertainty in both makes them marvellous- like the uncertainty in The Innocents, which was also remade a few years back and was…a bit rubbish.

  • I have a copy of that album at home. I keep meaning to get around to listening to it. I have no logical reason for having put it off, except possibly for lying awake all night waiting for the walls to start moving.

  • “I wonder why holy water doesn’t give people supernatural strength for,
    say, building an orphanage or carrying a sick person to the doctor. You
    know, stuff God actually told Christians they ought to be doing.”

    Duh. Because you can only use status-buff items from the combat screen.