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

1. ‘The Amityville Horror’ is not based on a true story July 29, 2013

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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  • Daniel

    Zombies in the gospel of Matthew 27:53.
    Witch of Endor.
    Pig devils.
    Scary melting faces…oh wait, that’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    It’s all there.
    Except the melting faces.

  • It’ll turn out to be like Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, where they help a descendant of the Witch Trials clear his ancestor’s name, as she was really a kind-hearted Wicca who didn’t consort withthe devil or anything, just knew about herbs and did folk medicine. Only once they remove the sealing whatzits on her remains, it turns out that she wasn’t Wicca at all but a witch, who sought unholy power to destroy the world.

    (Shame on Velma for not seeing the obvious flaw in the story)

  • Amaryllis

    “Why are vampires afraid of crosses?”

    Fred answered that question some years ago, back on Old Slacktivist. I haven’t seen a better explanation yet– nor a better explanation of why modern vampires seem to be developing an immunity.

  • Ha!

    Looking up the way White Wolf handles True Faith and how it repels vampires and can blunt the power of werewolves and other supernatural creatures led me to looking up Demon: The Fallen. Now that’s an interesting take on things — fallen angels harvest faith from mortals who have witnessed their divine powers.

  • jmb

    And, actually, it’s the theme of del Toro’s latest work, too. We’ll stand against the Eldritch Abominations because that’s the right thing to do, and maybe we only have a tiny chance of saving everyone else, but it’s still better than hiding behind expensive walls and leaving the poor to be Eaten First. Even if we don’t survive. Even the vain and vainglorious can find redemption, and do the right thing for the right reason, in the end.

    Someone on Twitter spotted definite St. Michael iconography going on in the infamous swordfight, as well.

  • Jason Jones

    Unfortunately, when the merger happened all the people on the creative team for Final Fantasy that made the early games so good got pushed out the door. Sakaguchi went and started his own studio to continue making games the way he wanted. I’ve only played one Mistwalker title, and it was okay, but it felt a little stale.

    As for SE, they’ve been all style and no substance for a long time. The last Final Fantasy game that I really cared about was FFXII (primarily because it had a different creative team) and even that one just wasn’t very memorable.

  • Hmm! I knew about the witch of Endor, but not the others. O_O Okay, that’s definitely Biblical.

  • stardreamer42

    “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” is the quotation which rather springs to mind here.

    OTOH, encouraging people to believe that they don’t have to obey the law because they’re answering to a higher law (which conveniently happens to coincide with whatever they most want to believe) is a really good way to develop a ready-made mob. That first step over the line into vigilantism is so thrilling and satisfying, but like any other addiction, it requires ever more frequent and stronger fixes to maintain the high. Add religious leaders playing the “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest” (or woman, or gay, or liberal, or non-white, or whatever) game, and what you end up with is called “stochastic terrorism”.

  • Jurgan

    The answer lies in comparing the real horrors that happened in that house with the fictional horrors of the movies. It is an undeniable fact that Ronald DeFeo murdered his entire family in that house before the Lutzes ever lived there. The idea of a child killing his parents and siblings in their sleep for no clear reason is horrifying. Somehow, believing a demonic spirit caused him to do it is more comprehensible. What’s more, the spirit could hang around for years afterwards, meaning if I want to avoid this sort of tragedy I can actively protect against it by researching places I live and avoiding any with criminal history.

  • Jurgan

    I didn’t really care for that movie. It had a few good moments, but it was very slow and repetitive. The only really scary thing was David Duchovny’s mullet.

  • Turcano

    That could have been me!

  • Jurgan

    I love that post. I actually am writing an entire vampire novel based in part on Fred’s answer to that question.

  • Turcano

    If not before, that claim definitely got put to bed when Hidalgo came out. Based on a true story, my fat hairy ass.

  • Wait – isn’t suicide a sin? Sending you straight to Hell?

  • Isabel C.

    I also remember an alt.tv.btvs argument that Christanity was descended from Mithraism, which was a sun cult, and vampires didn’t like the sun, so.

    Which argues that a priest of Apollo or Ra should be able to do some serious damage. And I would totally read that novel.

  • Isabel C.

    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre advertised itself as being based on a true story, too. (The tagline is “What happened is true. Now see the movie that’s just as real.” Which, I guess, is not a lie as such–“what happened” is, indeed, true, and the movie is a real movie. It’s just that nothing in the movie actually happened.) I believe the argument was that there was once a dude (Ed Gein, although he probably wasn’t the first or the last, considering) who made people-skin clothes.

    That’s it, as far as I can tell. Well, and that Texas exists, and some people there probably own some chainsaws.

  • Yeah, the last one I saw (whichever one came out in the mid to late 90’s) said it was based on Ed Gein. It certainly bore no resemblance to the case files as I know them. :p

  • Isabel C.

    Right. Like, the guy did have a thing for wearing human skin, and he did use a chainsaw, IIRC, but he used it on cadavers. *(Chainsaws, as the Zombie Survival Guide points out, are actually really bad murder weapons.) He was mostly a grave-robber; also, there’s no evidence that he ate anyone, though he did eat *out* of people’s skulls.

    …I may have read a lot about serial killers. Keeps people on the T from getting chatty, at least.

    *Although Leatherface seems mostly to have used a hammer in the original film, according to TVTropes. The more you know!

  • Good Whatever, there are seven Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and an eighth one coming out in 2015. ._.

  • Isabel C.

    Well, there’s an awful lot of Texas, I guess.

  • “Texas: Best known for people killing each other.”

    Sounds like a prime tourism catchphrase to me!

  • AnonaMiss

    Suicide is a sin; Suicide By Cop isn’t, if you don’t have to commit any sins to provoke it. (Well, by dragon.)

  • Michael Pullmann

    The Strand, in NYC, puts the Left Behind books in the sci-fi/fantasy section.
    I still can’t decide whether to be amused or offended by that.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    If films could scare me into religious conversion, I’d probably be worshipping the killer from “Seven” today,

    To be fair, the killer in ‘Saw’ has better morality than TurboGod. Pleasant thought, no?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    A bookstore I frequent files the works of Ann Coulter under ‘Satanism’.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    I can’t speak to what he was referring to, but I hated the design aesthetic of 13 pretty intensely (it was a similar aesthetic to 8, I felt).

    9 was the last numbered Final Fantasy where I liked the aesthetic (it was also the last one I played to completion). I wanted to like 12, as FF:Tactics is one of my all-time favorites, but I couldn’t get past the opening sequence. You can have knights on chocobos, or you can have jet fighters with machine guns, but I can’t buy both in the same battle.

  • I’ve gotten pretty tired of the steampunk genre, myself. It’s just getting so tiresome seeing swords and guns and mecha in pretty much every game. I think I’m getting jaded, though (as per the above post) since I realized at some point that I really didn’t identify with any of the characters. I never felt myself taking mentally taking their place. Unfortunately, this is another kind of thing Square does: Angsty and obnoxious characters.
    IV: Cecil spends much of the first third of the game struggling with his crimes as a dark knight, then spends much of the ending struggling with the crimes of his brother. It almost helps that so little personal story is afforded to each character.

    VI: Terra spends almost the entire game suffering delusions of inadequacy and body horror. She is removed from action several times because of this. She’s even worse in Dissidia where she spends half her screen time cowering.
    VII: Cloud’s facade of being in SOLDIER is unbearable when you have the full translation of the game. A lot of foreshadowing was cut out which made it obvious early on that Tifa knew something that wasn’t being said. Since then, he’s become an even more unbearable character in Dissidia and Advent Children. Like Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies, he resets to being crushed under his guilt every single time we see him, grows and releases his burden — and then promptly is crushed beneath it again the next time we see him.

    VIII: I hate Squall. I really do. The first three quarters of the game make me want to hit him with that stupid gun/sword/gun/sword of his. It’s impossible to connect with a character whose only response to every single stimuli is “… Whatever.” He becomes much more likable in Advent Children. For a long time, though, I wanted to know what the heck Rinoa saw in him while he was displaying the personality of a pile of stool.
    IX: Vivi threatened to be angsty and I’m not sure he didn’t end up that way after all, since my saved game got deleted soon after the factory scene and I’ve since repressed all memories of the game. I do recall Zidane was pretty obnoxious, though, and Zidane is definitely annoying in Dissidia.
    X: DIE TIDUS HAHAHAHAHA AAAAHAAAHAAA HAAAAAAA DIE. (Also: Whoever wrote the ending to X-2? I advocate a hearty slap with a tuna.)

    And that’s as far as I got.

  • That’s the first bookstore I’ve ever heard of even having a Satanism section.

  • This reviewer ( http://www.braineater.com/house/ah05.html ) suggests that the claim of demonic possession had less to do with the horror of Ronald DeFeo’s crime, and more to do with timely opportunism:

    …on November 14, 1974, a young man shot his entire family to death, in the family’s home at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York.

    The reasons Ron “Butch” DeFeo, Jr., killed his family were far from mysterious. DeFeo was known to be a bully, a liar, a thief and a drug addict; shortly before the killings, he’d attempted to fake a robbery from his father’s car dealership to get money to support his drug habit. Unfortunately, he behaved suspiciously under police questioning, and his father realized what he was up to. Rather than risk being exposed by his own father, DeFeo shot the entire family, and then tried to pass off the killings as a mob hit. The police didn’t buy it, and eventually DeFeo confessed.

    But by 1975 post-Exorcist interest in the supernatural had not abated significantly, even in the courtroom where “Butch” DeFeo was being tried. DeFeo was claiming insanity, saying that he’d heard voices that told him to kill; he also claimed at one point to be God. A rumor began to circulate that DeFeo’s lawyer, William Weber, had claimed the boy was innocent “by reason of demonic possession”. I haven’t researched this absurd claim to find out if it’s true — many absurd things have turned out to be true — but in light of the Exorcist hysteria that had swept the nation, it’s easy to see how such a story would gain credence.

    The jury was unconvinced. The evidence against DeFeo was strong enough to suggest there were no ghosts or demons spurring him on. He was responsible for his own actions. DeFeo was found guilty, and remains in jail to this day.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    I liked everything about IX except the story, the characters, and the gameplay. Which doesn’t leave much, haha. I liked the world designs and some of the character designs, and the music was fantastic, but what few characters I liked got zero development and the main plot was a pile of garbage. I made it through to the end, but I didn’t have the heart for the optional bosses and I ended up never getting another console FF game. I missed the laughing scene in X and had no idea it existed until about 2 or 3 years ago.

    I liked VII a lot when I was 14 and in high school, but the world didn’t age well for me. I couldn’t make it through Advent Children.

  • Final Fantasy IV is my favorite, and I did enjoy its sequel, The After Years. I do see an awful lot of similarity to Final Fantasy VIII in the storyline, though…

    Unfortunately, IV made me lose a lot of respect for Square. I shelled out the full $40 odd dollars for the WiiWare release of The After Years, then a $35 release containing the original game, The After Years and an additional chapter came out on PSP, which also happens to have all new updated graphics. I do not like paying more money for less game.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    Square really went overboard with porting their older FF games to every available system, yeah. I was tempted to get FFIV for the DS (the 3d revamp), but I’d stopped taking the train at that point and I found that I really only played my portable systems on the train and on plane flights. I had the cable to link my PSP to my TV, but the bounding box was really odd and the cable was too short.

    IV and VI were my favorites, but I haven’t revisited either in quite a long time. IV was the first RPG I really played and got into, but listening to the soundtrack is enough to tap into the nostalgia factor for me.

  • Likewise. I’d played the very first one way back when, but never got into it until I played IV. I had grumble fits when I noticed X and XIII didn’t have Prologue in their soundtracks. When I play Dissidia, I tend to spend far too many battles playing as Golbez with Final Battle as my battle music. :p

  • Tomas

    The movie, Devil, about people trapped in an elevator with the Devil, fits that description. The title character is defeated when people actually act like Jesus, rather than simply call on Jesus.

  • Jon Hendry

    If I ever visit Colorado Springs, I’ll be on the lookout for tongue-eating isopods.

  • Aspen Bell

    I have been trying to convince people of this for many years. I have a close friend whose grandparents lived on Coles Avenue, a very short distance from the alleged haunting. Her family visited them often during the summer. Her grandmother, a liberal Christian, told her the whole story about the hauntings was completely bogus. She drove her past the house once so she could see it. According to my friend, it was a very normal-looking suburban house with a nice garden out front and a basketball hoop in the driveway. She did not experience any kind of feeling of overwhelming evil or demonic presences; it just seemed like a regular house.

    The story her grandmother had heard from locals, and the one she believed, was essentially the same as on Snopes; a family had lived there whose oldest son was mentally disturbed (her grandmother’s description of it) and had a criminal record, and might have been on parole from prison, and came home one night and killed his parents. There were no “satanic” elements involved, and he was arrested and convicted, and the house was sold to someone else. The urban legend about the house seemed to have been made up partly by the people who moved in right afterwards and by neighbors’ gossip/rumors/etc.

    Apart from the murders, the worst effect it seemed to have was to hurt the town of Amityville, a normal Long Island seaside town with a lot of beach tourists in the summer. The reputation created by the urban legends either scared people away from it, or brought in people who were interested in the supposedly demonic element. The town went out of its way to create a welcoming image after that, rather than exploit the murders for tourism. She remembers getting a T-shirt from her grandparents that said “Amityville, NY — A Friendly Bay Village” on it. Her grandparents eventually moved away, but only to live closer to family, and because the mortgage got to be too much after they retired. In over a decade of living there, they never experienced any kind of unexplained phenomena or feelings of evil presences.

  • Daniel A Bernath

    The house is haunted. (probably)

    I was a reporter for the country music station NYC. I saw on the wire that the people who had bought the house from the Lutz were pissed off because they got no peace because the book came out and people were coming to their front door or driving by slowly and they wanted the press to view the house and see that it was all a hoax.

    I drove my Ford Thunderbird there and went inside. The family was sitting on the couch and already talking to reporters. I snooped around and saw that they had a log near their front door where they recorded all the haarassment they suffered from fans (“man drives by slowly 10:30 a.m. Man and woman knock on front door 1:30 pm that sort of thing.)

    I didn’t read the book, nor did I see the movie(s). This was in 1979 or something.

    So the owner takes us around the house. “Here is the so called red room-its just a closet that was painted red.” The red paint was flaking so I took a piece and put it in my pocket. Just the space under the stairs.

    He took us to a room and said “this is supposed to be where the flies where=nothing here, right?”

    So anyway, I got my tape to make my reports for air and I left. I was living in Tenafly New Jersey so I had to drive on the LIE. I wanted to bypass Manhattan and get to New Jersey by way of the GW Bridge and there is a point where a driver has to leave the west way driving and then head north. Just as I left going west and started going north, I looked at my gas gauge. The red needle and marking was behind a cowling.

    THE RED NEEDLE starts to move slowly from l/4 tank-then it goes to l/2 tank then it goes to Full and then IT GOES RIGHT PAST THE FULL AND OFF THE SCALE (behind the cowling).

    I am quite concerned about this. Then I see that it is gradually going back down and I figure (?) that my turn to the north caused something.

    I’m traveling north now and after about a minute IT HAPPENS ALL OVER AGAIN.

    I keep driving and get home. Nothing else has ever happened after that. Nothing has happened like this before. It was a once in a lifetime event and only after I was in every room of the house in Amityville. So you can debunk all you want. The authors might be exaggerated as to what happened to them but I believe based on what happened to me, that SOMETHING happened to them in that house. I thought you should all know about this as I’m 64 now and won’t live forever but there are some things that we can’t explain. (some people have suggested that a poltergeist came with me but got out when I headed north and wanted to let me know that I wasn’t alone.)

  • Problem is, the Lutzes’ lawyer admitted that he’d helped them make the story up to try and help them recoup the losses they’d had from buying a fixer-upper that didn’t work out. And a lot of the details Anson claims in his book are just plain wrong (a bar that didn’t exist, for instance). Not to mention, nobody who’s lived at the house since 1976 has reported any problems aside from an overabundance of thrillseekers. Speaking of which, the house is still standing and still lived in, but some changes have been made to make it less recognizable (like switching out the eye-shaped windows for more square ones).

    Occam’s razor, dude.

  • Daniel A Bernath

    I know what I saw. I can’t vouch what other people say they saw. In fact, I never saw the movie, read the book or even heard of that house except as a reporter in NYC when we did stories about the mass murders. I can’t explain it. Don’t want to try. Not my area of expertise. I just know what happened to me after visiting the house and throw it out there to the world to do with what they want.

  • Daniel A Bernath

    A theory; the stuff that happened to the Lutz’ may have been minor things like what happened to me. But they decided to exaggerate it. I don’t know. Just speculation. But I know what I saw in my car.