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March 19, 2013

My Amityville Horror

(2012, Dir. by Eric Walter.)

When I was a kid, I was once in the middle of an earthquake. It's hard to believe that I, a mid-Iowan farm boy, could have been caught up in an earthquake in my natural habitat - only 13 earthquakes have ever been recorded in the state, and none within a three county radius or a 15 year time span of my childhood - but I remember it vividly.

Well, actually, I remember my parents telling my sister and I that there was an earthquake after a glass that my sister was holding fell and broke. What actually happened, as far as I assume, is that my younger sister dropped the glass, which shattered and made her cry like a little girl. (In fairness, she was.) My parents, trying to shut her up, told us that there was an earthquake and that was why she dropped the glass.  And we bought it. Or at least I did, I think. Heck, maybe this never even happened. Maybe I dreamed it and just assumed it was real. I don't know. I was a kid.

So when I consider how gullible I was as a kid and/or how my memory may be playing tricks on me, it makes me naturally skeptical about My Amityville Horror, a new documentary that revisits one of America's most notorious hauntings through the memory of a childhood survivor. Daniel Lutz, the son of Kathy and the adopted son of George Lutz, was the oldest of three children living in the infamous house, and now he's the guy telling us about his life and his childhood experiences at 112 Ocean Avenue.

Daniel Lutz, now in his 40s and working for UPS in California, comes off as a volatile man with that stereotypical "New York" accent and attitude, and his distaste for any doubt of his story would probably make him mad at this reviewer already.  While it seems like I'm making light of Daniel's story by pointing out that children are a) susceptible to manipulation and b) not the most trustworthy folks at remembering things, I don't mean to condemn the person as much as I want to cast doubt on our faith in human memory. There's a reason why most Psychology professors and doctors and generally smart people will tell you that eyewitness testimony isn't generally reliable - because it's not.

Horror hounds might find themselves a little bored with the early stories told by Daniel in this documentary, as they seem to follow the events we've seen immortalized in print and on film far too closely. Who's to say that Daniel's memory hasn't been influenced by the public versions of what happened inside his childhood home?  Some of the second hand accounts of other peoples' experiences and the experiences of the few people involved that are left - mainly a former TV investigator and an elderly woman with connections to the supernatural - corroborate Daniel's story, but it's hard to really buy in to new accounts from 35 year old memories, especially when they are based in the supernatural.

Despite all of the reasons to be skeptical, it's actually pretty darn fascinating to see what has become of Daniel Lutz.  I don't know if what he says happened is what actually happened, but I am certain that Daniel Lutz believes that it happened. At the same time, the character is most fascinating when he talks about his relationship with George Lutz, who we all are still afraid of thanks to James Brolin, and there's a lot to read into when it comes to Daniel's hatred of his stepfather.  What we think about Daniel Lutz is immaterial, because the story that Daniel tells is told with such frank honesty.

Though I'm cautious about the implications of My Amityville Horror - which insists that a story that was generally debunked 30 years ago might still be true based on testimony of a child - I still found myself enamored with how it told its story. The production slickly moves between reminders of the events in the Amityville house and accounts of Daniel Lutz' life since then, and it's easy to feel sympathy toward a man who's had to deal with something - whether it's supernatural or criminal - of this magnitude for most of his life. My Amityville Horror inspired a lot of internal debate within me, but that added perspective on The Amityville Horror is more than welcome.

I may not believe the Amityville story is true, but I'll listen to Daniel Lutz talk about it just in case.  If you're interested in the book, the film, or just hauntings in general, you'll probably be interested in hearing his story too.

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