My Amityville Horror

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 03/18/13 10:08:31

"Dunno whether he's telling the truth, but he sure is pissed off."
3 stars (Average)

All most of us can know for sure about what happened at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville is that the Lutz family moved there in December 1975 and left 28 days later. Everything else, over the course of 37 years’ worth of books, movies, and TV re-enactments, has been essentially a matter of what you find believable, or what you prefer to believe.

Eric Walter’s low-budget documentary My Amityville Horror sits down with a member of the family, Danny Lutz, who was ten when he moved into the house along with his mother, his stepfather, and his two siblings (both of whom declined to participate in the film). Danny, now a 47-year-old UPS driver, looks older than his age, as though his ordeal in the Amityville house stole his youth and continues to steal his life.

Is he telling the truth, though? Danny Lutz seems like a very angry man, and we are left with several explanations for that. He hated his stepfather George Lutz, a former Marine who “had no parent skills whatsoever.” Danny suggests that George’s interest in the occult made the family a target for whatever was haunting the house. He claims that George had telekinetic powers. Is it possible that Danny and the other children were brainwashed by George into believing in paranormal activity? Or intimidated by George into going along with the story? I wouldn’t want to speculate, but in the film, Danny certainly seems to believe what he’s saying. The thought of not being believed triggers his temper worse than anything else — as when Eric Walter asks if he would take a polygraph test.

My Amityville Horror becomes not so much an “untold story” of the Amityville case as a psychological study of a troubled man. Whatever you believe Danny went through, it’s clear he went through something, something that still eats away at him. We see him talking to a therapist, to a reporter who’d covered the original story, to a psychic investigator who had visited the house. They all seem to take him at his word. Danny seems to feel an intense need to tell his story, though he also says he doesn’t want to — doesn’t want to have to. He just wishes he had a normal childhood, a normal life. If that’s so, he hasn’t really helped his blood pressure by appearing here; those, like me, who couldn’t have picked the grown Danny Lutz out of a line-up before will now recognize him as “the Amityville guy.” (I’m also not sure why he didn’t trade his adoptive name Lutz — his loathed stepfather’s name — for his given name Quaratino, though maybe he wanted to maintain a connection to his mother.)

At certain points I stopped thinking about the Danny I was watching and reflected on another spirit-haunted Danny of the 1970s with a bad-tempered father figure — Danny Torrance, the child hero of Stephen King’s The Shining. Over the years I wondered what kind of man Danny Torrance would grow up to be, and later this year King himself will provide an answer with his sequel, Doctor Sleep. But watching My Amityville Horror, I could imagine that Danny Torrance might turn out something like Danny Lutz, carrying around ghastly memories and bottomless anger issues either learned or genetic or both. Life is messier than fiction, though, and I predict King’s Danny will be more tragically heroic than the other Danny we meet here.

The movie occasionally feels dawdling, despite its abbreviated length. Not much time is spent on Danny’s actual recollections of the horror; we more often hear him talk about how it affected him in the years since. He left home as a teenager, lived homeless in the desert for a while; married, had two kids, divorced. He lugs packages for UPS and in his spare time apparently sits in his garage a lot and plays electric guitar. Eric Walter digs where he can, but he, like almost everyone else, seems intimidated by Danny, who is a big guy who always seems a heartbeat away from punching someone. A documentarian like Nick Broomfield, who’s usually fearless about bluntly asking for the truth (he would’ve gotten Danny on a polygraph), might have provided a more in-depth Rashomon-like account — though he probably wouldn’t have gained access to Danny, whereas Walter, who started an Amityville website at age 17, most likely struck Danny as a more sympathetic ear.

That’s ultimately what we take from "My Amityville Horror" — nothing shockingly new about the case, just sympathy for a man who, even if he didn’t literally flee from demons with his family 37 years ago, certainly appears to be living with some now.

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