Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Search Of.... The Amityville Horror

In honor of Halloween today, I re-watched an episode of the old television show "In Search Of..." that profiled the Amityville Horror. I loved "In Search Of..." as a kid in the 70s. As a result, I've enjoyed periodically re-watching some of the old episodes that have now been posted on You Tube, and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the assertions made and explanations proffered for the "phenomena" they examined. This episode originally aired in October 1979, just months after the famous horror film of the same name was first released in theaters to huge box office success. "What's not commonly known," Leonard Nimoy intones solemnly at the start of this episode, "is that the film is actually based on fact. It's a true story..." Well, not quite, as it turns out.

The movie was based on real life events of the Lutz family, who experienced a series of frightening paranormal events immediately after moving into their new home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island in December 1975, where only a year before a man had shot and killed six members of his own family. The Lutz family fled the house only 28 days after moving in, however, claiming to have been terrorized by a series of strange phenomena, including doors mysteriously slamming, green slime oozing from the walls, and by frighteningly vivid nightmares about the prior murders, among many other things. Their experiences were first published as a book in 1977, and that book was, in turn, adapted into the film of the same name in 1979.

But over the years, doubts began to mount about the veracity of the Lutz's claims. Among other things, it was later revealed that the Lutz family never once called the police during their alleged 28 day "nightmare" stay in the house. And no subsequent owners of the house ever experienced anything similar. The priest who allegedly performed an exorcism at the house at the behest of the Lutz family later gave several inconsistent accounts of his actual involvement. He claimed at one point in a sworn affidavit only to have ever talked to the Lutzs by telephone. Further, in the September 17, 1979 issue of "People" magazine, a lawyer named William Weber stated, "I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine." According to Weber, George Lutz merely wanted to get out from under a mortgage that he couldn't afford because his business was faltering. Weber later filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Lutzs, alleging that they reneged on a book deal with him and instead went with another publisher.

George and Kathy Lutz divorced in the 1980s. Kathy died in 2004. George Lutz died in 2006, still claiming that the events portrayed were "mostly true." Embedded below is part 1 of this episode of "In Search Of..." which features interviews with the George and Kathy Lutz, as well as with the priest who allegedly performed the exorism (in the only on-camera interview he ever gave). The sincerity in their voices as they describe their experiences in convincing detail is remarkable, given subsequent revelations. Were they each just putting on an "act" for the television cameras? Or had they actually managed to convince themselves over time of the veracity of their own story?

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