Welcome to Behind the Screams! In this article, we will be taking a look at the true stories that inspired some of our favorite horror films. Each month, we will dive into the stories behind these films and see that, sometimes, the truth is far more horrifying than fiction.
Let’s get one thing out in the open. Very little about The Amityville Horror is true. Jay Anson, the writer of the famous book, was.. lying. George and Kathy Lutz, the people whose story Anson told, were.. lying. It’s pretty clear that Ed and Lorraine Warren, who investigated the house after the Lutz family left, just attached themselves to an interesting story and make some money off of the fever that The Exorcist infected the nation with only a few years earlier.
So, where is the “truth” when it comes to the story behind The Amityville Horror? If we have to ignore the official story from the book, the seances by the con men and charlatans, then where can we turn to find the real story of what happened at 112 Ocean Avenue?
We all know the movie. James Brolin and Margot Kidder play George and Kathy Lutz, a newlywed blended family looking to buy a home in Amityville. This isn’t just any home, though. This is the scene of a family massacre only a year earlier. This explained the cheap asking price for such a large, beautiful home on the water.
After speaking for a while and debating whether or not to bring their kids into the home of such a brutal crime, George and Kathy decide to buy the house. Just a few days after moving in, however, strange things begin to happen.
We know the rest. Loud noises, cold winds, poorly recorded voices screaming “Get Out” at priests, super-strong flies, green goo coming out of toilets, flying red-eyed pig friends and physical transformations plagued the hallways of the Dutch Colonial and the Lutz family. The priest who was accosted early on in the film goes blind and experiences stigmata. The police tail the family due to George’s resemblance to the home’s original murderer. It seems like the family is falling apart, but they can’t understand why.
After punching his buddy in the face, George sits down with him and his girlfriend to try to figure out what’s going on with his family. They find out, through blueprints and stolen library books (Just check them out, George… You monster!) that the home was built on the former living space of a Mr. John Ketcham, a man ran out of Salem, Massachusetts for being a witch. If that wasn’t enough, the Shinnecock tribe of Long Island once used the site as a dumping ground for their insane and deformed.
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Everything comes to a head one night as George becomes fully possessed by the demons within the home. They find the “gateway to hell” in the basement (complete with red accent walls and a blood pool for your leisurely murder swims), and he begins to sharpen his axe. After taking a few swings at the door where his children are hiding, George comes to his senses and they leave the home, never to return.
The True Story
While it is true that the Lutz family purchased the home on Ocean Avenue (Yellowcard, what’s up?) and they moved out abruptly only 28 days later, the rest of the story is completely fake. It’s been recorded by multiple researchers that almost 75% of the paranormal happenings described in the book were either exaggerated or completely fabricated.
After they left the home, they contacted the criminal attorney for Ronald DeFeo Jr, the young man who murdered his whole family in the home. This man, William Weber, was willing to do anything to make a few dollars and to help his client get away with murder through an insanity defense. As he later put it himself, the Lutz family and others “created this horror story over many bottles of wine”.
Rick Moran, an investigator who has been one of the harshest critics of the Amityville story, put it this way in an interview with White Noise Paranormal Radio in 2009:
…when they were originally thinking about writing the story, the attorney for Ronnie – a fellow by the name of Bill Weber – asked around and said, “Who can write this story?” And one of the first people that he looked at was Paul Hoffman…
Weber brought out boxes and boxes of crime scene photos, and at one point, Kathy is looking through these pictures… and she said, “Oh, look at that, it looks like green slime all over the walls,” and Weber just turned around and said, “No.” He says, “They put the graphite on and then when they take a photo in color the strobe comes back as green,” and she says, “Oh, okay…”
This continued on through the night. The lawyer showed pictures to an increasingly intoxicated Lutz couple, asking them if anything jogged their memory about their experience.
And there was a picture looking out through the bedroom window, and you could see the two warning lights on the tower of the Coast Guard station in the distance. And George says, “Oh! For a second I thought I saw red eyes out the window!” And Weber says, “No, those are just the lights from the tower.” “Oh, yeah. Right”.
After the night drew on, Weber and the Lutzes had concocted a story that would earn them a sizeable check and win DeFeo a new trial based on demonic possession. Moran continued:
And this went on in front of Paul Hoffman all night as they sat there looking at the photos and drinking wine. Then they asked him, are you gonna write it?” and he said, “No, I’m not gonna write it,” because they wanted to write it as a true story, and he says, “Well obviously it’s not a true story since we’re sitting here making it up as we’re going along.”
So we can basically throw anything from the book out the window. The priest didn’t hear a voice or get attacked by flies. He entered the house to bless it and felt a strange presence in one of the bedrooms. He spoke to George after the blessing and mentioned to him that they shouldn’t let anyone sleep in that room. After George assured him that that room was going to be turned into a sewing room, the priest left, vision and skin intact.
There was no demonic pig beast flying around the home’s exterior. There was no voice or pool of blood in the basement. The Shinnecock tribe made their home nearly 100 miles from Amityville, and a witchy John Ketcham was never run out of Salem to bury his roots in Amityville (it’s true that there are a lot of Ketcham buildings and a Ketcham Avenue in the town, but those places and families were named after Zebulon Ketcham, a descendant of John who lived 100 years after the witch trials. John Ketcham, who was a very real person, actually became a representative of the Salem and Ipswich area to the Massachusetts Bay General Court at Boston. They usually don’t let witches do that kind of stuff).
The majority of the story is false, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t paranormal things happening at that home. To find the true story of The Amityville Horror, we need to go back to the source: George Lutz.
In an interview with Jeff Belanger for his book Our Haunted Lives, George did a fairly good job of laying out exactly what happened during that month in Amityville. In it, he mentions what they actually experience and how the story became public against their will.
When Jeff asked George about the severity of the happenings within the home, George was quick to point out that none of them were really that bad, just spooky and happening too frequently to be avoided. He got really sick and lost a lot of weight, Kathy began to age extremely quickly in the few weeks they were there, there were cold spots in the basement and by the stairs, Kathy felt someone embrace her and hug her from behind. George would hear big band music and he would be awakened by the sound of the front door slamming in the middle of the night. None of these events were dangerous, but they were annoying enough to affect their marriage and their family life.
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After battling with some dark (even though he would never state them as specifically “violent”) thoughts, George and the family decided to pack up and leave for the night. There was an incident that happened the night before, but they never really talk about it. The boys were scared, Kathy didn’t remember much of it, and George refuses to elaborate on what happened. After going to Kathy’s mother’s house for the night, the Lutz family decided to leave their stuff and never go back to that home.
“Something in that home wormed its way into George’s brain and gave him thoughts of hurting his new family. “
You see, despite what the Warren’s were always trying to sell you, hauntings don’t have to be “demonic” to be dangerous or scary. One could argue that there were residual energies in that home that had an effect on George and Kathy Lutz. Perhaps they were actually oppressed by something in that home, something that was leftover after the brutal slaying of the DeFeo family the year before. Was it a demon so powerful that it pushed Ed down and levitated Lorrain Warren, keeping her from making the sign of the cross? No. Was it a Native American citizen buried there for being insane or deformed? No.
Was it something? Yes. Inside the Lutz family’s story resides a small nugget of supernatural truth. A nugget that was made almost impossible to find thanks to The Amityville Horror and its legendary impact on the horror genre. We don’t know if the spirits that were leftover in 112 Ocean Avenue actually possessed George Lutz, but we do know that there was something there that wore down the couple in a short period of time. Something in that home wormed its way into George’s brain and gave him thoughts of hurting his new family. To me, this is enough of a story. I don’t need flying bacon to enjoy a spooky story, and here’s to someone sitting down and telling us the real story behind The Amityville Horror someday.
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