I just watched director Eric Walter‘s documentary, My Amityville Horror, yesterday prior to interviewing him and I was surprised by how much I liked it. In particular, Walter pulls off a difficult feat in engaging the very temperamental Daniel Lutz, something he managed to do over a period of months without ever losing his objectivity on his subject. Walter and I spoke at length about the effect the real-life Amityville saga has had on Daniel Lutz and whether or not he believes the claims the Lutz family has made over the years. The answer, like most things in real life, is complicated.
“For the first time in 35 years, Daniel Lutz recounts his version of the infamous Amityville haunting that terrified his family in 1975. George and Kathy Lutz’s story went on to inspire a best-selling novel and the subsequent films have continued to fascinate audiences today. This documentary reveals the horror behind growing up as part of a world famous haunting and while Daniel’s facts may be other’s fiction, the psychological scars he carries are indisputable.” Laura DiDio and Lorraine Warren also make appearances.
The film hits limited theaters and VOD today, March 15th from IFC. If you have any interest at all in the Amityville story it’s a must watch, so check your local listings or hit up SundanceNOW, Xbox, iTunes, PS3 and others. Head inside for the interview!
How did this whole thing come about?
As much of an obsessive interest as I’ve had in the Amityville subject, it kind of found me as much as I found it. Danny actually found me through a website that I run called AmityvilleFiles.com that I started when I was 17 years old. I’m 27 now so that was obviously some time ago. I was enamored with the fact that this was claimed to be a true story, both the account of the Lutz family and the DeFeo murders. I began looking into the trial records for the DeFeo case and the alleged hauntings of the Lutz case to see whether or not it was a hoax. I also talked to a bunch of people who lived in the house subsequently and never experienced anything abnormal. I really dove into this at a very young age. I developed the site because I really wanted to create a place that would give people the unbiased whole story. I didn’t want the perspective of, “this is all a hoax” or “this is all true.” I think it lies between those two things. I wanted people to make up their own minds.
So I was contacted by Daniel out of the blue by a friend of his who claimed he was interested in going public with the story. He was angry at the way the story had been portrayed in the media through so many years. He was also angry at what his stepfather, George Lutz, had perpetrated on the family. He felt very strongly that George was involved in occult dabblings in the house and that whatever he was involved in triggered the hauntings on the family. It was an entirely new perspective, since George had been essentially controlling [the conversation] until his death. For Danny, this was a kind of catharsis, he felt a very deep personal desire to get his story told. And the way he appears in the film is very much the way he is. He’s an extremely angry and intense personality, so a lot of times I felt like I was putting myself in harm’s way in even making this film. Anytime you question the credibility of anything he says, he’s ready to jump down your throat.
It’s interesting because in the film he mentions that one of the reasons he didn’t like George is that he felt like he was walking on eggshells around him. But, it seems to me, that being around Danny himself is also like walking on eggshells.
Oh, you know it’s a sad portrait because in many ways he’s doing what George did at the time. He’s certainly not the same kind of person as George, but George was trying to control the story and in many ways it seems that Danny is now being passed that torch. It’s almost sad. It’s a fatal attraction to Danny, he talks about how he doesn’t want to do it but feels like he has to. There was a lot of concern for me personally about the allegations that were being made against George Lutz because I can’t verify them. I know that Christopher, his younger brother, has also claimed similar incidences where George was involved in the occult. So it does corroborate in a general fashion, but Danny goes into so much more detail. For me, it’s a very sensitive area.
I’m not sure where you stand on this, and I never rule out anything I don’t understand, but it seems to me there’s a very good chance that Danny has been afflicted by this abuse. It seems like he’s very much fighting back against the abuse he received from his stepfather, but at the same time he hasn’t extricated himself from the belief system George forced upon him.
I would agree with that. It’s interesting to see how many people take away different perceptions of it. I thought the film was better left open ended that way because there’s so much grey area to this story and Danny’s story in general that for someone to come in to say, “this is the reason”, I wouldn’t be doing my job. So I agree with you. I think that for me it does’t make sense that a family would get up and leave all of their personal belongings – clothes, food, furniture and all of that. They gave the house back to the bank, George sold his business and moved to California. Kathy and George were newlyweds and had sold both of their homes to move into this house, so they gave up all of their investments. So they were literally living off food stamps in San Diego for several months after this.
So, for me, while I personally don’t believe all that has been said about the Lutz family or all of the things the Lutz family claimed happened to them, I’ve always felt that they believed that this happened. The problem is that they sold the book rights to Jay Anson, who took great creative license with the story and slapped a “true story” sticker on the front of the book. And the book was a bestseller that rolled into 13 movies about the subject – a spin-off, the sequels and a remake that to me was an entire abomination on the case in general.
So to me, selling those rights was was the worst thing they could have done. Because now they’re a direct part of it. Danny and his siblings, their actual names are used in that book. So no matter how hard they try not to, they’re living in the shadow of this for the rest of their lives. And that’s the story I wanted to tell.