by Jay Anson (1977)
(Release Date: August 1, 1977)
or does it?
Or so I thought.
While The Amityville Horror certainly has its beginnings in reality and focuses on real people and some partially true events (surrounding The Defeo Murders), evidence has piled up higher than the Sears Tower suggesting that The Amityville Horror just might have been a hoax. In the nearly thirty years since its publication, there have been arguments from naysayers and supporters alike going back and forth in all forms of media about what really happened over those twenty-eight days (or was it ten?) and, at this point, I'd bet you can count on one hand those who can really confirm what the truth is. Many of the claims can be completely disproved with ease. Others... well, I'm not saying.
As a story, it's a great one, and it all falls neatly into the category of "I Want To Believe!!!" The story at core, however, has become immensely bigger than itself and has encompassed all the arguments in many more books over the years. The story has gotten even bigger to the point of top-heavy, beginning with the Film adaptation and no less than seven sequels, not to mention the 2005 Remake from MGM and Dimension Films. Yep the little story that George Lee and Kathy Lutz told to Jay Anson in order to get their side of the tale out there has snowballed into an enormity that could dwarf a convention of Oliver Hardy impersonators! And that's pretty big.
But setting all this aside and simply reading the novel as it was printed in 1977 how does this story come out? Well, sadly, the best thing about the novel is the belief that it's true and the second the readers' suspension of disbelief is lifted the novel comes off as plodding and somewhat poorly paced. With the assertion that this is a true and unembellished account retold by Anson as it was told to him, the reader can be riveted to the page and ignore the inherent, deep flaws and concentrate on a very scary story. But, with the understanding that embellishments (at least) were added to the book and considering all the angles, this is no The Exorcist and it's not quite a literary masterpiece.
Again, though, the story is terrific, and with a lot of spit and polish it might have translated to a truly chilling read (with or without that pesky suspension of disbelief). The tale of George Lee Lutz and his king sized investment in the American Dream is one so many of us can relate to. In real life this man did buy the large barn-shaped plantation home on an inlet of the Amityville River, and yes, it really did have those creepy eye-shaped quarter-round windows on the side of the house. It's been suggested that he got the property at 112 Ocean Avenue for such a steal because, only one year before, the eldest son of the Defeo family had gunned down his entire family as they slept in their beds.
The innocence of this hopeful family moving into the Defeo "High Hopes" house is pure Americana. George and his new wife Kathleen, her three children from a previous marriage (whom George loved like his own) and their fun-loving malamute named Harry all really existed. All really moved into the property. All subsequently moved the hell out a reported Twenty-Eight Days Later...
What happened beyond that, we're not sure. Of course the legend tells us that the pure Americana turned quickly into pure American Gothic! Was the Lutz family terrorized by a series of ghosts in this enormous house? Was there an invisible Marching Band in the living room keeping them awake at night? Was there a white hooded figure hiding in the fireplace? Was there a Demonic Pig named Jodie whose glowing red eyes attempted to seduce the youngest child while scaring the hell out of the parents?
Who am I to say no? I can only go so far as to say... Probably not.
However, some of the biggest criticisms of this book and the movies that followed have been the very simple question of "Why the Hell didn't they just get out?" Anson does his best to continue this story along for the full twenty-eight days with a new reason each day to stay in the house. Trust me, if I was given a two-hundred thousand dollar house for only eighty grand, I'd want to hang onto it too. After a while, though, things just get a little silly. You can dismiss the terrifying image of a demonic pig peeking around your daughter's head as a midnight optical illusion once you see her resting comfortably in bed alone. You can convince yourself that those clammy cold places in the house are proof that you need a better furnace. You can possibly even say to yourself that all the flies in the sewing room just smell Harry's dump pile on the lawn and are chomping at the bit to get a taste of doggy droppings... possibly. But brother, when you wake up in the middle of the night to find the wife sleeping above the covers... that's FOUR FEET above the covers, you might want to call a ghost buster, pal! When your sister-in-law claims that the ghost of a little boy woke her in the middle of the night asking for help, it might just be time to open those yellow pages and look for a Motel 6, Kiddo! When your close friend, the Catholic Priest, finally gets you on the horn and repeatedly tells you that it's time to get the eff-you-see-kay of the H-O-U-S-E, perhaps a minor change of venue is in order!
Or else the big bad mother fuckers in charge of the haunting might decide they won't let you leave... and that's exactly what they do. Chilling? Yeah! Scary? You betcha! Nothing you'd want to have happen even on a lost bet? To say the least!
And setting aside your suspension of disbelief for a time, it's not that well written either. Sure, it's leaps and bounds ahead of any of the movie adaptations! Were this a detail of unadulterated fact the writing style would compliment it perfectly. This is why the first read through tends to be so very engrossing. When one accepts that this isn't a documentary but is, in fact, a Novel... well... one gives it Three Stars out of Five! Not the worst, not the best. There are those parts that will make you want to leave the light on all night, and there are those parts in which you might just wonder what the hell the big deal is. If you believe in spooks, this is the story for you, just be ready to pull the Blanket over your head. If you're a complete cynic, or have done the research yourself... then for God's Sake Get Out! But hey... it's more "true" than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! So until some angry Londoner turns up and recounts a tale proving that the Medical Zombie flick Twenty-Eight Days Later... is a true story too... I'll see you in the next reel. (Don't sue me, Lee... I still like you!)
Without clicking here for more Haunted Reviews!
reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who alone is responsible for his views
and for the Real Estate class he took and finished before deciding he didn't want to sell Real Estate... unless it was Haunted.
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