In earlier posts, I have discussed the competitive nature of the paranormal world. Regardless of all the griping, all the University of New Mexico Women’s Soccer-esque hair-pulling and back-punching, it’s important to remember where this all started. Let’s take a look at one of the original paranormal pop-culture phenomenon, which likely inspired the divide.
I give unto you this holiday week’s post — a reflection on one of paranormal investigation’s most treacherous and controversial moments. It was the pop-culture wedge that jostled the supernatural boulder down the mountain: The Amityville Horror.
Consider it to be the litmus test of the paranormal world: simply ask someone in the field if they believe that The Amityville Horror was a true story, or was it fiction, and his or her answer will tell you many things. If they say it was fact, you have a crackpot on your hands. If they say it was fiction, then you might be talking to an investigator.
Because so much information about the misinformation of the story has come to light, it is next to impossible for anyone with half an investigative mind to ever regard Amityville as “A True Story,” as emblazoned on both the book jacket and movie poster.
The 1979 film, based off of the novel by the same name, followed the ordeals of the Lutzes: a down-on-their-luck family who happened to stumble on a real estate gem at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. Unfortunately for them, (cue my best scary movie-guy voice) “the old tenants hadn’t moved out!” Seems the previous owner, the DeFeo family, had a genetic flaw running that resulted in Papa DeFeo spreading holiday cheer — and his wife and kids’ brain matter — all over their bedroom walls with a high-powered shotgun.
So the Lutzes move in after the clean-up team bagged the remains, and immediately, Papa Lutz starts to go mad! He starts growing a beard! He starts drinking and yelling! Things he never did before! And starts ambling through town being told he looks so familiar to the townspeople, just like… nevermind… no one there likes to talk about those things… and then he begins drinking at the same bar as Daddy DeFeo!
Next, the Lutz’s daughter makes an invisible friend named “Jodie” who has a demonic body and a pig’s face and glowing red eyes! And on New Year’s morning there were pig prints in the snow! And they found a room not in the original plans painted red! And then Daddy Lutz saw the devil in the fireplace with half of its head blown off! And Mama Lutz saw green slime dripping down the walls! And the family called the local priest to come and bless the house, but a strange demonic voice said “Get out!” and he ran screaming from the home never to return again! And one night it rained really hard and as they fled the house, black slime poured out of the floorboards that cracked below their feet and windows started smashing, blowing the panes right off of the frame of the house! And then… and then… and then…
THE FLIES!!! GAH!!! INSECTS EVERYWHERE!!!!! HOW BIBLICAL!!!!!! IT’S AN ALLUSION PEOPLE!!!! GAH!!!!!!!!!!!! AND A CHEAP ONE AT THAT!!!!!!
Seriously, Ghostbusters is a better depiction of “A True Story” than The Amityville Horror — and its countless spawn — ever proved itself to be.
The initial success of both the film and the novel was astounding, and brought with it a kind of scrutiny by the media and investigators that dwarfs anything since. The Lutz’s children were interviewed and each appeared to be paranormally-preoccupied “balloon boys” doing it “for the show.” The priest who “visited” the home claimed he only spoke to the Lutzes once and it was on the phone — he did swing by the house for an unrelated reason and experienced nothing supernatural. And subsequent owners of the property have gone on record that there is no damage from any events depicted in the novel — broken windows and panes from the narrative are the originals from the initial construction of the house. And, because the book is chaptered as the dates of the events, the local weather services claimed that the weather conditions as depicted in the novel do not match with the actual climate conditions on record.
Jay Anson, the author of the novel, would state later that the premise of the novel was formulated with the Lutzes during a night of imbibing many bottles of wine. (Anson should have apologized for the overuse of the exclamation mark, as well!!!!!!) And the Lutzes went on to suggest that the story is “mostly true,” versus their original claim that it was completely factual.
Yet despite the controversy, the facts that have surfaced, the holes in the story and the author and “victims” of the events shifting the goalposts of “truthiness” that is The Amityville Horror, the public continues to be fascinated, regardless of the facts. This Hole-y Narrative has ushered in numerous sequels and remakes, television documentaries that dismiss the Lutze’s claims and others supporting them and enough investigative novels to keep the money pouring in for nearly thirty years.
Thanks to this success, the so-called hauntings of Amityville have become arguably America’s most infamous paranormal event — despite strong evidence that it could be a total fabrication.
Hollywood learned in the infancy of modern supernatural depiction that the truth has little to do with profit, and that flamboyant, hyperbolic storytelling trumps truthful depictions of the paranormal. And other cinematic depictions of supposed “real events” such as A Haunting in Connecticut have likewise proven themselves to be box office gold. Rinse and repeat.
But Hollywood’s formulaic depictions of hauntings and the bank trips following such releases has left a rift in the actual paranormal investigative community: those who see an event like Amityville with dollar signs in their eyes and those who view it as a case gone horribly wrong and commodified rather than deconstructed. Either way, both view it as the quintessential “what to do” and the “what not to do” — but it’s what we do with it that matters.