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Insightful, but questionable (Spolier Alerts!)
on May 5, 2013
**My Amityville Horror** is hard to assess. Danny Lutz wants to tell his version of the haunting and life with George Lutz, but he was 9 or 10 years old at the time. He also has a lot of pent up anger, resentment, and some post-traumatic stress going on. He really hates George Lutz and spares no vitriol in communicating it. There is a lot of stuff in the film that makes me wonder how many of Danny's memories are some kind of mash up of post-traumatic stress due to abuse and neglect, deep-seeded guilt over being unable to protect his siblings from the abuse, the stories and theories he's heard about the house and George's possible role in attracting the haunting, and any real memories he might have of what happened in the house.
Some of Danny's claims seem too detailed and fantastic. Danny indicates that the first time he went to George Lutz's house when George and Kathy were just dating, he made note of George's collection of books about New Age religions and the occult and he confronted his mother about it, demanding to know what kind of guy she was getting involved with. He says he saw books on magic, transcendental meditation, ghosts, and the devil. What 8 or 9 year old inventories books in his mind, criticizes mom's boyfriend for what he reads, or knows enough about the topics the books represent and the connections between them to make that kind of judgement? He also makes various claims about what happened to him between the ages of 13 and 15 that don't seem very consistent-- he left home with his mother's blessing and lived off the land in the desert at 13, he ran away multiple times over those years and finally left home for good at 15, he left at 15 and went to Utah and worked at a gas station, he was dumped in a monastery at 13 while his parents went on a worldwide movie/book tour and was subjected to multiple exorcisms. I question testimony that provides too many stories for such a short time period. These inconsistencies also contradict what a therapist says about how truthful and believable Danny's stories are because of the consistency of detail and his emotional response to telling them. I don't see consistency in Danny's simple life history details, so how can I be sure that anything he says about the house is true?
Danny also seems to have a lot of pent up resentment, anger, and aggression towards George Lutz who, apparently, was an abusive, controlling, and violent parent. Danny claims that he tried to kill George about 50 times, yet he only lived with George for about 4 to 6 years, during which time he was between the ages of 9 and 15. How real could any of Danny's attempts on George's life have been if he was barely into puberty and George was a burly ex-Marine? Danny claims he tried to do everything he could to get George out of their lives when he was 9 years old and it was a reaction to George's stipulation that marrying Kathy required adopting the kids, thereby giving the kids his last name and taking away their birth name. What 9 year old really cares about the symbolic meaning involved with adoption and name changes? Danny also notes many times that George had no "parent skills" and relied on his experiences as an ex-Marine to discipline the kids, leading to many incidents (before, during, and after Amityville) in which all the Lutz kids were chased around the house and beaten with wooden spoons by both George and Kathy-- at the same time. Interestingly, Danny also confesses that he refused to call George "dad" because "he wasn't his father." While the abuse may have been real, were the attempts on George's life real or wishful thinking in the mind of an abused step-child who resented his step-father's very presence and felt abandoned by his real father who let George claim him as his own? Are Danny's assertions about trying to drive George away something he wishes he could have done at the time, so he's claiming to have tried doing it about 40 years later?
Danny seems sincere and like he truly believes what he is saying. He seems to truly believe seeing Jodie in his sister's window, though, again, the details are too much if it was a dark night, as he claims in the story. He also truly believes seeing George examine the rocking chair, killing hundreds of flies in the sewing room, being thrown up the stairs by an invisible force, having his bed levitate, smelling sewer stenches, seeing toilet slime and puddles of slime in the house, and his hands being smashed in the window. He seems to truly resent George and sincerely believe that George's involvement in the occult brought on the haunting. He seems to genuinely believe he was stalked for years by whatever followed his family to California. Unfortunately, Danny reacts very negatively when asked if he would consider a polygraph test and this is further compounded by the fact that psychologists (or therapists?) in the film readily admit that people can convince themselves that something is real and true when it isn't, that they can take snippets of memories and combine them with things they have seen and heard about those incidents to create a full story that may not reflect the truth at all.
The snippets of psychological testimony in **My Amityville Horror** also combine with other facts to cast even more doubt on Danny's recollections. During their lives, in multiple interviews, both George and Kathy (together and separately) said that the extent of the Amityville haunting was nowhere near as serious as what was portrayed in the 1979 James Brolin and Margo Kidder film or the supposedly true Jay Anson novel. They both said that the book and movie exaggerated the tensions in the house and augmented the physical manifestations of the haunting to make the story more dramatic and better for film. Yet, Danny's stories in this documentary make it seem like the events and happenings depicted in the movies and books were only the tip of the iceberg, that all of that plus much worse things happened. As such, how might Danny's memories have been influenced by seeing the films, reading the books, and hearing stories about his step-father's occult interests long after the fact? When you combine all of that with PTSD from abuse and teen homelessness and an opportunity to tarnish the already questionable legacy of his deceased abuser (George died in 2006) by placing the blame for the haunting and general familial dysfunction (before and after Amityville) on George, Danny's story has to be seen as an exercise in vengeance and nothing more.
Does Danny believe the things he's saying? Certainly. Of course he does. Unless he is a very good actor, Danny cannot be as angry, resentful, and emotional without a deep belief in what he says. But Danny's belief in the truthfulness of his story alone does not mean that supernatural things in the Amityville house happened the way he says they did or with the terrifying intensity he says they did. As somebody who has read most of the books about Amityville (fiction and non-fiction), I want to believe the Amityville Horror happened. I want to believe Danny's version of events. I'm just not sure this movie gave me anything to assuage the few lingering doubts I have about the story.