Just How Haunted Is The Amityville House? Reel To Real

The movie's upside-down crucifixes and levitating moms are called into question.

A wise man once boldly proclaimed, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” Who are we to argue with such steadfast resolve (especially when it’s backed by a relentlessly catchy synth-funk beat)? I mean, haunted houses don’t kill people, people kill people … right? Well, it’s no “Ghostbusters” (especially in the soundtrack department), but this weekend’s box-office champ, “The Amityville Horror,” has us rethinking things a bit.

The Reel Story: Opening with a bang — literally — as a man rampages through a home in Long Island, New York, shooting everyone in sight, this updated “Amityville” doesn’t waste any time getting to the gore. The film also doesn’t waste time reminding us that it’s based on a true story, specifically the story of Ronnie DeFeo Jr. — who killed his entire family, including his younger brothers and sisters, while they slept — and the unsuspecting Lutz family, who purchased the home about a year later.

When the Lutzes move into their dream home, they find all is not what they had hoped it would be. After an idyllic honeymoon period, George starts getting really cranky. Seems the house is possessed and has its sights set on him. He spends a lot of time hanging out in the basement, yelling at the kids and chopping wood with a very big axe. He’s plagued by hallucinations, headaches, spells of vomiting and out-of-body pep talks in which his darker side tells him to kill his family. Pretty scary stuff, and if the movie is to be believed, pretty much exactly what Ronnie DeFeo Jr. went through before snapping and killing his family.

So, how “true” is this “true story”?

The Real Story: Depends who you ask …

Ronnie DeFeo Jr., prisoner number 75A4053, is currently serving a life sentence at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York. Just 23 at the time of the 1974 murder spree, DeFeo was known locally as a troubled young man who dabbled in drugs. At the time of the trial, he disavowed an insanity defense and confessed to the killings. He and his wife run a Web site, TheNightExposed.net, where they tell what they claim is the true story of that night. While he initially made claims that voices in the house made him do it, he has since refuted that claim and now blames an abusive home and drug use for his actions.

A year after the real murders, recent newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz and her three children did actually move into The House, a Dutch Colonial on the water in Amityville, Long Island. After just 28 days they moved out, leaving the majority of their belongings, claiming the house was haunted. Among other things, they asserted that windows locked and doors opened and shut of their own accord, the family crucifix flipped upside down, and Kathy was seen levitating. George Lutz’s claims of paranormal horrors inspired the 1978 bestseller “The Amityville Horror” by Jay Anson. This in turn inspired the original film starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder.

The veracity of the claims in the book and films is still being debated today. Many paranormal investigators have dispatched the story as one of the biggest hoaxes of all time, fueled in no small part by lawyer William Weber, who said in 1979 that he aided in the hoax, cooked up by Lutz to help bail him out of his mortgage. The Parapsychology Institute of America, led at the time by Dr. Stephen Kaplan, also found multiple holes in the Lutzes’ story.

The locals aren’t buying it either. Councilwoman Ellen McVeety, who has lived in the neighborhood for 37 years, told New York Newsday, “This was a tragic event. … People are making money off of this, and other people are spending money to go see this movie, and it’s all fabricated.” The current residents of the house claim they’ve never experienced anything out of the ordinary.

Despite the naysayers, George Lutz (now divorced from Kathy) has stuck to his story over the years and maintains a Web site dedicated to his experiences at AmityvilleHorror.com.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Amityville Horror.”

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