Even without having to see the movies or read the book, there’s no denying that The Amityville Horror is one of the most well known haunted house stories out there. From murders having taken place there to the strange visions experienced by the Lutz family, the word “Amityville” is frequently associated with the supernatural. With the book and film being based on “real” events and experiences of the Lutz family, it makes you wonder what actually took place there. Filmmaker Eric Walter wanted to get to the bottom of some of the events that took place there and his documentary, My Amityville Horror, focuses on interviews with Danny Lutz, who saw and experienced all of these events in the house when he was 10 years old. Could Danny have interpreted things differently as a 10 year old than what he was actually seeing? Have the decades of his experiences being interpreted in pop culture affected his memories? Were his parents just trying to cash in on the events that took place there? Or is everything Danny is telling us 100% accurate, as hard as it is to believe? My Amityville Horror dissects how traumatic events can impact anyone and how that affects their lives over the years, while also trying to present as many facts about the events experienced by the Lutz family. This interview with director Eric Walter was conducted via email.
WolfMan: What initially drew you to investigate the truth of the events of what was seen in The Amityville Horror?
Eric Walter: After reading Jay Anson’s novel “The Amityville Horror” at a very young age, I developed an almost obsessive interest with this story. Reviewing the years of heated debates surrounding both the DeFeo murders and the Lutz haunting, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the personalities that surround it and their apparent desire to defend their part of the story. This controversy would have never continued if the original participants weren’t still so entangled within it.
I began collecting and scrutinizing all of the available interviews and documentation on the case and interviewing some of the original participants myself.
In January of 2007, I launched AmityvilleFiles.com, an enormous online archive of Amityville-related research. I wanted to create an unbiased presentation of the known facts surrounding the case – somewhere people who are interested in these events could go and read through the original newspaper articles, view media and essentially draw their own conclusions on what they believe went down in that house.
WM: The film has a more cinematic look to it than most other documentaries. Could you talk a little bit about the stylistic choice? Were you at all concerned that the film’s look could be misinterpreted as a dramatization of individuals as opposed to a documentary?
EW: I’ve always been attracted to documentaries that employ cinematic techniques. With all the subsequent narrative films floating within the Amityville genre, I felt it was important to keep the film rooted within that world to a slight degree, taking a on moody cinematic style and weaving it within the fabric of a documentary. I’m very interested in the blend of both documentary and narrative and plan to explore this style again in the future. I don’t believe that the film’s cinematic approach detracts from the reality of what was on screen – it only in many ways enhances the experience for audiences. Raising the bar stylistically.
WM: Danny comes across as an intense and intimidating figure in the film, and is sometimes even hostile towards the film crew. Was this his demeanor throughout filming or were there times that didn’t seem so tense?
EW: The Danny you see in the film is the same man off-camera. He’s a very intense and often angry personality when discussing Amityville. At other times, he could be quite relaxed and open with the film crew, so it really depended on what we were discussing at any given time. There’s such intensity with him about the Amityville topic that I was constantly aware of how far to push him on certain questions. I never shied away from asking hard questions, but it was process of being conscious of when to ask certain things. Looking back, I’m amazed I was able to capture as much as did within the film.
WM: A few different moments in the film, Danny says how he just wants to move on and leave things behind, while we also see him sitting down with a psychologist to deal with his emotions, causing hostility from Danny. How did you find the balance of trying to help Danny without subjecting him to things he wasn’t interested in doing, while also trying to make a compelling film?
EW: Danny’s willingness to speak publicly was almost therapy for him — a way of unburdening himself of these stories that have lived inside his head for over 35 years. He says his greatest regret was not being able to tell his story as a child, so it never felt as though he was put in a compromising position during the production. He was inherently uncomfortable about speaking about his past, but it was something he was choosing to do. This was his way of moving on.
Because the film is centered around different reunions between himself and other witnesses, Danny instilled enough trust in me with choosing who to conduct the interviews with him. I had gone through about a two year process of befriending him prior to ever rolling cameras, so there was a trust factor already in place. He wasn’t ever afraid to speak to any given person. One of my jobs was to ensure that these interviewers weren’t jeopardizing my ability to continue shooting with him. I was constantly aware of which interviewers to subject him to in order to maximize the amount of material we were able to capture on screen. In many ways, there’s still a ten-year-old child within him traumatized by these events, so you I had to be very aware and respectful of that. I hope this film provides Danny the foundation to move forward in his life and away from the events in Amityville.
Daniel, George, and Kathy Lutz
WM: After all the evidence has been presented in the film, we get all sorts of different theories, ranging from Danny’s stepfather being involved in the occult and able to move objects with his mind to some sort of group hallucination and everything in between. What’s your conclusion on what events took place?
I believe the Lutz family was legitimately frightened of something. And I think that Danny truly believes the house was haunted to this day. For him, the trauma of that time was all too real. I certainly don’t believe everything George and Kathy Lutz claimed was true, however I wouldn’t attribute all of that to fabrication. I don’t believe a family leaves all of their worldly possessions behind and flees clear across the country unless there was something they were afraid of. However, there is no way to prove concretely their accounts were based on truth.
I have a hard time accepting the telekinesis scenario. I feel so many of Danny’s statements about George Lutz are colored by his hatred of him. It almost feels as if he needs someone to blame. The idea that George represents a trigger for Danny, both literally and figuratively in regards to the haunting, was a unique perspective and something that I felt set his account far apart from anything heard previously.
Unfortunately, these events have now snow balled into something that they never actually represented from the outset, so in many ways the truth has been lost within so much misinformation about the story, much of which I believe Danny’s adolescent mind now remembers as real events as they film suggests – that idea of being “soaked in suggestion”. For me, the film represents the blurry line between reality and imagination. This film offers a window into the mind of a man who has been damaged and literally haunted by this story his entire life.
My Amityville Horror is currently available in select theaters, VOD, and through SundanceNOW.
Very interesting, especially given that the DeFeo’s lawyer claimed the entire thing was a hoax that he helped the Lutzes orchestrate. I’m going to have to watch this. Great interview!