The Amityville Legacy

Despite being debunked left and right, it remains the most famous haunted house in America!

When it comes to haunted houses, particularly those based on “true” stories, there are none more famous than that house on Ocean Ave in Amityville, NY.  Even now, 40 years after the original film has come out, this house still fascinates many horror fans, and has even been the subject of a whopping 23 films!  However, we’re not here to discuss whether the house is truly haunted or not.  That’s already been debated for decades.  Rather, we’re going to take a look at why the original film (as well as the house itself) have remained so iconic 40 years later.

Yes, that’s Thanos’ dad, James Brolin and the original Lois Lane, Margot Kidder as George and Kathy Lutz in the original film!

It Came Out At the Perfect Time
In the summer of 1979, the horror genre was in a period of transition.  Halloween had just kicked off the slasher craze a year earlier, and brutally violent independent films had gained infamy, with the likes of Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and many more.  But one thing that had been missing from the genre for over a decade was the creepy haunted house story.

With classics like The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill, the haunted house subgenre was much more prevalent in the late 50’s/early 60’s.  So when Amityville was first released, it served as a refreshing callback to a vintage style of horror film.  A great deal of 70’s horror was ruthless and quite visceral, so audiences enjoyed something that was subtle and creepy.  Sure, it didn’t manage to kick off any new trends (the slasher definitely dominated the next ten years), but given all its sequels, it certainly had a lasting effect.

Today, 80’s and 90’s nostalgia is at an all time high. So it’s no surprise that in 1979, a nostalgic callback to haunted house films of the early 60’s was very welcome.

It’s a Real House
Unlike many other horror films, which are complete works of fiction, The Amityville Horror was based around a real house in Long Island.  However, if you visit, you’ll find a fence and a sign that states “Private Property – No Trespassing” (which I may or may not know from experience).  The house is currently owned, so it’s probably not a good idea for tourists to show up, but this doesn’t stop them.

My visit to the infamous house back in 2013. Yes, I realize the hypocritical irony given that I also advised against doing this.

Whether or not you believe the house is truly haunted, the DeFeo murders really did happen there.  And when it comes to true crime, society has always seemed to have a morbid curiosity towards it.  Knowing that something awful really happened there gives the story a great deal of intrigue.  Whether or not it’s disrespectful towards the victims is another matter entirely, but there’s no denying that there will always be interest in places where terrible crimes were committed.

Sense of Mystery
Then of course, there’s been the raging debate regarding the validity of the Lutz’s story.  There’s certainly strong evidence to suggest that it was all a hoax, but at the same time, there are a few unanswered questions.  For instance, assuming that there was nothing supernatural at work, no one knows why the DeFeo family remained in their beds after Ronald Jr. was firing off shotgun blasts.  He moved over different rooms and floors, shooting so loudly that the neighbors heard.  Yet all the victims were found in their beds, and hadn’t been moved or drugged.  It’s the one aspect of the story that even skeptics don’t have a “rational” answer for.

Ronald DeFeo Jr. is still alive, serving 6 life sentences in a maximum security prison in New York. Over the years, his story of the events has changed quite a bit.

Perhaps we’ll never truly know exactly what happened in that house with the Lutz family.  But we do know that it produced a brilliant horror film, that’s just as creepy all these years later.  Its 2005 remake is even pretty decent, starring a pre-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds.  Other than these two films in the franchise, the rest are mostly boring and forgettable.  But there has to be reason they keep getting made!

The Amityville case was part of what made Ed and Lorraine world famous, and it’s even featured in the opening scene of The Conjuring 2.

 

 

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