Inspiration for Our Nightmares: The Amityville Horror

It is easily the most famous haunted house in cinema. The Amityville house has inspired multiple films across multiple decades, instilling fear into people from many different generations. Most people know that it claims to be based on a true story. How accurate is the story they tell? Is any of it true?


1974: The Story Begins

November 13, 1974, police respond to a call at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island, NY. What they found was grisly. The scene of multiple homicides, an entire family shot dead in their beds. Only one member was left, Ronald Defeo Jr. At first, no one suspected the murderer to be Ronald Defeo Jr. He tried to blame the murders on a mafia hit man. But, when the police began to look a little closer at the scene of the crime, a new story emerged.

Upon searching the house a little more closely, evidence of what really happened began to emerge, and Defeo’s story started to crumble.

Early in the morning of November 13, Defeo took a .35-Caliber hunting rifle  and systematically killed his entire family while they slept. Starting with his parents, he then moved from room to room, shooting his brothers and ending with shooting his sisters, all while they slept. It was vicious and brutal. After his story completely crumbled, he told police, “once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.”

The Defeos were a loving family, and no matter how badly Ronald Defeo Jr. messed up, they were there to support him. So, what drove him to murder his entire family?

During Defeo’s trial, his defense attorney was angling for the insanity plea. Defeo told the jury that he heard voices in the house telling him to kill his family. His testimony, plus the fact that every member of the family was found shot in the back as they lay face down on their beds, apparently undisturbed or in a state of panic, lent to the idea that there was something more sinister to it all. In 1982 Amityville II was released that acted as a prequel to the Amityville saga. It was a fictional recounting of the events. In the movie the eldest son was possessed by a demonic force that led him to murder.

Turns out, that Defeo was a troubled youth. In 2002, Ronald Defeo, in an interview with Primetime Live, recanted his story. He told interviewers that his parents were abusive and that he committed the murders while drunk and high on heroin.


1974: Enter the Lutz Family

In December of 1974, after the then, not so iconic at the time house, had been empty for thirteen months, the Lutz family moved in. According to the Lutz’s they had a priest come and bless the house. Almost immediately upon arrival, the family started to experience the supernatural.

The book, The Amityville Horror, which the  movie is based upon, many bizarre and scary things happened in the twenty-eight days that the family resided in the house. George Lutz would wake up each morning at 3:15am and check on the boathouse. 3:15am being the estimated times that the Defeo murders took place. Other claims ranged from slamming doors to the house being swarmed by flies. According to the book, cold spots and odors ranging from perfume to excrement manifested in rooms that had no draft or piping that could easily explain the phenomenon away.

Kathy Lutz would feel a sensation of being embraced by an unseen force. Cloven hoofprints were said to be found in the snow outside of the house and one incident claims that a crucifix hung on the wall rotated until it was hanging upside down. In the basement, behind shelves, George found a small room, that was not on the house blueprints, that was painted red and that their dog would not go near. As the family slept at night Kathy would have nightmares about the murders that had once taken place in the house, she would wake up with welts on her chest. The children even began to sleep on their stomachs, much in the same way that the Defeos were found. Other incidences such as green gel running from the walls, seeing red eyes through the upstairs window, damaged locks and doors and even the youngest daughter talking to a new imaginary friend named Jodie, were said to occur, along with claims of seeing images of a demon in the fireplace, disembodied voices, and George himself acting much the same way that Ronald Defeo Jr. was known to act.

On January 14, 1976, the Lutz family left the home for good.

It’s hard to say if any of the events actually happened. Paranormal claims are unverifiable almost by the very definition of paranormal because to verify it would take it from paranormal to just normal. Many times, the whole event has been called a hoax. The Lutz family have even been accused of doing it just to make money. All that is known, is that there have been no claims of the supernatural since the Lutz family vacated the premises.

Whether or not the claims are true, the books and movies based on the events have made for entertaining and sometimes frightening entertainment. It has given the haunted house genre the foundation in which to build off of.

The story of the Lutz family  has been chronicled in book form with The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson and two films of the same name, one in 1979, directed by Stuart Rosenberg and again in 2005, directed by Andrew Douglas.

I encourage all of you to pick up the book and watch the movies, especially the 1979 film.


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