Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Eric Walter
Writer: Eric Walter
Producer: Andrea Adams, John R. Blythe, Eric Walter
Stars: Daniel Lutz, Laura DiDio, Lorraine Warren, Susan Bartell
Daniel Lutz recounts his experience living through “The Amityville Horror” and its effect on his life in the years since.
Recommending “My Amityville Horror” as a well-made and appealing documentary regarding the infamous Long Island haunting is an easy thing to do. Whether or not “My Amityville Horror” can be considered a “successful” documentary is a question with a less definitive answer. This is because anyone going into the film who is already entrenched in either camp of skeptic or believer will emerge from the 90-minute movie without having budged an inch towards the other side.
An enthusiast convinced that what took place at 112 Ocean Avenue indicates legitimate paranormal activity can look to the documentary and say, “see? This guy was in the middle of the true story and he confirms that it really happened.” While a scoffer can point to the exact same footage and reason, “see? This guy was in the middle of the true story and he confirms that he is just another crackpot.”
“My Amityville Horror” is a look behind the life of Daniel Lutz, who was the eldest of the three Lutz stepchildren to live through “The Amityville Horror” when he was just ten years of age. Now in his late forties, Daniel is a divorced father of two and is hesitant to relive the trauma of his childhood. The documentary is not a behind-the-fiction expose on the details of the case itself, but rather it is the portrait of a man whose unshakable association with the notorious haunted house continues to exact a toll on his present.
Director Eric Walter has stated that regarding the matter of horror versus hoax, he believes that the truth about Amityville lies somewhere in between. The point of view in his documentary echoes that belief. Daniel is a powder keg of a personality, like a dormant volcano made from equal parts burning rage and soul crushing sadness. What he chooses to reveal is very much on his own terms. And it is evident that anyone interviewing the man would be wise to not light his fuse by asking too controversial of a question. Walter is well aware of this fact. He simply allows Daniel to say his thing and leaves it at that.
All of the familiar Amityville hallmarks are mentioned. The flies. The black toilets. The pig with the burning eyes. Daniel claims he witnessed it all firsthand and that there is no doubt in his mind about what took place. If it had been an imaginary story at any time, Daniel certainly believes it to be true now. Though he is painted as such a fractured mind that there is no telling if what he remembers is what really happened. Had an impressionable child truly experienced levitating beds and poltergeists, that incredible memory would presumably remain vivid in the mind until his date of death. Then again, believing someone who recalls anything that happened at the age of ten when it is over 35 years after the fact requires a great leap of faith.
Interpreting truth from lie from exaggeration is largely left to the viewer for most of the film. Until around the two-thirds mark, when Daniel drops a bombshell about his stepfather that makes his own believability plummet through the floor. As investigative reporter Laura DiDio listens to this outrageous claim, she breaks eye contact with Daniel for the first time and wears a look on her face revealing newfound doubt.
Similarly, famed demonologist Lorraine Warren does little to assuage concerns about her reputation in a tour of her home that looks like a special black magic edition of “Hoarders.” While her pet roosters squawk from the kitchen, Lorraine produces a relic she claims to be an authentic wood splinter from the cross of Christ. History does not agree if Jesus truly existed, so the provenance of this particular item is already eligible for debate. But Daniel reverently kisses it without a question as tears well in his eyes.
The rest of the blanks are filled in by various journalists and academics that detail the haunting and discuss how true the story may actually be. Their observations are insightful, though no one goes on the record about fact versus fiction with any real conviction. Some ancillary personalities are dead weight, such as psychologist Susan Bartell. Wearing a Marcia Clark perm circa the O.J. Simpson trial, Bartell’s idea of therapy is to interrupt Daniel’s every sentence by saying “okay” or “right.”
George Lutz’s version of events suffered from credibility issues because there were nagging questions about his motivation. With Daniel, his motivation is much muddier. And after seeing “My Amityville Horror,” it is unlikely that any viewer will be any closer towards knowing what to believe. It may be that as a treatise on the “true story,” this film accomplishes little. But as the story of an emotionally damaged boy in the psyche of a grown man, “My Amityville Horror” has much to offer.
Review Score: 80