It has taken something like nine or ten films with the word 'Amityville' in its title before we finally have something that is actually worth watching. Figures it should be a documentary approach to the alleged events that occurred in 112 Ocean Avenue in upstate New York, instead of a series of films whose events became increasingly overblown with each successive entry. Real life is always more terrifying than fiction, after all. (If you're somehow unaware of Amityville, catch up before reading on.)
My Amityville Horror is Daniel Lutz's story. The eldest child of Kathy Lutz (deceased) and step-son to George Lutz (also deceased), Daniel is still clearly haunted by the events that plagued his family for the 28 days in which they lived in the infamous house. And the scars are still certainly with him. Daniel bares his soul in more ways than one. He answers - open and honestly - every question lobbed at him, regardless of how ridiculous and unbelievable he knows his answers are going to sound. Not only that, but he allows cameras in on a session in which he discusses his childhood and the events of the house with his psychologist. At no point does he say "I won't talk about that;" likewise, he even snarls at the camera and says "I can't believe you're making me talk about this shit," before he goes on to answer whatever question it was that provoked such a response. It is an extremely intimate and unyielding look at the son of a horror.
Regardless of where your beliefs lie in terms of the Amityville house, My Amityville Horror proves to be incredibly interesting. Even if it were a work of utter fiction, Daniel is a compelling lead character. In a completely emotionally removed sort of way, there's a bastardized feeling of nostalgia one feels when hearing the eldest child reiterate some of the same stories the Lutz couple told all those years ago - in Jay Anson's book, and in all the subsequent newspaper articles and television specials that would follow. If you've followed the Amityville case in any capacity, you're aware of the fly-infested sewing room, the red-eyed pig demon, and the phantom marching band. But hearing all of these instances retold by a man who claims to have lived it as a child, and delivered in a no-holds-barred way, forces the viewer to reevaluate how he or she may feel about the claims.
As to the legitimacy of the ghostly and demonic events themselves, I can't speculate, because I wasn't there. Neither were you. People being picked up and thrown across the room, or people becoming possessed by outside evil forces...instances like these are pretty unlikely, but not altogether impossible. Hence, that's the reason why I call Daniel Lutz a compelling lead. On the level or not, perhaps even deluded or not, Daniel's words carry weight. He does not present this information like an actor reading lines from a script. His anger, frustration, and tears make his stories of possession and telekinesis a little easier to swallow. But it is because of this anger that can sometimes make My Amityville Horror difficult to sit through. Daniel is oftentimes impatient with his interviewer. To watch his outbursts can be extremely uncomfortable, even while viewing the film with a thousand-mile buffer zone; I can only imagine the tension present between director Eric Walter and his subject during some of these moments. But because Daniel Lutz is a "real guy" and the documentary is exploring "real events," it would seem disposable to mention that at times Daniel's demeanor can make him unsympathetic. And that's kind of dangerous, considering he deserves your sympathy. This, however, is a slippery slope, because this is being presented as a true and unHollywood approach to telling the story of what "really" happened. As such, it's not like saying A-List Star's character in Such-a-Such movie comes across as unlikable, since that would have been an artistic choice. Daniel is who Daniel is. So while it may be unfair to claim he sometimes comes across as unsympathetic, it cannot go on unmentioned; plus, it does make him a more dynamic "character." (He's also really fond of offering Jim-from-The-Office-like amused glances directly into the camera.)
Those who previously delved into the so-called non-fiction aspects of the Amityville case won't find a whole lot of new information. As previously mentioned, you will hear a lot of the same old stories and become reacquainted with some old faces (I was anticipating seeing an appearance by Lorraine Warren and was not disappointed). But My Amityville Horror isn't about that - it's not about the hell the Lutz family went through then; it's about the hell Daniel is going through now, including a loss of identity and the feeling of being consistently disregarded and written off as the son continuing the farce began by his parents all those years ago.
Smartly, the doc takes an objective approach and allows the possibility that Daniel is simply fabricating his story - and these theories range from him being a pathological liar to having married his unhappy childhood with the claims his parents were weaving and, after a while, having no choice but to believe them.
The take-away theme of My Amityville Horror is two-fold: One - Daniel wanted to finally tell his own version of the story, because he feels he never got that chance; and two - he wants people to believe him. One of those was most certainly satisfied. Daniel's version of the story cuts through all of the baggage and reputation of the house and reveals what such events can do to a person. Not to speak ill of the dead, but in all of the vintage interviews featuring George and Kathy Lutz, even when they talked about leaving behind all their possessions and taking a huge financial hit in abandoning the house and living through the hell that they did, they never appeared broken. Granted, they never seemed ecstatic, but they did seem...okay.
Daniel Lutz does not. Whether the events at 112 Ocean Avenue happened or were a byproduct of an incredibly unhappy family situation, Daniel seems broken. Even when he seems to be okay, or even when someone asks him on camera how he is doing and he answers "fine," you know that's just simply not true. In fact, it may very well be the only purposeful lie Daniel tells in all of My Amityville Horror.
On DVD and VOD August 6.
On DVD and VOD August 6.