Exploring: Amityville

First, the historical facts, because this story won’t have many of them.

On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family at 112 Ocean Avenue, a large Dutch Colonial house situated in a suburban neighborhood in Amityville, on the south shore of Long Island, New York. He was convicted of second-degree murder in November 1975.

Although the prosecution allowed that DeFeo was a user of heroin and LSD, he had an antisocial personality disorder and was well aware of his actions at the time of the crime. However, DeFeo claiming that he killed his family in self-defense because he “heard their voices plotting against him.”

Strangely enough, all of the victims were found face down in their beds with no signs of a struggle and the rifle used had no sound suppressor.

The actual house and Ronald DeFeo Jr.

The police investigation concluded that the rifle had not been fitted with a sound suppressor and found no evidence of sedatives having been administered to the bodies. Police officers and the medical examiner who attended the scene were puzzled by the speed and scale of the killings before coming to the conclusion that more than one person had to have done the killings. Stranger still, neighbors didn’t hear or report any gunshots and were only awakened by the sound of the family’s dog Shaggy barking.

DeFeo has changed his story numerous times over the years, even claiming that his sister Dawn and an unknown assailant committed some of the murders. He has also stated Dawn killed their father and then their distraught mother killed all of his siblings before he killed her. Why would he say this? Well, at the time, he took the blame because he was afraid to say anything negative about his mother to her father or his uncle, Pete DeFeo, a capo in the Genovese crime family. His stories are so malleable that even the dates that he was married to his alibi, ex-wife, Geraldine Gates, change.

Regardless of the uncertainty of DeFeo’s guilt, the next part of the truth is that in December 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the house. After 28 days, the Lutzes left.

That’s where things get weird.

Here’s the real thing.

Jay Anson had written several documentaries before his book The Amityville Horror, which tells the “true” story of what happened next.

The house at 112 Ocean Avenue remained empty for 13 months after the DeFeo murders before the DeFeo family purchased it at the bargain price of $80,000 — a steal when you consider it was a five-bedroom home and had a swimming pool, boathouse and a distinctive gambrel roof — plus $400 for the furniture left behind.

George and Kathy Lutz both owned their own homes but wanted to start fresh with their family, which included Daniel, Christopher and Melissa, as well as a dog named Harry. Here’s point one where the movie and reality diverge: during the first home inspection, their real estate broker informed them of the DeFeo murders and they decided that it was not a problem.

Father Ralph J. Pecoraro — referred to as Father Mancuso in the book — performed a blessing and heard a voice say, “Get out!” when he threw the first drops of Holy Water. He didn’t tell anyone.

However, on Christmas Eve — five days after the Lutz family moved in — the priest would call the family and warn them to stay out of the second-floor room where he had heard the mysterious voice. This call was cut short by bursts of static and the priest developed stigmata. The only time that Father Pecoraro ever spoke on the subject was on a 1980 episode of In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy, where his face was darkened to help him maintain his anonymity.

Before you know it, the spirits in the home made their presence felt. George began waking up at 3:15 AM every night — the time of the murders. Flies appeared in the middle of the winter. A small hidden “Red Room” that didn’t appear in any blueprints would randomly appear. Missy developed an imaginary friend named Jodie, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, except that it was a demonic pig with glowing red eyes. Crucifixes turned upside down, slime dripped down the walls and bloody handprints showed up everywhere.

On January 14, 1976 — after two other attempts at blessing the house, the Lutz left 112 Ocean Avenue, leaving all of their possessions behind. The spirits even followed them for some time, so they decided to what came naturally: make some money.

The book of their ordeal was written after Tam Mossman, an editor at publishing house Prentice Hall, introduced the Lutz family to Anson, who listened to around 45 hours of tape-recorded recollections from them.

The original book sold around 10 million copies, with multiple editions that subtly changed details, adding to the theory that this was all a bunch of malarky. It became a cottage industry, with books appearing such as John G. Jones’ The Amityville Horror Part II, Amityville: The Final Chapter, Amityville: The Evil Escapes and Amityville: The Horror Returns. Robin Karl also wrote Amityville: The Nightmare Continues and Hans Holzer contributed Murder in Amityville, The Amityville Curse and The Secret of Amityville. Those books were written with the contributions and blessing of DeFeo, who was recommended to work with Holzer by his attorneys.

Speaking of attorneys, at this point, lawsuits started showing up. In May of 1977, the Lutz family filed against William Weber (the defense lawyer for DeFeo who had recommended that he work with Holzer), Paul Hoffman (who was writing about the hauntings), clairvoyants Bernard Burton and Frederick Mars, plus Good Housekeeping magazine, the New York Sunday News and the Hearst Corporation, all of which had published articles about their former home.

The charge? Misappropriation of names for trade purposes, invasion of privacy and mental distress.

The ask? $4.5 million in damages.

The Lutz family got none of what they wanted, Brooklyn U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein ruling as thus: “Based on what I have heard, it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber.” You can learn more about the many, many lawsuits in this article that ran in the Washington Post

Even worse, Weber would soon tell People magazine “I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine.”

None of this kept the attention seekers — or Hollywood — away.

Those pesky Warrens.

So where do the Warrens come in? Well, on the night of March 6, 1976, the house was investigated by the self-described demonologists, along with a crew from Channel 5 New York and reporter Michael Linder of WNEW-FM. During the course of the investigation, a series of infrared time-lapse photographs showed a demonic boy with glowing eyes. That’s how The Conjuring 2 ends up on this list. And it’s just another way that the Warrens tried to stay in the media and remain relevant for decades.

Now, keep in mind, no one saw this photo until George and Kathy Lutz and Rod Steiger appeared on The Merv Griffin Show to promote the release of the first film. Yes, Hollywood had come calling.

1979 Margot Kidder > any other woman in the world circa 1979

Enter producer Samuel Z. Arkoff and American International Pictures. They purchased the rights to Anson’s novel and the writer did a first pass before Sandor Stern (who also wrote the script and directed the magnificently insane Canadian film Pin) finished the script. The film was originally intended to be a made-for-TV movie but ended up as being the most profitable independent movie since Halloween and AIP’s biggest success since The Born Losers. In fact, its grosses for an independent movie wouldn’t be eclipsed until 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The Amityville Horror (1979): Directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke), this movie ended up being the second-biggest movie of 1979. It’s not a great film — spoiler warning, not many of these movies are — but it set up the traditions that we’ve come to expect for the demonic haunted house film: blood drips down the walls, priests can’t do anything and a voice yells, “Get out!”

The studio tried to William Castle the media, taking them along with stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder to the actual 112 Ocean Avenue and getting out stories that scary things were happening on the set. Obviously, this tactic worked, because people couldn’t get enough of this movie.

Stephen King, in his book on horror Danse Macabre, stated the real reason why the movie was so effective: the true horror was that it understood that being a grown-up and having adult problems totally sucks. King would say, “The main reason that people went to it, I think, is that The Amityville Horror, beneath its ghost-story exterior, is really a financial demolition derby.” Owning a home is a money pit. And how much worse does it get if demons get involved?

With success like this, sequels weren’t far behind. Of course, the true number of sequels — and their lack of connection to the source material — would grow even more frightening than green muck seeping down the walls.

Amityville II: The Possession (1982): This is a movie that I can’t be subjective about. I absolutely adore this wonderful mess of scum. It was directed by Damiano Damiani and written by Tommy Lee Wallace, who once dressed like Michael Myers and would direct the only Halloween film that didn’t feature that character).

The movie wallows in bad taste, but it could have been even worse. After the original cut of the film was shown to test audiences, several scenes had to be cut, including one where Anthony (Burt Young!) anally rapes his wife Dolores (Rutanya Alda from Mommie Dearest!) and another where Sonny has incestuous sex with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin, the dreamiest). These scenes have never been shown since.

This is a film where priests care so little about their parishioners that they take the phone off the hook so that they can go skiing instead of worrying about the demonic forces within their homes. It’s also a sequel that’s really a prequel, which is how Hollywood used to roll back in 1982.

It was picked as one of Siskel and Ebert’s worst films of the year and consistently was given the dreaded O for Offensive by the Pittsburgh Catholic, a publication that ten-year-old Sam would use to determine what movies had to be seen.

I used to clip and save these as a reference for what movies I should be watching.

Amityville 3-D: The Demon (1983): That tagline, WARNING: In this movie you are the victim, is 100% true. Tony Roberts takes a break from being in Woody Allen films to play John Baxter, who is really supposed to be Amityville skeptic Stephen Kaplan (paranormal investigator, vampirologist, and founder/director of the Vampire Research Center and the Parapsychology Institute of America).

It was written by David Ambrose, whose TV movie Alternative 3 has formed the basis of oh-so-many conspiracy theories over the years, and directed by Richard Fleisher, whose career is a mix of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. To wit, for every Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, there are bombs like Che!The Jazz SingerDoctor Doolittle and Tora! Tora! Tora! He also made MandingoRed SonjaConan the Destroyer and Mr. Majestyk, so his career was pretty darn interesting. And as the son of Max Fleisher, he eventually became the chairman of Fleischer Studios, which owns Betty Boop and Koko the Clown.

So how does a 3D movie with demons — and women in peril like Candy Clark, Lori Laughlin and Meg Ryan — get so boring? You got me. Maybe because the 3D effects are nearly impossible to see and the entire film is murky and dark — and not in a good way.

Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989): I can’t tell you how many of the posters painted by Renato Casaro have gotten me to watch movies that I normally would avoid. He’s that good — just look at the poster above for this made-for-TV sequel!

If it helps, it’s directed by the writer of the original film Sandor Stern. And it’s the only Amityville sequel to be based on a book in the main book series. After this, all bets are — as they say — off.

But hey — Patty Duke, Jane Wyatt and some of the Lutz furniture makes it into this one. Foremost amongst that furniture is an evil lamp. An evil lamp? Yes. That evil Lutz bric-a-brac was sold in a yard sale, exactly like this movie. So the illumination you’re enjoying right now just might come from Satan. After all, he is the Lightbringer.

The Amityville Curse (1990): Loosely based on ans Holzer’s book The Amityville Curse — loosely enough that it used its title — this film might be set in Amityville, but uses a completely different house and background story.

Why — you’d think Canadian made-for-VHS movies were just churned out with no care or concern for quality or something!

This movie will teach you — home improvement is the province of the Lord of Lies.

Amityville: It’s About Time (1992): If you’re like me and celebrate like a lunatic when a movie’s title is spoken out loud by one of its characters, good news! It’s About Time has a moment right before the end where that totally happens.

Directed by Hellraiser II: Hellbound director Tony Randel, this movie features a haunted clock from the Amityville house that causes chaos. It also has an incredibly sweaty lovemaking scene with Baywatch star Shawn Weatherly, if you care about those kinds of things. In a nascent internet 1992 video rental world, there were many people who did, in fact, have such prurient interests.

For what it’s worth, Randel would follow this movie with Ticks, a film where Seth Green, Peter Scolari, Ami Dolenz (yes, from She’s Out of Control), Alfonzo Ribero, Richard Lynch’s brother Barry and Clint Howard and his father Rance battle lyme disease-carrying insects after Howard’s character uses steroids in an attempt to strengthen his marijuana crops. Scientific hijinks, as they say, ensue.

Amityville: A New Generation (1993): You may ask, “Can the man who made Santa With Muscles direct a great Amityville movie?” Well, he can sure try.

He’s helped along with plenty of talent, like Terry O’Quinn (the Stepfather!), Julia Nickson (who was Sly’s love interest in the second Rambo movie), Richard Roundtree and former Dr. Pepper singer and one-time American Werewolf In London David Naughton.

Are you ready for performance art in an Amityville movie? You better be.

Amityville Dollhouse (1996): If you find a dollhouse that looks exactly like 112 Ocean Avenue’s famous house in your new home — that you built yourself — perhaps you shouldn’t gift it to your new stepdaughter. With advice like that, I should write a self-help book (SPOILER WARNING: I totally am!).

With this film, the lights in the trademark windows of Amityville’s most infamous house would go dark for nearly nine years. But soon, they’d return. And they’d return, as they say, with a vengeance.

The Amityville Horror (2005): A director that had only done commercials and music videos. A script that had “all new evidence.” Ryan Reynolds with his shirt off. One of these things will get people in the theater, right?

Suddenly, the shocks of the original seemed commonplace after two decades of the same cliches created by the first film. That said — it made $108 million on a $19 million budget.

The Amityville Haunting (2011): In case you were wondering, “When is someone going to get around to making a found footage Amityville movie?” and pondered, “What if The Asylum made an Amityville movie?” this film checks both horrifying queries off your infernal bucket list. Damn you for asking questions like this.

My Amityville Horror (2012): For the first time in 35 years, Daniel Lutz finally told the world his version of what happened. If you think Lorraine Warren was going to stay away from being in this movie, you don’t know the Warrens.

The Amityville Asylum (2013): Andrew Jones, the man behind the Robert doll movies you may have seen on the bottom shelves at Walmart — maybe we’re the only ones haunting the big box physical media departments these days, but we have to stick together — made this film. It’s all about High Hopes Hospital, which is in Amityville. What’s next? The Amityville 7-11The Amityville Mall?

Amityville Death House (2015): Oh no — that name in the credits. Mark Polonia, the man who made Empire of the Apes, a film that makes Time of the Apes look like Planet of the Apes, finally made his way to Amityville.

If you’re trying to see every Eric Roberts movie — and really, who isn’t? — this would be another one to cross off your list. Did you know that he has more than 550 on-screen credits? Man, we can’t even do an Eric Roberts week to cover all his films. More like an Eric Roberts eon.

Here, he plays the Dark Lord. So there’s that.

The Amityville Playhouse (2015): Although this movie was filmed in Canada and the UK, it’s about Amityville and a small movie theater there that’s haunted. How Amityville is America’s most notorious town — and not Detroit, Compton or Youngstown, Ohio — is a point of conjecture the filmmakers never endeavor to answer.

Amityville: Vanishing Point (2016): If there is a nadir in the Amityville film series, this movie exists underneath it. Would it make you feel any better if I told you that Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman is in it? No, me neither.

The Conjuring 2 (2016): This film — the second to make  Ed and Lorraine Warren into parapsychology superheroes — starts with their investigation into 112 Ocean Avenue. During a seance, Lorraine meets one of the murdered DeFeo children before having a vision of the demonic nun Valak — spin-off alert! — and then watching as Ed is killed. It was all a dream, but that nun? She isn’t going anywhere.

You have to admire the chutzpah of the Conjuring films, where a major event like Amityville — which spawned enough sequels for me to write this way too long article — only qualifies as the start of a movie.

The Amityville Toybox (2016): Cursed clocks. Haunted lumber. An evil lamp. And now, a wind-up monkey. Oh Amityville movies — you’ve finally beat me.

Actually, this one — influenced by the made-for-video Canadian sequels — isn’t that bad. The filmmakers also have made Amityville: Evil Never Dies, which was released in 2020 as Amityville Clownhouse.

The Amityville Terror (2016): Shot in the same house as Amityville: The Evil Escapes, this sequel goes back to the very familiar well, which is filled with evil spirits who want to have sex with suburban dads and then use the, to kill their families.

There’s also a flashback to a baby getting thrown into an acid-filled bathtub, which led me to a new phrase: don’t throw the baby out with the bath acid.

Amityville: No Escape (2016): Never has a title been so apt for how I feel about the movie it describes. Director Henrique Couto may be known for Haunted House on Sorority Row and Depression: The Movie, but you put an Amityville name on a movie and boom — people like me seek it out. After all, the original name of this movie was The Fear Tapes. Get ready for the found footage of some college students who better want to learn what fear is all about.

Amityville Exorcism (2017): If you thought Mark Polonia was going to stay out of Amityville, well — you thought wrong. Or incorrectly, if we want to use proper English.

There’s a scene in this movie where a demon tries to possess a girl while she swims laps in a backyard swimming pool as her drunk dad makes weiners on the grill. If this sounds like horror to you, jump right in.

Amityvllle Prison (2017): Originally known as Against the Night, this is yet another movie that had a better chance of selling if it came off as an Amityville sequel. What’s that, the sound of a record playing despite being warped and, dare we say, broken?

Director Brian Cavallaro’s experience is mostly making reality and sports specials, but hey — when a bunch of kids decides to stay overnight at a prison, I guess those skills translate just fine.

Amityville: The Awakening (2017): Amityville fans — well, me — waited with hushed anticipation for this movie to get released. And we waited. And we, well, we waited a long time. This movie stars Bella Thorne and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who surely deserve better and Kurtwood Smith, who definitely deserves much, much better.

That said, while it’s premise feels recycled, it’s not bad. Either that or I’ve been dulled to near nothing by the numerous false sequels of 112 Ocean Avenue.

Amityville: The Final Chapter (2017): Once known as Sickle, this movie got a new title despite not really having much to do with Amityville. This is directed by Geno McGahee. This will not be his last journey to Amityville.

Amityville Mt. Misery Road (2018): Ah, welcome back, my old friend. Not only did we watch this movie, we even got to talk to the director and stars (well, it’s two people, and they also did pretty much everything else). This movie is basically two people, an iPhone and a haunted road. Oh yeah — and plenty of driving footage. There is, however, no appearance of the Amityville house at all.

The Amityville Murders (2018): Daniel Ferrand, who was involved with Amityville: The Awakening went and made his own Amityville film. I will give him bonus points for bringing in Diane Franklin as Louis DeFeo and Burt Young as Brigante. But this is also the same guy who behind The Haunting of Sharon Tate, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and the script for Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.

UPCOMING AMITYVILLE FILMS

Amityville Cop: Geno McGahee is back in Amityville and he’s brought along a renegade cop who is trying to hunt down a possessed killer during a snowstorm.

Amityville HighJames Arcuri, whose posters on IMDB look like the Photoshopped versions of my nightmares — and that’s not a compliment, is behind this one.

There’s also Return to AmityvilleAmityville: The Beginning, Amityville: The Legacy 3-D and the aforementioned Amityville: 1974 all in development.

And . . . it was only a matter of time before clowns got involved.

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Amityville Clownhouse (2017): It’s a sequel to 2016’s The Amityville Legacy, a movie that features a haunted cymbal playing monkey causing all the terror. So, yeah. There’s a haunted clown here.


Instead of saying, “For God’s sake, get out of the house!” I feel like screaming “For God’s sake, please stop making these movies!” But you know me. I’ll be watching them all. Because that’s what possession — and loving your readers — is all about.

You can also check out our list on Letterboxd.

Also — if you want to get all the direct to video Amityville films…

Vinegar Syndrome’s astounding Amityville: The Cursed Collection set is the way to go. It has Amityville DollhouseAmityville: The Evil EscapesAmityville: It’s About Time and Amityville: A New Generation all in one great box set!

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