I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a ghost lover then chances are you’ve either read about, seen a movie about or have been told the story of The Amityville Horror. It’s THE haunted house story and it’s actually ridiculous how much this one story has been covered through documentaries, fictional films, books, comics etc. I myself have seen countless documentaries (some of them aaaaaabsolutely horrible – I tried finding the one absolutely terrible one with the world’s worst/fakest medium but according to the internet it doesn’t exist because it was that bad). I remember watching an interview with the Lutz’s who stated that a good portion of the book was a work of fiction and exaggerated the actual events. It was the biggest case of telephone any non-fiction story ever faced and by the end you had an author who had heard an account of an account of an account and then he decided to go ahead and take some artistic liberties. So knowing all of this I said to myself “well I know a ton of this is exaggerated so I’m going into this skeptical and ready to be dismissive”. I think a quarter of the way through the book I forgot about every documentary I had watched and forgot that this was all exaggerated. I was so enveloped in the story and was so scared that numerous times (just ask my wife) I put the book down and said “noooooooope!” If you read this just as a ghost story and not a work of non-fiction then you will absolutely love it, be scared by it and end up having nightmares. Here’s why:
The Main Character(s)
This is tough to pick out one real main character. I mean naturally you’d want to go with George and Kathy as the book is never written from the perspective of the children. But really it’s the entire family that serves as the main character here. The priest who is blesses the house and experiences paranormal occurences as a result can also be labelled a main character but his storyline – however factual it really was – serves as more of a subplot and doesn’t really contribute much to the main story. The Lutz family make really sympathetic main characters due to the fact that they weren’t the “ideal nuclear family” you would read about in books from the 60s and 70s. George isn’t the biological father of any of the children and only recently married Kathy. The children are learning to cope with having a new father and he’s learning to cope with going from zero children to three. He states that one of the biggest accomplishments in this relationship was the first time they referred to him as George. So this family who’s still in the process of growing and bonding together get thrown into an impossible situation. Were this a well-established family that was incredibly close then you’d expect them to persevere through their love and bonds. However as a family who hasn’t really established this as well you begin wondering if they’ll be able to make it through this ordeal and if they are strong enough as a unit to remain together while the spirits (or should I say demons) separate and terrorize them. This dynamic certainly added a lot to the story as you were invested in each family member’s storylines and hauntings. Namely the daughter’s….which leads me to my next point.
I kid you not, I literally put this book down countless times because it got too scary for me. NO BOOK EVER GETS TOO SCARY FOR ME!!!! But let me explain why because you might not necessarily agree. I had an argument with my sisters (who watch all my ghost shows with me) over which was scarier. A child ghost OR a child who talks to ghost. I swung in favour of child who talks to ghosts because that’s terrifying. I don’t even want my future children to have imaginary friends because it freaks me out so badly. I just get scared when I picture a child who is easily persuaded to trust a spirit (or demon) and who communicates to it when you’re not around leaving you powerless to defend them. If this same spirit tried contacting me I would know not to necessarily trust it and to have my guard up, but a child doesn’t know that and so who knows what they can invite into the house. With that being said, this book illustrated why I was so scared of children talking to ghosts. The daughter, Missy, begins first by creepily asking her mother “do angels talk to you” when she was sitting in her room alone staring at the wall. She then begins mentioning her new friend ‘Jodie’ who is a pig. George and Kathy eventually come to the realization that one of the demons they see has pig like features and glowing red eyes. Much like the one described by Missy. When this isn’t scary enough you begin reading about the experiences of the other characters. The boys describe a monster in their room who shakes the beds. Kathy describes a perfume scented spirit who enjoys hugging her, almost to the point of constriction, from behind. And George describes hearing marching band music in the living room at full volume. Often he’d find the furniture parted down the middle of the room almost as if they were making room for the marching band. This terrified me the most and I’ll explain why. Most hauntings are subtle. Items go missing, things get misplaced, you hear whispers or have a feeling of someone sitting on the bed. But these hauntings – namely George’s – were so blatant, aggressive and not subtle. They were unapologetically loud, crude and at times even chaotic. I remember as I read them that the word “chaos” kept popping into my head because I had never read about any hauntings quite like these. They had no rhyme or reason to them. They weren’t mean to make you scared they were meant to make you terrified. And they succeeded in scaring the Lutz family, and myself.
Here’s my biggest complaint with the novel. Not that it exaggerated real events and turned them into complete works of fiction. I was prepared for that going into this, much like I’m prepared for it in every ‘based on real events’ book I read. The biggest complaint that I had was that it briefly touched on the De Feo murder at the beginning and lightly touched on it partway through and then it never touched on it again. How do you not go into great details surrounding the murder case that happened in the house literally right before the Lutz family moved in!? Not only was this a mass murder, but the circumstances surrounding the murder remain to this day a mystery. It adds so much to the story when you know about the circumstances around the murders and how all of the victims were found in identical positions, with identical wounds, undisturbed and in different parts of the house. None of them struggled, and each was killed with a weapon that would’ve made so much noise that it would’ve been audible in every room of the house. And yet somehow each person slept through their death with nothing in their systems that would’ve put them to sleep. This entire murder is as creepy and paranormal as it gets and it got a brief overview before the story moved on. I just feel like this would’ve supplemented the horror of the main story as it showed that this house had a true history of paranormal and horrific experiences.
Now as I’ve said, I think I’ve watched about a dozen documentaries on this, watched countless interviews, read the Wikipedia page (a thousand times) and I’ve watched the original film along with the reboot. I never bothered watching the sequels – of which there are a million apparently – because I was mostly interested in the main story. The sequels were just movies about a haunted house and I can see those anywhere. Of all of those I think I can say that the scariest and best examination was A & E’s The Real Amityville Horror. This allowed the Lutz family an opportunity to explain what really happened and how the book took on a life of its own. It gives you a real insight of the house prior to the Lutz moving in (including a solid examination of the De Feos) and the investigation that took place afterwards (with Ed and Lorraine Warren). It was a great examination of the actual haunting, how the entire thing blew up by accident into a media frenzy and a closer examination of just how a haunting of this notoriety is treated. If you watch anything on the Amityville Horror – which believe me you have some options – watch this one. Don’t bother with the Ryan Reynolds version (which turns George into a murderer and invented a fake De Feo child who tries to save the family?) Watch this documentary that examines things from a more realistic and critical standpoint.
This was bar none one of the scariest things I’ve ever read. I think if you forget that it’s ‘based on real events’ and lose the skepticism then you’ll appreciate it for just a scary story. The whole idea of the demonic has always terrified me and this books captures every reason why it scares me. If you enjoy being scared then go and read this book now. If you’re like me you won’t be able to find it in any library e-book store or used book store. Probably because people don’t like having it in their homes. If you scare easy and don’t like horror then forget that this book ever existed.
Up next is the FINAL book of my book challenge! I’ve had such a fun time! But at the same time I’m excited to read some non-horror for a bit and also some horror from 2015/16. And what better way to finish it off then by reading a book by the FATHER of Horror, Bram Stoker. I didn’t say the originator because that would be Mary Shelly and really she’s the MOTHER of Horror. Anyways, I have a very long and dense read ahead of me so wish me luck for the final book in my horror book challenge!