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Literature / The Amityville Horror

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The Amityville Horror is a 1977 horror novel by Jay Anson, and the work that launched the Amityville franchise.

The newlywed Lutz family moves into their new home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, a suburban community on Long Island's south shore. It's a Big Fancy House with its own waterfront boathouse, plenty of room for their three children, a shockingly low price tag... and, as they find out after they sign the paperwork, a dark past. It seems that just over a year before the Lutzes moved in, the house was the scene of a grisly multiple murder in which eldest son Ronnie DeFeo killed his sleeping parents and four siblings. The house's history doesn't deter the Lutzes, who are determined to make a fresh start in their new home.

Less than a month after moving in, the Lutz family flee in the middle of the night, leaving all their belongings behind.

The tale they told was of a demonic presence that filled rooms with flies in the dead of winter, visited their youngest daughter in the form of a red-eyed pig, caused the walls to drip with black goo, and led the entire family to wake up in the middle of the night, every night, at the same exact time when the DeFeo murders took place... all of which made father George Lutz begin to see his family as disposable.

Ever since its publication, The Amityville Horror has taken its place as the most famous haunting in America, with plenty of hot debate on whether the book represents irrefutable proof of the supernatural or if it's all Based on a Great Big Lie. The novel was originally adapted into film in 1979 and has since become something of a Franchise Zombie, with subsequent books and films growing ever more tangentially connected to the original family and case. Later sequels don't even take place in the house itself, but involve purportedly haunted objects from the original house, including a haunted lamp, a haunted mirror, a haunted dollhouse, a haunted clock, and a haunted vibrator (no, really). In 2022, it finally got Recycled In Space (again, really). The original Amityville Horror movie was itself remade in 2005.

This book has examples of:

  • Agony of the Feet: George hurts himself when he stumbles over a lion figurine that was somehow on the middle of the floor, and when Kathy patches him up afterwards, she finds teethmarks on his ankle. (And blood on the figurine.)
  • Artistic License – History: While the book's relation to fact is shaky in general, it's particularly questionable when dealing with the haunting's historical background:
    • Anson claims that 112 Ocean Avenue had been a location where the Shinnecock Indians exiled mentally ill members of their tribe. Native American historians have objected to these claims on two grounds. One, the Shinnecock lived on the opposite side of Long Island from Amityille; the Massapequans were the tribe most associated with the region. Second, Native Americans (and the Shinnecock in particular) typically did not abandon or isolate their mentally ill but made efforts to care for them, as documented both by Native and European sources.
    • John Ketcham was a prominent citizen on colonial Long Island who was involved in local government, serving as a constable and a Lieutenant in the New York militia. While he did spend part of his life in Massachusetts (not in Salem, as claimed, but nearby Ipswich) Ketcham was never associated with witchcraft or black magic until this book. Additionally, Ketcham lived in Huntington Township, ten miles from Amityville. His descendent, Revolutionary War hero Zebulon Ketcham, did reside in Amityville where he owned a hotel; the town subsequently named a street and several buildings after him.note 
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The DeFeos. This much of the book is indisputably Truth in Television: Ron Sr. was both verbally and physically abusive towards his wife and children, Ron was heavily into drugs and alcohol (and later diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder) and had already confronted his father with a loaded shotgun several months prior to the murders. The family also had ties to organized crimenote  which aren't mentioned in the book or film.
  • Blended Family Drama: A more subtle example than most. The family's children are Kathy's from a previous marriage, and one of the signs that the house is affecting George is when he begins to blame all the problems on his stepchildren's lack of respect for him.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Every conversation involving Father Mancuso
  • Dramatic Drop: When a bartender learns that George Lutz lives in 112 Ocean Avenue, he is so shocked that he drops the empty beer glass from his hand, and it shatters on the floor.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The house is constantly cold, even as George burns through wood and oil to keep up the heat.
  • Hearing Voices: Ronald DeFeo claimed that a voice in his head told him to kill his family. And the ghost telling Father Mancuso to "get out."
  • Identical Stranger: George comes to learn that he's a dead ringer for Ronald DeFeo.
  • It Kind of Looks Like a Face: The house's iconic quarter-moon windows in the upper story give the unsettling impression that the house is looking down on its occupants...and that it is not pleased by what it sees.
  • Ironic Name: The DeFeos named their house "High Hopes." They were murdered in it. Later, the Lutzes arrive to find the name on a sign made by the previous owners and take it as an omen that good things will happen there.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Little Missy tells that she has an imaginary friend called Jodie, who turns out to be the pig apparition that George saw in her window.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The lion figurine mentioned above keeps getting closer and closer every time someone looks away from it until it's right there.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The pig-like demonic creature called Jodie had red glowing eyes, which Kathy sees staring at her at one point. Outside a second-story window.
  • Too Dumb to Live: At one point, George reads the names of demonic beings out loud while on the phone with Father Mancuso. The priest is none too happy George is evoking the name of demons in an extremely haunted house.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The book was based not on direct interviews with the Lutz family, but on a series of disorganized audiotape recordings they'd made, for their own use, of themselves discussing their recollections of events. Author Jay Anson then had to piece together a readable novel out of this and some other research done on his part. He admitted to re-arranging, embellishing, or outright creating certain events in order to make for a coherent, scary story. As such, even he and the Lutzes admitted the book wasn't a completely factual account - though the Lutzes maintained it was the most accurate portrayal of their experiences ever published, for whatever that's worth.