The Amityville Horror

I read The Amityville Horror when it first came out, back in the wild and wooly days of the early 1980’s. Even as an impressionable youth (12 years old!), I knew this supposedly true book was full of shit. More on that later. I wish I had some enjoyable anecdote to share about the reading of The Amityville Horror as a young man, but nothing comes to mind. Honestly, I was nervous rereading this book. Was it as bad as I remembered? Would it be worth my entertainment dollar?

Reader, I needn’t have worried. I haven’t laughed so much reading a book in years. One of the joys of The Amityville Horror lies in its plethora of bizarre details. Where else can I learn about George Lutz’s diarrhea, or the particulars of the Lutz’s sex life (nightly, until their stay at 112 Ocean Avenue!), or how George and Kathy practiced TM? These are things that I – the reader – want to know. No, I’m going to go a step further: these are things that I DESERVE to know.

A short synopsis: The Amityville Horror is the supposed true story of one family’s experience in a haunted house. Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in this house (located in Amityville, NY) in 1974. George and Kathleen Lutz and her three children moved into the selfsame house a year afterwards and fled twenty-eight days later, claiming their former abode was full of poltergeists and demons, including a devil pig with laser beam eyes.

The Amityville Horror purports to tell the tale of what happened in those twenty-eight days. Here are some fun facts. The house was frigid. There were flies in the sewing room and black smelly goop in the toilets. A four-foot ceramic lion menaced the family. An invisible demon wearing cheap perfume hugged Kathy Lutz in the kitchen. George Lutz spent most of his time in a stupor, only rousing himself to throw logs into the fire and beat his stepchildren. More on this last point later.

Author Jay Anson is a hopeless exclamation point (!!!) addict. I can just imagine his editors, egging him on – ‘Jay, we’ve decided that this book needs more exclamation points. Oh, also more devil pig with laser beam eyes.’ I will give Mr. Anson credit for this. After finishing The Amityville Horror, it became clear to me that something was wrong with George Lutz. That something has nothing to do with literal demons, though.

The Amityville Horror is written like true crime, but it is clearly fiction. The influence of The Exorcist and The Shining shine over this book like twin moons; Jodie the laser beam devil pig is The Exorcist’s Captain Howdy while the ceramic dog mirrors the hedge animal scene in The Shining.

The attention to details is what’s supposed to make The Amityville Horror realistic. In better written books this can work; in this case, not so much. That doesn’t stop Mr. Anson from flooding the book with trivia, though. George Lutz wakes up at 3:15 a.m. every night; the coroner determined that the Defoe Familly died at 3:15 a.m. (wow, they’re good!). The DeFoes slept on their bellies; now, the Lutzes sleep on their bellies! Missy’s (Kathy Lutz’s daughter) pig friend’s name is Jodie and he’s male. Father Mancuso – the priest who blessed the Lutz’s house – was stricken with the flu by Devil Laser Eye Pig, and his temperature was 103 on such-and-such a night! Unfortunately, we never learn whether the good father had diarrhea.

Sometimes this attention to detail works against the author. In one of his nightly jaunts to the boathouse at 3:15 a.m., George Lutz sees his stepdaughter Missy standing in the window by the light of the full moon. LaserPig is standing behind her. This event happened on December 25th. Too bad the full moon was on December 18th; the 25this the date of the moon’s last quarter. Abraham Lincoln supposedly won a court trial by consulting an almanac about the phase of the moon, and what’s good enough for Honest Abe is good enough for me! Props to Mr. Anson for getting the day of the week correct (Christmas 1975 was on a Thursday), though.

Here is the source I used to look up the phase of the moon:  https://www.calendar-12.com/moon_phases/1975

I could go on and on about this book, but I won’t because I want to say a few words about the movie. The original Amityville Horror is a movie everyone should see, if only to witness the MOST AWKWARD LOVE SCENE IN THE UNIVERSE, courtesy of Margot Kidder and James Brolin. I don’t know what happened between these actors, but it sure wasn’t love, and their total lack of chemistry isn’t an act.

A final word: what happened at 112 Ocean Avenue was not demonic in nature. It was child abuse. Danny Lutz gives a detailed account of his ordeal in the documentary My Amityville Horror, released in 2012. While I am not sure whether Mr. Lutz believes in demons –the filmmakers clearly do, so he gives it lip service – he makes his point about his relationship with his stepfather crystal clear. When asked why he’s smiling, Mr. Lutz says – because  George (his stepfather) is dead and I’m a free man.

Truth.

Postscript: here’s a snippet of an interview with Margot Kidder (in Rolling Stone) regarding that love scene. I knew something was up!

“You should have been here earlier,” she said. “You missed some sizzling love scenes. Bright lights on me, Jim Brolin on me, and fourteen men standing around watching. In twelve movies, I’ve never had to do a love scene, and I started getting some funny thoughts, like, ‘How do you act like you’re a good lay?’ I don’t want to look like some fat New Jersey housewife. Last night I was pretty nervous about how I was going to look, so I ate an entire box of chocolate Ex-Lax, thinking I’d lose a lot of weight real fast. Well, I lost about six pounds, but it was all water weight and diarrhea. Boy, I feel terrible!”

Source: https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/the-education-of-margot-kidder-630259/

 

 

 

The Others

It’s hard to write a review of The Others without spoilers, and I don’t want to spoil this movie for anyone. To make matters worse, I’m not sure what to say about The Others. I figured out what was going on about halfway through but I still liked it. Objectively, not a lot happens but the movie still kept me interested.

La parcalle: Nicole Kidman plays Grace, an overwhelmed British woman with a pair of kids. It’s 1945, and her husband is M.I.A. in Europe; for all intents and purposes she’s a war widow. Grace lives in a creepy old house, and her kids are a handful. She needs help.

The servants come later that morning (the old servants left). Grace takes them through the house, explaining that her children are allergic to light, so the house must be dark at all times. Trouble starts when Anna, one of the aforementioned children, starts seeing intruders in the house. Grace doesn’t believe her, but it soon becomes clear that it’s more like Grace doesn’t want to believe her. And that’s as much of the plot as I want to give away.

The Others relies on atmosphere and pacing. The conflicts in this movie are mostly interpersonal. There are lots of creepy/scary scenes that made me jump, which is not a high hurdle to clear. Grace’s kids act like real kids, not like pint-sized adults. The servants know more than they’re saying. If you like atmospheric ghost stories, you will adore The Others. If you like lots of action in your movies, not so much.

***

I mentioned that the acting is good, right?

***

One of the things that happens when you read a lot of these kinds of books and watch these types of movies is that you realize that, plot-wise, there are only a limited number of scenarios. You know that character who seems to serve no purpose? If it’s a mystery novel, she might be a red herring; if it’s a movie, she’s probably the key to the plot. People aren’t stupid and pick up on these things, although perhaps not consciously.

I think about these things all the time. That might be why I don’t enjoy reading or watching movies as much anymore. I tend to dissect what’s happening, and since that uses another part of the brain, it feels too much like work. I used to read and watch movies to relax.

***

One of the plot threads of this movie involves a mute servant named Lydia. Grace is curious and asks Mrs. Mills – another servant and the brains of the outfit – about the cause of her muteness several times, and every time Mrs. Mills is evasive. Later we learn why Lydia is mute, and the reason why Mrs. Mills couldn’t tell Grace. I wondered why Mrs. Mills didn’t lie, and then it struck me that Mrs. Mills doesn’t want to lie to Grace, which is kind of sweet. It’s also a nice character moment.

***

Mr. Tuttle (the gardener), on the other hand, is a shady character who looks like he pinches snuff at every possible opportunity. Check the liquor cabinet!

Nightmare House

Capsule review of Nightmare House: if you like ghost stories, give this a try. It’s short and the author quotes Tennyson. I will admit that this book was not my cup of tea, but maybe you will like it. And if you do enjoy Nightmare House, there are a number of sequels and prequels available.

Okay, that’s the short version. The longer review is below. If you don’t like spoilers, don’t read any further.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

You know, one of the things that always cracks me up is when assorted writer folk/agents/the peanut gallery say that Stephen King can’t write endings. I recall one instance at a now-defunct convention in Westchester, New York, where an agent informed a panel full of enthralled listeners of this very fact. He then told us that if Mr. King worked with him, he’d straighten him out! The thing that makes this memory so beloved is that the agent gave out pens inscribed with his agency’s name, and when I put said pen into my pocket it burst and ruined a perfectly decent pair of khaki trousers.

((Side-note: Mr. King’s endings can be summarized thusly, people live, people die and the world keeps on turning.))

Whilst wiping blue ink from my leg, I starting thinking about Mr. King’s plots, the best of which spring from his characters. This is a long-winded way of saying that if I hadn’t been reading Nightmare House for an assignment, I would have put the book down after the first twenty-five pages.

Why? Because the book’s main character, Ethan/Esteban, has no desire line at all. He inherits a house from his wackadoodle grandpa in the late 1920’s, and travels to a small town in upstate New York to check it out. That isn’t a plot, it’s a situation.

That’s fine, because plots can spring from situations. Unfortunately Ethan isn’t a character, he’s a puppet of the plot. None of his actions even advance the plot. Ah, you say, what about unveiling the hidden room? Yeah, that did nothing, because the spirit of Aunt/Mommy/Crazy Matilde was already roaming the house freely.

The characters in Nightmare House are so paper thin I didn’t care if they lived or died. The garrulous housekeeper vanishes early in the book, never to return. Grandpa’s a loon, pure and simple. Ethan falls madly in love with a woman at first sight, because – well, I don’t know why. Because she’s pretty and makes him clean the bathroom? Pockets, the garrulous constable, only exists to unveil the backstory and give out cigars, which he does with great vigor.

There are a number of plot twists that don’t mean anything because they aren’t properly foreshadowed. The house’s history is hinted at, but not gone into in any detail. The ghosts say all sorts of stuff I didn’t understand, and I got the sneaking feeling I didn’t get it because I hadn’t read any of the other books.

In fact, Nightmare House reads more like a treatment that hasn’t fully been converted into a novel. It needs to have at least 50 more pages to be interesting. If Nightmare House reminded me of anything, it would be H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Rats in the Wall.” Both have that vibe of family rot/predestination, but Lovecraft’s narrator was batshit crazy, and Ethan/Esteban isn’t crazy. If the author really wanted me to believe Ethaneban was crazy, he shouldn’t have written four more books in the series.