horror movies “based on a true story”: The Amityville Horror

Ah, horror movies and the oft-used tagline that draws us in over and over: “Based on a true story.”

I’ll start with The Amityville Horror because it was probably one of the earliest horror movies to really claim that it was based on true events.  Jay Anson wrote a book about these events and the movie, based on the tale contained in the book, was made two years later.

What is true:

  • There was a house in Amityville, NY, on 112 Ocean Avenue.
  • A family named DeFeo lived there, and the oldest son, Ronald DeFeo Jr., was found guilty of killing his entire family in that house.
  • The Lutz family lived there for 28 days before leaving.

What isn’t true:

  • The house was not built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground or anything else having to do with the local native tribes.
  • The police were never called during the month that the Lutz family lived there.  The local priest was contacted by the family, but claims that he never visited the house.
  • In the book, the youngest daughter of the Lutz family has an imaginary friend named Jodie, described as a pig-like creature with red eyes.  By the time of the remake, Jodie has become one of the murdered DeFeo children (none of the DeFeo children were named Jodie).

The veracity of the story told within the pages of The Amityville Horror has been debated for decades, complete with lawsuits and other books about “what really happened.”  Even the transition from book to movie led to a number of differences, which were even more warped when it came time for the 2005 remake.

The sequels to the book were total fiction, which is interesting, since in my library system at least, The Amityville Horror II by John G. Jones, is located in nonfiction.  The disclaimer in the book states that it is a work of fiction, although does sort of follow along with George & Kathy Lutz’s statements that they were followed by the evil after they left the house.  The movie sequel, Amityville II: The Possession, is actually based on the book Murder in Amityville by Hans Holzer, which is about the DeFeo murders and Holzer’s theory that the house was built on an Indian burial ground (also used in the remake of the first movie), but the movie turned this into a family living in the house after the Lutz family.

The verdict?  Whatever may or may not have happened in that house will only be known to those who lived it… But the premise of living in a house where multiple murders were committed is extremely creepy.  And if the book and subsequent movies are based on what the family SAID happened (whether or not it could be verified)… then it’s about as true as horror movies “based on a true story” come!

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