My Amityville Horror features the first filmed interview with Daniel Lutz, one of the children who experienced the original supernatural activities that forever haunted his family and inspired the enormous commercial success The Amityville Horror (1979) and its many sequels. Eric Walter, director and co-writer of the unfunny box-office flop The Lumberjack of All Trades (2006), sets out to explain what really happened to the Lutz family in 1975.
It is clear Daniel is not happy. He recounts his childhood as one characterised by torment and anger and this sets the tone for the film, which mainly consists of the effects the ensuing “incidents” had on him. He recollects being confused at the sight of a Catholic priest exorcising the house, remembers how a window crushed his brother’s hand only to heal itself a few seconds later, that hundreds of flies appeared and disappeared in his bedroom despite it being winter, how he could make things levitate and the red laser-like eyes that appeared in the windows. The documentary also shows how Daniel was brought up, that he hated his stepfather and tried to protect his mother from him. It aims to reveal the person behind the “Amityville kid”, a human being who has issues that urgently need addressing.
Daniel does not come across as a likeable person. He is infantile and sulks when asked difficult questions, so it quickly becomes difficult to identify with him and to believe the extraordinary stories that he believes are true. He chain-smokes and curses his way through various interviews and sessions with his “therapist” and it soon becomes clear that the subject of his anger is not the paranormal activities that were to haunt him for the rest of his life but the controlling nature of his insane ex-Marine stepfather. The more Daniel speaks, the more it feels that his stories are a consequence of the abusive childhood he was subjected to before the supposed events took place. He reacts like a child to many of the questions asked by Walter, first by acting offended, then becoming verbally aggressive and finally giving an extremely vague explanation that makes little sense. The odds of his believability are not in his favour. While the documentary invites you to draw your own assumptions, we begin to question whether his stories fit with what has previously been said. Is Daniel lying or is he correcting what we had been told by previous films and stories?
The documentary relies heavily on stock footage and old newsreels which, of course, are accompanied by an eerie and unsettling soundtrack. During the interviews Daniel is lit like a ghost, resembling a small child holding a torch under their chin at Halloween. This unintentionally underscores his childishness. Close-ups of his fingers rolling and bending the many cigarettes he smokes present him, unfairly, as someone who is mentally unstable. The documentary eschews re-enactments, instead showing photographs that are revealed alongside Daniel’s ramblings. Such instances are typical of the American “true story” documentary that it makes the film a wasted opportunity, like a DVD extra rather than an independent film. My Amityville Horror is entertaining but unsurprising. It tells the story from the perspective of a witness, but it is the same old story we have heard so many times before. The image we are left with is that Daniel is just a sad man who has spent his whole life being thought of as “the Amityville guy” and the documentary does little to refute that.