To watch The Amityville Horror and be terrified is one thing, but what about hearing the actual ghost story that inspired Jay Anson’s original book? Yes, the movie is all based on stories recalled by the Lutz family while living in one of the most fabled houses in Long Island history, although there’s much controversy over the actual details – and that’s where documentary filmmaker Eric Walter comes in with his brand new film My Amityville Horror. Yup, this young truth-seeker was able to have George and Kathy Lutz’s son Daniel open up about the experiences he had in the house, unleashing all the horrifying details in an attempt to let viewers decide what to believe.
Being the horror nerd I am, there’s no way a chance to speak with Walter about his experience was slipping by me. Check out my exclusive interview with Eric as we talk about the curiosity that caused him to make My Amityville Horror, his experience with Daniel on the set, and what his final thoughts about the whole ordeal were.
We Got This Covered: Starting off simply, when you first watched The Amityville Horror, did you know it was based on “true” events, or did you think it was just a film?
Eric Walter: Well I first read the book when I was ten as a young kid who was interested in haunting stories, however over the years I’ve taken a passionate interest in everything that was surrounding the story. I wouldn’t say I bought the story completely, and through the investigations I’ve done, talking with the witnesses and reading the reports about the story, I would classify myself as a Amityville agnostic.
It’s very easy to call this a hoax. There are many things that were fabricated about this story by the press and media who covered the story, and some of it snowballed into something it never was, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say all of the Lutz’s statements aren’t exactly true either. There’s no way to prove anything they said or anything that happened through the process of this case didn’t continue on here. I think the truth lies between those two somewhere.
I developed a web archive, Amityville Files, when I was 17, and this basically was an unbiased presentation on all the known documentation like newspaper archives, trial transcripts, and all the interviews on the Lutz haunting allegations from families who lived there after the Lutz’s but said nothing ever happened. It was an opportunity for people to go to this one place and look over all of the documentation and make up their own mind about what happened, and for me that was the process I went through, and I wanted to share that with everybody.
As much as I sought this case out, my film also kind of found me. Out of the blue sky, a friend of Daniel Lutz contacted me in 2009 and claimed Daniel was interested in going public with his story in the form of a book. Initially I was extremely interested yet a little skeptical if he would talk to me, so first I just had to hear what he personally had to say, and also what did he want to do. Was he looking for profit on this? What was this about?
I flew to New York during August 2009, and conducted almost 12 hours of audio interviews over the five days I hung out, where you could just feel the years coming off his chest as he told his story, so I just let the tape recorder roll. In the film itself there’s these segments with grainy audio recordings, and a lot of those recordings are our actual first conversations.
That was my perception. In meeting Danny I don’t really feel that this all was a hoax. I definitely feel Danny believes what he’s saying, however I do believe a lot of what he’s saying has been mixed and matched with things from the media, like the films and the books that have come out based on his alleged experience.
We Got This Covered: So I’m going to follow that with a pretty hokey question, but were you ever afraid to uncover the truth behind Daniel’s story?
Eric Walter: I was more afraid of what I might find with Danny in the sense of his intensity and anger towards the whole event, and his sheer disdain for his stepfather – that’s what was really frightening to me. I’m 27 now, but I started this film when I was 24, so I was only a young guy who showed up interested in what I might find, but I did not expect what I got with Danny, and I guess that’s a good thing in the way that he wasn’t a calm and collected individual. He was extremely pissed about the whole thing, and did not chalk this up to a hoax. He felt George Lutz was responsible for the hauntings, that he had triggered the hauntings on the family through his exploration of the occult and his practicing of satanism in the house – which was a completely different revelation than I’ve ever heard of. In various venues his brother Christopher has come out with the same details, and this is two different corroborating witnesses who have come out with this. Danny and Chris are not on speaking terms either – it was a unique picture.
If there was anything I was afraid of it was how far could I push this person to get the truth before I was under fire. That’s why I chose to shoot the film the way I did in that first-person perspective, with Danny looking right into the camera, because I wanted to have his intensity, which I knew was frightening. His ability to convey his story in this rigorous, angry way was going to make this documentary, and that was ultimately the narrative I wanted to show people.
We Got This Covered: Looking back on all the data collected and all the information, can you say you believe in the paranormal if you didn’t already?
Eric Walter: I believe there are elements of truth in the realm of the paranormal. I think there are unexplainable occurrences that people have that cannot be attributed to a dream or some kind of electric current. I definitely think there are unexplainable things, however, I think the problem with Amityville particularly is so many people tried to come out and say it happened, like self-proclaimed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who essentially scared the Lutz’s. They didn’t believe the house was demonically possessed already, but upon their investigation they told the family back in 76′ they could not fix the house and they would have to get a Roman-Catholic priest to do an exorcism. George was on record saying he didn’t feel they could ask a priest to do this because he didn’t want to put the priest’s life in danger. They left everything in that house, furniture, food, clothes, vehicles, you name it, and moved into Kathy’s mother’s home for a few months when they were deciding what to do, subsequently moving to San Diego while living on food stamps. All their assets were tied up in the house, George’s land surveying business was back in New York, and the event sent an enormous shockwave through their family at the time.
Their actions afterwards tell me they were definitely afraid of something. For me, my own feeling is a lot of that was fed into their mind because they were living in a house which was the sight of a mass murder the year before. Peter Jordan, who is a psychologist who’s in the film, says it was a low level paranormal phenomena, and what he means is unexplainable noises, feelings of eerie vibes about the atmosphere, and those types of things started happening to the family. When those things happen, you have to make the connection “Well we’re sleeping in the same positions this previous family was murdered in,” and that has to play into your mindset somehow.
However, there are claims of levitation, and these are things I can’t say that I fully believe. Do I believe they believe it? I do, specifically because I didn’t get to interview George and Kathy for myself. With the hours upon hours I’ve heard of George Lutz talking about his experiences, it’s a unique opportunity to hear how they clash with what Danny was talking about. For anybody who believes in the paranormal, this will definitely speak to you, but if you don’t believe in the paranormal, I think it definitely will show a perception of someone who does and how they cope with it in their life. It will speak to people in different ways, but will be entertaining none the less, while also being extraordinarily tragic. I hope Danny can find peace now that he’s gone through this personal catharsis in the way that he’s got his story out to the public and can finally move on from it.