The Amityville Horror is one of the seminal “true story” horror stories out there. The other is The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, which we’ll be reading in a few weeks.
The story is, basically, that a family (George and Kathy Lutz and their three children) gets an incredible real estate “steal” in an affluent village on Long Island near New York City. The reason for the low, low price? It was the site of a horrible multiple murder just a year prior. Ronald DeFeo shot and killed six members of his family in their beds, in the middle of the night because he said, “I heard voices” (Anson 9). The unfortunate DeFeo family were all shot, execution-style, face down on their beds, in the back, at 3:15 a.m. No one in the neighborhood heard a thing. DeFeo was convicted of murder and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.
A little over a year later, the Lutzes moved in just before Christmas. They endured an unbelievable series of strange events for 28 days, and then just abandoned the house and all their belongings. They claimed they were attacked and tormented by demonic forces, and finally forced to leave, fearing for their lives.
I have to admit, I’ve read this book maybe a dozen times since it first came out. It scared the hell out of me the first few times, and the next few times I’d get a bit of a chill. Then finally I just gave my original copy away, because I’d decided that I had outgrown it. When I started this horror RIG I had to buy a new copy, and I noticed the publishers had updated it a bit for a more modern audience. This actually helped me get into the book again as a new-ish reader, and I have to admit that by the second or third night I was freaked out enough to wish I hadn’t left the book on my nightstand. So close to my head. In the dark.
Despite others’ complaints, I thought The Amityville Horror was pretty well written. The author, Jay Anson, was mostly a documentary film writer. Why someone thought he, of all people, should be the one to write this “true account” of a haunted house is a mystery. Nevertheless, I think he did a bang-up job. This book scared everybody when it came out, and if my experience is anything to go by, it’s still scaring people.
Some of the things I liked about this book:
- My favorite scare is Jodie the Pig. That thing just freaks me out, and I like pigs. And the name Jodie.
- George’s constantly waking up at 3:15 in the morning was a little scary too. Any time someone just wakes up at the same time every night makes me uneasy for some reason.
- The strange siren call of the boathouse. Why was George so fixated on the boathouse? It’s never explained, and as far as I know nothing bad ever happened in there. So, weird.
Some of the things I didn’t like about this book:
- George and Kathy Lutz. George was never a very sympathetic character, I felt. Anson tried to make out that George wanted this big house for Kathy “…George vowed to himself that if there was a way, this was the place he wanted his wife to have” (Anson 13). But all I saw was a self-centered guy with lots of big, expensive toys that needed housing (like his motorcycles, “a twenty-five foot cabin cruiser and a fifteen foot speed boat”), and low impulse control (Anson 16). Kathy was another classic Seventies Dishrag. When her son, Danny, has his hands weirdly crushed flat by a window frame, Anson writes, “There was as much of a storm raging inside 112 Ocean Avenue as outside, as Kathy chased after her husband asking him to call a doctor for Danny” (Anson 247). Really? Bitch doesn’t know how to use a phone?
- I didn’t like how the Lutzes (mostly George) always kept Harry the dog outside in all kinds of horrible weather. To be fair, they did let him inside. Occasionally. The bastards.
- Finally, I didn’t like how the authors of books like this always go out of their way to tell you how freaking religious the victims are. They always just happen to know a priest who’s not doing anything right now, so why don’t you come on over to our house and bless it?
Despite these complaints, I think everyone has to read The Amityville Horror at least once in their lives in order to consider themselves well-read, informed adults.
Anson, Jay, The Amityville Horror. 1977. New York: Pocket Star Books, published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Shuster, Inc., 2005. Print.
3 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson”
Gwen, I remember how the book shocked everyone when it came out! I appreciate that you took it for what it was meant to be, a documentary style account of events in the house. You hit all the annoying points about this family. George especially! Boats, motorcycles? And poor Henry, left to defend the boathouse in the dark of night. Maybe in the 1970’s people left their pets in the dog house?? Also, I was curious about why he repeatedly went to the boathouse. Anson never explained that mystery.
Stacey, I know, right? The whole boathouse thing was disturbing. Poor Harry is tied up outside of it, the doors keep getting ripped off, George is compelled to get up every night at 3:15 a.m. just to stare at it – Why?
Stacey, I agree this book was scary the movie was scary as hell when I first watched it as a kid. While I found the characters lacking, and the writing was a bit dry, which I guess makes sense if you are going for a journalistic outsider looking in approach, I still think that the Anson really did manage to convey the disturbing aspect of the haunting very well, and the book was genuinely frightening.