Amityville Skims Surface in Revealing Survivor’s Inner Horrors
My Amityville Horror is a documentary about Daniel Lutz. As a boy, just 10, he lived through the events, transformed into a best-selling book and a pair of modestly successful motion pictures (one from 1979, the other released in 2005), all of which have led to a seemingly never-ending series of low grade sequels and imitations, that took place in a spacious Long Island home over a 29-day period in 1975. Some called these events supernatural, others called them hogwash, but for him the psychological scars of that month and the hyperbolic media aftermath it spawned have never vanished, and almost four decades later Daniel still can’t openly talk about everything that happened to him or his family all those years ago.
Director Eric Walter, fascinated by the case, focuses his camera on Daniel, reuniting him with familiar faces from his past including investigative reporter Laura DiDio, one of the few people his late parents, mother Kathy and stepfather George, initially felt comfortable telling their story to, and in the process reveals layers of pain and regret that have remained unexplored. He lingers on the man’s stare, the way he holds his cigarette, how he plays his guitar, eventually getting him to open up as he attempts to put the past behind him even as those still obsessed with the Amityville case refuse to allow it or his family fade into the past.
Interesting stuff, but at the same time there is a rudimentary quality to this documentary that’s not altogether satisfying. Walter has crafted a picture that feels like some odd hybrid of SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters” interlaced with a stint sitting on Oprah’s couch, and while I was a bit curious to hear what Daniel was going to say I also wasn’t exactly riveted to my seat while things played themselves out to conclusion. While the scars he carries are genuine, I can’t say I felt any more insight into either him as a man or his plight as a child by the end than I did at the beginning, the film never really connecting on an emotional level because of this.
There are hints at depth, to be certain, and watching Daniel reconnect with both Didio and a few others from his past is certainly powerful. I also liked some of the asides that Walter mixes into things, interviewing journalists and a handful others who were involved with the story during its initial birth upon the American consciousness. But the fact the other Lutz children declined to appear is moderately disappointing, how their lives have been affected by this surreal childhood trauma a key piece of Daniel’s story that’s frustratingly absent.
Still, horror aficionados fascinated by Amityville owe it to themselves to give the film a look, while others fond of stories of their paranormal and how being touched by the supernatural effects a person’s life will undoubtedly find tons of merit within the belly of Walter’s documentary. As it is, My Amityville Horror has its merits, it’s just too bad the filmmakers couldn’t have delved a little deeper or pushed a bit harder in order to give Daniel’s story the weight, power and poignancy it potentially deserves.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)