Continued from Part One...
Horror.com: At least in the first movie, he went back and got the dog and they were still a family unit at the end.
Farrands: [Saying it’s based on a true story is] not only misleading to the public, but it’s so damaging to the people that are portrayed. These people, other than Kathy who sadly passed away in the early days of the production of this film… She was aware of it, and I don’t think, knowing her, that she would be pleased. God bless her, that she doesn’t have to live through the embarrassment and ridicule that will probably come of this.
Lutz: I’ve been talking with my children about this, and all of us agree that Kathy’s passing was a blessing in one sense for her, in that she will not have to deal with the aftermath of what this film will create.
Horror.com: I was wondering, as I was watching the movie, what the (then) kids’ thoughts were on this whole thing. I’ve never seen them come out with any books or be interviewed, or anything.
Lutz: There’s quite a bit of anger and contempt for the filmmakers [of this remake]. Let me put it this way to you: As a family, we have never had a problem with someone doing a true depiction. But when they do this kind of fantasy, an “Amityville Horror alternate universe”, when someone dreams up things… Actually, when you look at this movie you’ll see it pulls from about 5 other horror films.
Horror.com: Absolutely. I saw a lot of The Ring in it. And A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Farrands: One of the other elements of this film, where he builds coffins in the basement with his family’s names on them, there’s a potential that that comes from a fairly current mass murder story that took place in Fresno, CA. Where a man built, or purchased, coffins for his family and systematically killed them. He was ready to lay them in there when he was caught.
There’s a trial going on with that case right now, and we looked at that and said, “It’s very possible that the writer of this [“The Amityville Horror” remake] screenplay heard that story.” It made California news certainly, and quite possibly he thought, “That’s a creepy story. Let’s put that in the new Amityville Horror,” without any regard to the fact that that particular event never happened. The real George Lutz never attempted to murder his family, much build coffins for them. It’s pretty disturbing.
Horror.com: What about this whole John Ketcham subplot in the movie?
Farrands: It’s such a small part of the story. It came up when I did my research for the documentaries and I took the time to go down to historical libraries and talk to people who had researched this. One young reporter, Laura DiDio, who appeared on my documentary, was an invaluable resource. She had uncovered things about the history of the property, and John Ketcham (I think they call him Jeremiah Ketcham in the new film) and there’s absolutely no truth to the actual research that’s been done. There is a Ketcham Street in the village of Amityville. There is a long connection to the family name of Ketcham, and there’s even a family burial plot there. But there’s really no evidence and no basis in reality to what’s in the film, which shows this character as a Satanic priest. He slices his own throat and he tortures Indians on the property, but the house was never a church of any kind. I think they suggest in the movie that the house was built in the 1690s, which is false, because the real house was built in 1928. They’ve gotten everything wrong. I mean, I sat there [watching the movie] and laughed, because everything about it — even about the lore of the house, is wrong.
Horror.com: I imagine the perspective of someone like you, who’s an intimate of the family, or yourself, Mr. Lutz, will be much different from your average, popcorn-munching movie fan. But I’ve often wondered, “Why not just remake the book faithfully?” That’s really scarier than any of the movies.
Farrands: That’s what we’re wondering.
Lutz: I don’t own the remake rights. I don’t have control over remakes. The one thing I do have is a clause that says that any additional remakes that were ever made after the first movie, have to be based on the same characters and the same basic situations. Obviously, they have strayed away from that.
Farrands: I don’t have a problem with fiction, as long as you just label it as such. These people aren’t even doing that. I think it would be easier to swallow this if they just said, “This is pure bullshit.” They want to scare the public into thinking these events actually happened. And guess who has to deal with the fallout from that? Not them [the filmmakers]. They’re just going to rake in their money.
Lutz: Staci, I understand your perspective about people going and seeing it as a good scary movie. But there has to be some accounting for people that own the rights to nonfiction books and are depicting people that as characters in a movie that are real people that live today. There has to be some kind of line there, with regard to responsibility. And more important is that during the process of making this movie and excluding Dan and I from any access to what was going on, or any knowledge of what they were doing or what its content was, they were constantly making little movie clips and announcements about how they had gone back to the original book…
Lutz (cont’d): …how they had done additional research that was going to make this film so much more accurate. Well, some issues were brought up to them and now they have admitted that they were looking for something that had a true story attached to it and they were looking to make a commercially profitable movie.
Farrands: But when you’re still going around touting it as the true story, and using the names… I mean, couldn’t they have had the decency to change the name of the family? They did change the kids’ names, but it’s still George and Kathy.
Horror.com: We see Law and Order shows on TV every week, “ripped from the headlines.” Is their position that this story is in the public domain because it’s so infamous?
Lutz: Let me help you out with that. About 3 years ago, I got the U.S. Federal Trademark registered for this as a nonfiction book, as well as a series of books we had done about this. You don’t get to ever say that the name “Amityville Horror” is in the public domain. It’s not and it never will be. It’s a Federally registered trademark.
Farrands: So many people have come out of the woodwork over the years that I know of, even in my experience in the few years that I’ve been involved with this, claiming that they could do whatever they wanted. “Well, that was a news story. We can talk about that. There were murders, that was part of the public domain.” The problem is, this was one family’s experience and story and they chose to tell it. Nobody knew that it would become a cultural icon, in a way. When something like that happens to you and everybody wants to sort of twist the events and tell the story however they want and make accusations, it makes every bit of sense to go and register this as a piece of property that you own. And the trademark office agreed.
Lutz: It’s not an easy thing to get a trademark. This was a process that took a year and a half. It was to just protect the right to have the story told in a particular fashion, which is what the 14 lawsuits that have taken place involve.
Horror.com: For Amityville II, they did change the name of the DeFeo family to something else. Why not just change yours?
Farrands: Because they think they can.
Horror.com: But why?
Lutz: They’ve even gone so far as to put flashes on the screen [in the new movie] — this is what I’ve been told — of the original crime scene photos.
Farrands: Yeah, of the dead bodies. I think they were the actual photos. Even if they weren’t the actual photos and were ‘mock-ups’ I still think it’s in incredibly bad taste.
Lutz: That’s really beyond…
Farrands: I don’t think the DeFeo’s ever asked to be a part of this story. The fact that there was a backdrop of these murders certainly made it more creepy and certainly they added to the existing mysteries about that house, and what went on there. But The Amityville Horror book was really not about the DeFeo murders.
Lutz: The book referenced them because it happened there. But it’s not a story about the family, or…
Farrands: And it certainly was never the intention, I don’t think, and certainly not in my documentary, to defame the family or their memory.
Horror.com: If not the DeFeo crime, then what are some of the theories as to why the house was haunted?
Lutz: On March 6, 1976, a team of investigators went into the house. The team included Dr. Riley and Alberta Riley — he’s a parapsychologist from England and his wife is a trans-medium. And Ed Warren, who was the only Vatican-approved demonologist in the United States, layperson; and his wife, Lorraine, who is a light trans-medium. Mary Downey is a psychic with 40 years’ experience at schools and radio programs, teaching others how to use various gifts. Mary had a whole series of books that she had been involved with at that point and her credentials were impeccable. She was considered a time-walker; that means she’s able to go someplace and actually reestablish events in history and then give enough clues to actually document what it is that she finds. And that team, as such, was accompanied by a news crew and Dr. Alex Tenhouse, Dr. Karlis Osis and what were represented to me as field investigators from the Divine Institute at Duke University — which we later learned weren’t exactly as represented.
This whole team of people went in for a full day, and during that time a professional photographer who’d also accompanied the Warrens, and came and took photographs the entire time he was there — he set up an automatic camera on a timer on the second floor…
Farrands: Yeah, they used high speed film and all of the techniques available at that time to sort of capture, hopefully, any activity in the house.
Lutz: …And, um, a photograph turned up at one point where there was a little boy peering out of one of the bedrooms that my youngest daughter at the time had used. There’s a likeness of Padre Pio that’s so easily discernable and definable, that appears in the sun room on a mounted moose head of all things.
Padre Pio was asked by Lorraine Warren to go with her and accompany her in her prayers that day…
Farrands: He’s since been made a saint by the Catholic church. The story of Padre Pio is that he was a Catholic monk who suffered the stigmata for forty years.
Lutz: Getting back to your question. At the end of that day, after a number of individual and collective experiences, the consensus of opinion was that the house could not be cleansed by them. That it would require an Anglican or Catholic priest to come in and not to demean, not a parish priest, but it would require someone special for this kind of purpose. What was there had never walked the face of the earth in human form, it was not going to give up the house as such, and that it would have to be exorcised. As far as they were concerned, there was no more that they could do.
The bottom line of all of that is, Kathy and I felt that it was way beyond our right or responsibility to ask someone to come in and put their life in jeopardy to save a piece of real estate. So we left the house as it was, and I sold my land-surveying business and we went on out to California and started over again. We left the house, all of our furniture and clothing and everything.
(Pictured: The James Brolin version of George Lutz)
Continue to Part Three...