With the advent of The Amityville Horror Boxed Set of DVDs (which includes two documentaries written for the History Channel by Farrands) and the new remake of The Amityville Horror (starring Ryan Reynolds as Lutz), both Lutz and Farrands are teaming up for interviews. Here’s what they had to say in a sit-down chat for Horror.com:
Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com: How did the documentary come about? It aired on The History Channel a couple of years back, right?
Farrands: It did; in October of 2000. It came about after a long journey of trying to figure out how to approach this subject. I mean, I’m a horror writer. I wrote Halloween VI for Dimension Films, and some other projects. This is a story that I remembered from my childhood that I thought was just fascinating. And I remembered hearing these stories that it was made up, and there were other books by all these people who claimed they knew what really happened. But what I wanted to know was what did the Lutz family have to say after twenty years? I did some research to see if the family had commented on the story in recent years but there was never really any follow-up to it, and I thought, “Well, that’s really interesting.” At the time, there was kind of an anniversary around the corner and I thought, “Well, if I can track down the actual people who were involved, maybe we can do either a movie update on this, or a documentary or somehow revisit this story” There’s been a lot of straight-to-video, in-name-only Amityville movies that really didn’t have anything to do with the original story.
I ended up in communication for awhile with Professor Hans Holzer, who was one of the people who later came in, through channels that really weren’t associated with the Lutz family. He had investigated the case with a fairly well-known psychic at the time. So I was kind of getting his perspective on the case, and he put me in touch with Mr. Lutz. who was living a quiet life at the time, remodeling his kitchen, working on cars . I was probably one of the first people to approach George on the subject in quite some time
Lutz: Oh, certainly, on doing a documentary.
Farrands: I think the whole thing was, you know, sort of explaining what I wanted to do. That I wanted to tell the story from, from at least his point of view and also because it was such a controversy and there were so many people who had opinions who weren’t even a part of what went on. I wanted to give all the different people a voice on the show and sort of just put it out there. The whole idea was always to give an objective overview. We just presented each point of view and let the audience come away and decide what they wanted to believe. Whether it was the movie, the story, or the participants in this and what they brought to the table — and who was who. It’s a really colorful cast of characters. The strange thing about it is, the interesting thing, is it all began with the story of a family. People sort of seem to forget that.
Horror.com: Mr. Lutz, were you at all skeptical when Dan first came to you with this idea?
Lutz: We talked. I think our first conversation was about two hours long. I kind of trusted in the two hours in that it told me enough to continue to talk with him again. [Dan] had, I think not just a genuine interest, but he had a candid part to his character that showed through. I was looking for him to betray that as false, and he never did.
Horror.com: What do you think of the documentary as part of the boxed set of DVDs that’s coming out now?
Lutz: I haven’t seen the boxed set. Think there’s a bit of hubris involved in renaming this, but that’s pretty interesting in itself, calling it Amityville Confidential. The problem with the boxed set is, if it’s the same one that I’m thinking of, it also has Amityville II and Amityville 3-D.
There’s a specific requirement that MGM never do that. That Dino De Laurentiis Enterprises never does that. They did this in Europe, and we’re still trying to begin to unravel how to deal with that part. Doing it here, they’re not allowed to use Kathy’s and my name with regard to promoting the second and third movies. This was part of a settlement agreement back in 1993 with Orion Pictures, when the library was picked up by MGM and that distribution deal as such, or exclusions to this, apply to that. This is just another example of the kinds of things these people just do on their own.
Horror.com: The second and third movies weren’t very good, but in trying to remember, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use your family name.
Lutz: Let me explain that to you. When we did a sequel book, called Amityville Horror II, and that book was produced and it was out selling and a production company had been formed and we had announced our intention to do a sequel to the first movie.
The one thing that Kathy and I got from the original contracts with AIP, who did the first movie, was that we got the sequel rights. So we owned the sequel rights, and we still do. We were doing the sequel and we were conforming with every part of the contract, which meant we had to give AIP a right of first refusal. It was very interesting how that all went about, because they strung that out for quite awhile. Little did we know that they had done a deal with Dino De Laurentiis Enterprises.
Then it was announced that De Laurentiis was doing a movie called Amityville Horror II, not only in violation of our sequel rights and our agreement, he was doing it with the same company (which eventually became Filmways). They were all noticed not to do that and they did eventually change the name of the movie to Amityville II. But when the movie came out, they used our names in the advertising. So we actually sued them, got a temporary restraining order to enjoin the film and keep it from being released. My two attorneys went in, and the first time it was kind of a slam dunk. It was an immediate, “Yeah,” the judge said, “We’re not going to let that movie come out.”
The following week they were back in there with De Laurentiis and Filmways attorneys. They were back in there with something like 22 attorneys. The judge was overwhelmed. He allowed them to go forward. We would’ve had to have put up a bond, and the way a bond works is, if you lose the case in any way, shape or form later on, then you’re on for 90% of the bond. If we had put up, for example, a $3m bond at the time and had come up with $300,000 to keep the movie from coming out, if we had lost anything later, then we would have been on the hook for another $2.7 million.
Horror.com: Small pocket change!
Lutz: Yeah. That doesn’t work well. But [chuckles] we did get, immediately, a big huge poster put up in each theater: “This film has no affiliation with George and Kathy Lutz.”
Farrands: I remember that. Seeing that in the theater when I was a kid.
Lutz: I still have one of those. It’s framed. I’m moving my office around right now, but when I get done that’s going up on the wall first. So to finish answering your question, this lawsuit went on for 12 years and when it finally settled, there is a specific clause that says, “You don’t do this.” And they have done it again. They’ve done it three ways, here: By incorporating Amityville II, Amityville 3-D, with our names from the first movie, and they’ve done it with The History’s Mysteries. We’re also on that one.
Farrands: [They did it] without consulting, without even checking.
Horror.com: I have to say, the first movie, I saw it when it came out and it really scared me. I was about 12. I’ve seen it many times again over the years, plus I read the book, and I’ve seen the new 2005 remake. The George Lutz character as played by James Brolin, at least he was a good guy in the beginning and at the end. As he’s written in the new version, he’s not very likable from the start and he goes downhill from there. I liked the movie from a horror fan’s standpoint — I think it’s scarier than the original — but I will say that I stayed for the end credits to see if they were going to say whether or not it’s based on the book. I was surprised when I saw that it was, because it takes a lot of liberties.
Lutz: They did some very “interesting” things here in the production. One of the things that never happened when the original movie deal was done… And I need to explain that that deal was done without our permission and that’s one of the reasons we got the sequel rights. That was a concession on their part to get us to agree to go ahead. Because otherwise, you never get sequel rights. That just doesn’t happen. Well, when they did this, one of the exclusions very specifically in that contract said, “You do not have anything to do with publication rights of our book.”
Well, it was announced last fall (2004) that MGM and Simon and Schuster would be doing a co-venture of some kind with regard to a reissue of the original book and they would be adding a new forward. When we discovered this, we also found out that Simon and Schuster had republished the book in 1990 and never told us. So we immediately asked for an accounting of what they had done in 1990. It took them almost 5 months to do that, and we reminded them that the rights had not been transferred to Simon and Schuster as far as we were concerned, because we had noticed them when they tried to buy the plates years later when they took it out of print. That was considered at that time to be sufficient notice that they no longer had any publishing rights. They still contend that they have the rights to this day, and they have refused to allow us to get the book reprinted as a result of the lawsuit that MGM has filed against me. Not only am I left at this point with being unable to get that book made available to just show people how bad this movie is compared to the original story and what was done and what was accurate, I’ve also got MGM to deal with — a multibillion dollar corporation — as an individual, being sued by them.
Horror.com: I think real fans of the genre will see the movie anyway, and knowing the back story, will instantly see that it’s very embellished. It doesn’t follow the book. When I asked Ryan Reynolds if he had any concerns playing you as portrayed, he said he wasn’t doing a biography film and that his only focus was on the screenplay. So I’m wondering, do you blame the actors that take these roles on? Should they have any responsibility?
Lutz: Well, I liked Jim Brolin. I enjoyed the time I met him, years ago. As far as he was concerned, it was a job he was offered and he took it. But what Ryan Reynolds has done is, he has made a number of statements in a number of different film clips with regard to promoting this movie. [He’s said] things like, they had gone back and done additional research or they were more true to the original book. I don’t blame the guy for taking the job, but if you’re going to make statements about the truth of what you’re doing then there should be some truth to that. You don’t get to have a part-time commitment to truth. So sure, there are some issues with that.
Horror.com: People might be afraid of you after this movie comes out. The character is really scary.
Lutz: These are damages that will continue from the moment this is released. Friends of mine who have seen the movie told me they lost count how many times the fictional George Lutz in this fictional remake of a true story tries to kill his family. Attempted murder is a very serious charge to make in a movie about real people who are still alive.
Farrands: And beyond attempted murder, the butchering of a family pet with an ax!
(Pictured: The real George Lutz)
Continue to Part Two...