In Search Of… S04E03 The Amityville Horror

Now this one is just adorable. Basically, the episode investigates the 'true story' that the movie 'The Amityville Horror' was based on and somehow comes up with something even crappier than the film 'The Amityville Horror'.

Leonard Nimoy In Search Of s04e03 The Amityville Horror
And that's in spite of this shot.

We start with Nimoy narrating over a clip from the movie assuring us that this ghost story is real. Then we go talk to the actual people who claimed their house was haunted, George and Cathy Lutz. They talk about how nice the house was, even though it was the setting of a recent multiple homicide.

The re-enactment of the families eating, hanging a crucifix on the wall and having a priest bless the house are beautifully crappy. I tell you, when a show can make re-enactment of mundane tasks look this awkward, it makes me look forward to the more interesting re-enactments.

There's an interview with the priest who blessed the house, and he is shown in silhouette and granted anonymity. Wikipedia tells me that this is the priest's only on-screen interview over the story, as generally he's tried to keep at a distance from the issue. He says he felt a slap and heard a voice say get out. Coincidentally, the phrase 'get out' reminds me of much better horror movies than 'The Amityville Horror.'

Re-enactment of a plague of flies comes next, then a toilet that drips… black ink, by the look of things. The music is suitably  spooky as the priest claims he had blisters on his hands and argued with the doctor about the reason. Hands with crappy stick-on blisters call the Lutzes to warn them. So many people messing with 1970s telephones!

A door opens – a rocking chair is rocking by itself! 1970s phones don't work! George Lutz feels cold! I'm being a little mean here, because the filmmakers are doing their best to make all these things look scary. I can see that a good writer could do something with it, but there's a limit to how spooky it can get in this context.

Speaking of writers, the author of the book The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson, turns up, seated behind an enormous typewriter. He assures us that the story must be real because George Lutz was too tough to be scared by anything that wasn't genuinely scary which is… an argument, I guess.

A slightly higher production quality storm scene comes on, which I assume is from the movie… and we're back to silhouetted shots of ordinary people in hallways. Kathy Lutz talks about the mysterious 'Red Room' she found in the basement, which other owners of the house say was always there. Nimoy stands in the room trying to make it seem scary and, yes, almost carrying it off.

There follow a few more incidents – the Lutz daughter's imaginary friend is apparently spooky. George Lutz talks about how his behaviour changed, mostly in uninteresting ways.

Kathy Lutz talks about seeing herself look spooky in a mirror at night. She got better. Her story might be spooky, if she wasn’t being filmed in broad daylight in front of a curtained window. Re-enactment George keeps feeding wood into the fire until a demonic face appears in the flames. Even Nimoy's narration can't make the awful effect work. Then there's an entertaining little montage of creepy images and short clips from the movie. This is the part where the horror works best. It doesn't last long, but it's the part where the episode genuinely gets a small chill in, before moving onto duller stuff.

We talk to Anson again. He assures us that the Lutz' story sounds like a 'very good' haunted house story. Nice backhanded grab at a compliment. He says he believes that all the strange events took place.

Nimoy, standing in the Amityville house does a really nice lead into talking about the case as a demonic incident rather than a mere haunting. Basically, his argument is that the murders in the house happened while the murderer was under demonic possession. We're told that George looked similar to the previous, murderous occupant of the house, which is proven with two very crappy photos put side by side. A later, clearer photo of the murderer shows that he looks very unlike George, save for a beard and bad 1970s haircut.

Anyhoo, the Lutzes called in Ed and Loraine Warren, who I thought had been on the show before but turns out they hadn't. They were psychic investigators involved with a few high profile haunting stories in the 1970s and 80s. Ed doesn't say anything interesting, much and Loraine says nothing.

Having earned their appearance fee and filled a minute of screen time, they vanish. Nimoy tells us that the Amityville house was built on – no, not a Native American burial ground. A Native American insane asylum! Yes really. Apparently, local Native American leaders deny any such place existed, but we get a scene of some Natives dancing around a fire, so you decide.

There's another flip through the creepy images from earlier. The priest says that the idea that objects can be possessed is contrary to Catholic teaching, which I didn’t know. Guess I learned something after all. The priest says that there was something there in the house, but not possessing it. Interesting.

And then there's a dull wrapping up with the Lutzes. The end.

I'm not going to get into the question of the Lutzes' honesty. Partly this is because their story has been picked over dozens of times, but mostly because I don't care. A little research shows that a) most of the Lutzes claims are not testable but also that b) many of the claims that are testable have been shown to be false. Whether this was a hoax, a case of overactive imagination or some combination of the two is kind of pointless to discuss. As a crappy horror story, I find it interesting. As evidence of paranormal activity, life after death and other awe-inspiring possibilities it lacks a lot.

I'm more interested in how a cheap documentary series manages to make horror work. Honestly, in this case, not well. Some of the show's previous ghost stories have worked fairly well because they've been portmanteaus of creepy stories. The In Search Of… technique doesn’t work so well here, in a single extended story. Or then again, maybe it just looks crappy because it's directly comparable to a more expensive Hollywood treatment of the same story.

Quotes

"This seemingly farfetched explanation helped confirm something the Lutzes desperately wanted to hear."

"For those who lived through the Amityville horror, the emotional shock still lingers."

Summing Up

Creepiness 7/10, Nimoyness: 8/10, Plausibility: 3/10, Music: 8/10, Better than the Movie: 0/10. Overall: 25/50. Pass.

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