This documentary was one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing at Toronto After Dark this year, and while it was a little different than I’d expected going in, it gave me far more than I’d dared hope before the end credits rolled! Based on the events of the most famous alleged haunting of the Lutz family when they lived in an Amityville home in the mid-1970′s, this documentary focuses on the experience and life of Daniel Lutz, who was only a young boy of 10 years when the supernatural events were said to have occured. How much is myth, made up or memory will maybe never be known for certain, but there are some things that this documentary proves without a shoadow of a doubt. One is that Daniel Lutz has grown up – the little boy he once was has grown into a strong man with a family of his own to care for and protect. He has a life, a mind, and opinions that are as strong now as they were then, and he’s finally willing to give us a glimpse into some of them now, nearly 40 years later. Another thing that this film proves, however, is that – as much as he’s tried to leave the events of that house and his youth behind him, the emotional effects and psychological scars left on his persona by that time in his life are still very present today. To me, that was the far more interesting story that needed to be told, and director Eric Walter has successfully crafted a fascinating piece of cinematic character study with this intriguing documentary.
Right from the beginning, I found Danny Lutz to be incredibly candid, engaging, funny and easy to watch. I hung on his every word, whether he was talking about lying to his mom about going to school, or carrying boxes when they moved into the Amityville house, or his volatile and strained relationship with his stepfather, George. I don’t know enough about the alleged events that transpired in the house while the Lutz’s lived there to have my opinion pre-formed going into this doc, but I saw the movie when I was a kid, and I am pretty sure I have a novel still kicking around somewhere. I haven’t seen the remake just on principle, though. At any rate, my impression of Daniel the man was made just from watching him speak on film about his life during that part of his childhood. And I think I instantly liked the guy. Something he said early on about needing to protect his mother and younger siblings after his biological parents divorced, and feeling like he still needed to be the man of the house even after (or maybe especially after) she married George Lutz – all of that endeared hjim to me even more. The kid was 10 years old! And while I didn’t really have an opinion of George Lutz going into the film last night, either, I have to say that I think he was kind of creepy. Perhaps just your average asshole, but he totally had a serial killer creep factor going on, too, if you ask me!
This documentary is almost entirely about Danny, though, and that’s part of what I liked about it. He’s a terrific subject, he can express himself better than I can most times, and he comes across as genuine in his beliefs and emotions, which is refreshing. At no point did I ever feel like he was being dishonest or hiding anything. He was cautious sometimes in what he said or how he said it, but that’s just a lesson that he learned the hard way – and that maybe more people should learn at some point in their lives, as well, actually. Daniel spoke of his initial impressions of the house with as much reflective candor as he relayed his memory of the events he witnessed during his time living there. His bright eyes are electric and kind of impossible to look away from, and they reveal the depths of his varied emotions as clearly as anything written on his face.
For the most part, this documentary is not interested in proving or disproving the supernatural events described by the Lutz family. It exists, instead, to give Daniel something he’d never had before – a voice, and medium with which to tell his story – and it does a very good job of that. At one point near the end, the director asks Daniel if he’d be willing to consent to a polygraph test to go along with his testimony, but even before he answered, I thought it kind of a ridiculous question. All a polygraph would prove is that Daniel Lutz believes every word he’s saying – and I don’t think anyone watching this documentary would question THAT, even for a moment! But separating fact from fiction in this case is a rather pointless endeavour, I believe. Reality is subjective, anyway, and the volatile relationship between George and Daniel alone could have been enough to stir things up in a house that had already known a recent tragedy – Ronald DeFeo Jr was convicted of killing his parents and 4 siblings while they slept in a horrific massacre that even now is still shrouded in mystery. But while the events Daniel describes from his time in the house are frightening and can lead to many questions in and of themselves, it was all of the things that happened to him after the Lutz family ran from the house in the middle of the night that made this documentary all the more fascinating and disturbing to this viewer. It’s very obvious that Daniel the man is still haunted by Amityville and all that transpired before, during and after the alleged haunting. He even describes himself as “Danny’s bodyguard”, which is just heartbreaking in a way – and empowering in another.
Regardless of what you believe as far as the Amityville haunting goes, I strongly urge you to give this doc a look whenever you get the chance. Danny Lutz is worth getting to know and, as much as I know he wants someone to believe him, I can guarantee that, at the very least, you will walk out with more questions than you had going in, and that can only lead to more positive dialogue about the subject, as far as I’m concerned.
Did George Lutz bear a striking resemblance to the DeFeo guy who murdered his family in cold blood? You be the judge!
Is this photograph, taken during a paranormal investigation in the Amityville house after the Lutz family had left (and when there were no children in the house at all), actual evidence of a ghost? Maybe even the spirit of one of the young DeFeo boys killed in the house by their big brother? You tell me!