Screen chats to director Eric Walter and producer Andrea Adams about their documentary My Amityville Horror, which plays at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
Having received its world premiere on Sunday night (22), documentary My Amityville Horror is also playing tomorrow afternoon (27) at the festival, one of a few films in this year’s Fantasia programme that is playing for a second time.
A fascinating and engrossing documentary – all the more impressive given the countless films, TV documentaries and books already out there on the iconic haunting – My Amityville Horror sees Daniel Lutz recount his version of the events that terrified his family in 1975, and the psychological scars it has left over 35 years on. For director Eric Walter, the documentary is the culmination of a long-term interest in the Amityville legend.
“I’ve been working on – and interested in – this story for over ten years. I’ve been doing independent research on the story and have, like everybody else, read Jay Anson’s book The Amityville Horror, becoming very interested in the whole story that surrounds this, because there’s many different levels to it.”
In 2007, Walter set up the website amityvillefiles.com – “[it’s] basically an unbiased presentation of all the documentation” – and, through that, was contacted by someone who claimed to be a friend of Daniel Lutz. “I immediately didn’t necessarily believe the story until I had seen the picture of Daniel that he sent me and I knew that was him,” recalls Walter, who then went to New York in 2009 and conducted 12 hours of interviews with Lutz.
However, this trip was originally purely out of interest with no intention of My Amityville Horror coming out of it. But as producer Andrea Adams – who was brought onto the project by Walter – points out, a film was really the only place for Lutz’s account.
“He’s such an arresting character; he’s very visually interesting and dynamic and he speaks very well,” states Adams. “When I met Daniel, I knew a book wouldn’t be the proper venue for him. You don’t get the visual intensity that you do when you’re watching him on screen, talking about this extremely defining event in his life.”
For Walter and Adams, it was crucial to the film that My Amityville Horror brought both an objective viewpoint – Walter brought Laura DiDio, a news reporter who was 19 at the time and was reunited with Lutz to carry out the majority of the interviews in the film – and also a different spin on a well-known legend, especially because Walter doesn’t believe it’s ever “been treated with the proper respect for the story – in terms of the family”.
“The film isn’t necessarily talking about what Daniel believes did or didn’t happen; it’s more about the effects of something like that on somebody psychologically,” says Adams. “It talks about what being in the forefront of the media can do to somebody, how you deal with that and how it affects many more aspects of your life that you even realise.”
While not going through a re-edit as such, the version showing in Fantasia is different to the cut originally created. “We watched it collectively with a bunch of our friends and colleagues and there were just pieces, in the end, that we didn’t think were necessary for the film,” explains Adams. “So it was more that we were not yet finished editing and we went through and cut some stuff and added some stuff, and what we came to is a much stronger piece than what we initially thought was going to be our final piece.”
“In documentaries, you go through a process of deducing what through line needs to be there, what context you need to make it an overall encompassing experience,” adds Walter. “What’s great is that for anybody who doesn’t know anything about Amityville, they can still watch this and get an overall feel of the history.”
So, after all the research and over ten years of involvement in the Amityville legend, what does Walter believe really happened in 1975? “I believe something happened to these people and while I am a sceptical person of the paranormal at heart myself, I don’t believe it makes sense that this family would go through so much trauma if there wasn’t something that frightened them.
“Whether it was in their mind or in a physical state, who knows, but I do believe they were considerably frightened and it’s terrifying to think that today in 2012, it continues in the minds of the children that were there and it’s very real for them.”