ICONS OF FRIGHT Interview With MY AMITYVILLE HORROR Director Eric Walter!!
If you’ve previously read my review (HERE) of Eric Walter’s documentary MY AMITYVILLE HORROR, then you already know how much I enjoyed it. It was obvious from the get-go that Walter had a real respect for the subject matter and presented for the first time, the story of Daniel Lutz, the oldest son haunted by the events that were made legendary by films, books and various other mediums. It’s a really well done film, and I was happy as hell to be able to chat with Eric for a bit. Read on!
Hey Eric, how’s it going?
I’m doing great, it’s great to speak with you.
Definitely. First off, great job on the film, it’s probably one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen in a while, I really enjoyed it.
Wow, thanks, I’m very pleased to hear that. Thank you.
The history of the Ocean Avenue house and what supposedly happened to the Lutz Family there is so notorious and legendary, what drew you to want to make the film?
Just that actually. The history of the house and the personalities that surrounded the house really. I had read the book when I was about ten and later on, once I started to dig into the case, I started to find out information about the DeFeo homicide, and the Lutz family’s allegations of hauntings, and the subsequent families that lived there saying that nothing ever happened there. I developed a website that I kind of called a “web archive” about everything known about the case called amityvillefiles.com, and it was basically an unbiased objective presentation of all of the documentations surrounding the story, the newspaper archives, trial transcripts, you name it, it was up there. I really wanted to have a place where people could come examine it all and make up their minds for themselves. It’s so easy to call the case a hoax or to say it’s true, but I think it lies in between those two. For me, the website was essentially a calling card for this project. I was contacted by a friend of Daniel Lutz in 2009, and I was living in Los Angeles after starting this website as a kid in Maryland. I had moved to LA to pursue a film career focused on documentary filmmaking. Amityville was something I always wanted to do, but I never wanted to just rehash facts, ya know? I kind of primed all of the people featured in the film with Danny before the film even came to be.
How was it finding then interviewing Daniel Lutz?
He called me up, I talked to him, he was very unnerved by it. He wanted to speak about it publicly for the reason of his children reaching the age that they were able to handle it, and he didn’t want the same thing to happen to them. He was very interested in going public, and initially I was very skeptical. I was thinking “is this a sham?”, or “is he just looking for money?”, but it turns out that after flying to New York and meeting with him that his sheer hatred and disdain for the story and his step-father was the story that I was able to extract from him upon going to New York to speak with him on those first meetings. Actually a lot of the recordings that you hear in the film, the grainy audio cassettes, were the actual first conversations that we had.
Yeah, back in 2009. So that’s kind of an unknown fact that I’ve been recently telling people, because it’s a very interesting fact…like for instance, when he starts talking about Harry, the family dog being hung up on a chain and him having the nightmare, that stuff instantly tells you “hit record, this is what the project is now”. He didn’t know I was recording, he was just talking and I hit record without him knowing, but later on he said he had always thought I was recording so it’s ok. It was just one of those things, where I was just sitting there talking to him and you could feel the hairs just coming off his chest talking about this, again the anger..I mean, I was EXTREMELY uncomfortable sitting there with him. He was staring me down, just sitting across the table chain smoking and looking at me dead in the eye, it was very unnerving. I was there for five days, and a lot of the time I was thinking, “Do I want to be here, do I want to stay?”, but I knew that it was such an incredible access to something, despite it being somewhat frightening…because HE was frightening…I felt that it was worth it..I don’t want to say putting myself in harm’s way..but I did think that at times, that anything was possible. He was very very angry about the whole thing . Flying back to Los Angeles, I was completely taken by it, and it revitalized it all for me. I thought “this isn’t just about Amityville, or the Amityville Horror”, it was about this man, and the confusion that lies in trying to rationalize this incident to the public, which has been presented for decades with misinformation about the story. There are so many so called “experts” that want to tell you that this was all a hoax, because “this said this in chapter eight of the book”, well unfortunately that book, “The Amityville Horror” is a novel. It’s not presented as news or a form of documentary. Jay Anson took MAJOR creative license with the book. There are though, several statements from the Lutz’s that were inconsistent with each other, but I don’t attribute that to being a fabrication.
I’m not saying that I believe 100% of what they say either, I find some of it incredibly hard to swallow, like levitation and Kathy feeling like she was turning into an old hag, things like that just took it wayyyy beyond the point of reality for me. Then again, it’s very subjective, so I was more primarily interested in what I felt was the tremendous psychological impact on Danny Lutz. So having these interviews and putting them together to form the structure of the film, I really wanted to get in contact with Christopher, his brother. I went on to somewhat befriend him as well, on the phone, and talked at length with him as well. He wanted to do his own project because he and Danny don’t get along, and Danny, for a lack of better words, is kind of the black sheep of the family. He doesn’t communicate with them, he lives in New York, they live in another state out west. I knew that what I was hearing was going to alienate me from them in a way, but I knew that Danny was such an interesting, provocative personality, that it was just dynamite for a documentary. Plus, he was the oldest and most likely to remember what happened in the house.
One of the things that really stood out to me about the film, WAS the fact that it didn’t try to force you to believe or not believe in the story, it was more about, like you said, what Daniel went through. Was it important to you to make the film as subjective as it turned out to be?
Oh of course. I think that any documentary that doesn’t treat its subject subjectively isn’t doing its job. There have been many documentaries on the case that are just skewed perspectives. If you try to tackle the whole case head-on and debate all of that, it’s going to end up being a six hour venture. This story has so many different avenues, that I really wanted to keep it focused on Dan, and again, the psychological impact that it’s had on him and his life. So, yeah, I really felt that keeping it on that subjective line was very crucial, and bringing things up that had never been mentioned in an Amityville documentary or a supernatural documentary in general. The idea of suggestions from repressed memories. His memory has been laced with so many versions of the event that have been created by the media, the books, the films, you name it. One of the examples that I’ve talked a lot about was one of the first things that he talked about, which was moving day and Father Ray, the priest who came to the house for a house blessing…which was a well known scene in the book and the film. The priest had come into the house at George and Kathy’s request because there had been the murders there. Danny described it as witnessing the priest run out of the house shortly after arriving, and when he went to the room that Father Ray had gone in, he encountered 4-500 hundred flies. If you remember, in the 1979 version of the film, Rod Steiger played the priest that’s attacked by hordes of houseflies, so to me, it sounded like the movie version of what happened, because George and Kathy never mentioned that. They claimed, and so did Father Ray at the time, he’s actually on camera talking about this, that he was in the upstairs bedroom and heard a voice tell him “GET OUT” and he felt a disembodied hand slap him, he claimed. George and Kathy remembered him coming down the stairs cobbling, and said that there was something in the upstairs bedroom and that they should not use the room. They said “we’re not, we’re going to use that as a filling room”. It became a pretty infamous room in the book, I don’t know if you’ve read the book, but it was very key to the story. So anyways, the point is that Danny’s version of it sounds like something that’s mixed with the movie version.
The only way that I can say that I don’t attribute it to a fabrication is that just hearing him tell that story to me and to other people during shooting the documentary. I suppose anything is possible, but I just think his memory is mixed with everything that’s been presented. If you try to question his validity, he is EXTREMELY confrontational, he’ll jump down your throat, as you saw at the end of the film. I really think it summed up the film really well. I’ve actually had people be angry with me and say “You’ve been subjective the whole movie, then at the end you pushed the button and tried to piss him off”. It wasn’t my objective there, it’s just how the interview ended. I said “your parents took polygraph tests and passed with flying colors, would you be willing to take a polygraph?”, and he took that as an assault on his credibility. I think because he spent eight hours pouring his heart out to me, in front a couple of camera operators and people that he didn’t know. I can understand that, I just think people pulled different things from that. I just really wanted the film to be on a personal level, it’s not meant to be just facts, there’s no way to verify some stuff, especially with his step-father now that he’s passed on. A great concern of mine was the fact that there were all of these allegations about George, now that he’s passed on, because I certainly don’t know if any of it was true, however…Christopher, his brother, has come out through various venues throughout the years saying similar things. He also said that George was into the occult and triggered the event on the family, so everyone can pull what they want from that. There’s so much to it, that I don’t think the whole thing was made up. There’s too much evidence, and they were truly terrified. I do feel like they were terrified of something, however, the story has become American folklore and has taken on a life of its own.
That’s great. Eric, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, I’m definitely looking forward to what you come out with next.
Great talking to you!
MY AMITYVILLE HORROR will be released in theaters FRIDAY, MARCH 15TH in NYC at IFC Center and will also be available through VOD, ITUNES, XBOX, AMAZON, PLAYSTATION AND SUNDANCE NOW via IFC MIDNIGHT.