Reviews - Books

Review: The Amityville Horror

Spooky Scary Haunted House

Today I want to talk with you about a well-known horror story, The Amityville Horror. This story has come to us in the form of a book and a series of films, it is the novel I want to talk about today. 

The book by Jay Anson was published in September 1977 by Prentice Hall publisher and is loosely based on the experiences of the Lutz family. While being based on a true story is hardly anything new in fiction this particular story has faced lawsuits due to its bending of the truth. 

Due to this controversy, I’m adding an extra section to today’s letter, this section will briefly touch on the events that are the basis for the book. 

The True Story

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On 13th November 1974, Ronald DeFeo Junior shot and killed six members of his family, at home while they were asleep in their beds. In December 1975 the Lutz family moved into the house where DeFeo murdered his family but fled the building within a month due to claimed paranormal phenomena. 

The Lutz’s did not work directly with Anson when he was writing the book, but they did give him hours of tape-recorded recollections which he used to write the book.

Summary

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In December 1975 the Lutz family, George, and Kathleen, their three children Daniel, Christopher, and Melissa as well as their doggo Harry, move into the distinctive house known as 112 Ocean Avenue. 

They had been made aware of the house’s history concerning the murders and while this didn’t stop them from buying the property, they did have it blessed. Father Mancuso arrived to carry out the blessing as the family was unpacking but almost as soon as he started, he heard a voice telling him to ‘Get out’ Father Mancuso said nothing to George and Kathleen, though he did call them sometime later and advise them to keep out of one room on the second floor. 

They attempted another blessing, but it did not work, and they spent their last night in the house. They did not describe what happened on the final night as they deemed it too frightening to recount. They went to stay with Kathleen’s mother who lived nearby but the malicious paranormal phenomena followed them there. 

My Thoughts – General 

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This is one of those situations where I saw the film before reading the book, and it is a rarer occurrence that I liked the film better. I found the film to be more compelling and engaging than the book. That’s not to say the book is bad, but much like when I read a book before seeing a film I go in with certain expectations on tone, events, characters etc and find it jarring when those expectations are not met. It’s a personal malfunction rather than a criticism of the material. 

My main point here is that a lot of my feelings towards this story come from the film, and I struggled with being objective when reading the book. I pictured the movie scenes when reading, heard bits of the score in my head etc. 

My thoughts – Characters 

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The characters don’t develop a great deal through the story unless you count on going from liking the house to being afraid of the house as a development. 

Their reaction to living in the spooky house of spookums is understandable and they’re staying in the house as long as they did was also relatable. You can feel how they are desperate to build their family together, be happy and get a fresh start. They also know they won’t get a house like this for the money they paid anywhere else. So, I do find the characters and their motivations relatable. 

My Thoughts – Setting 

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The setting is iconic as all hell. 

The haunted house is iconic on its own as is the Amityville house, so put them together as haunted Amityville house and you’ve got a damn compelling setting. 

I am not sure if I would feel the same had I not had the experience with the film which put a lot of work with lighting, music camera angles etc to make the setting so damn intimidating. 

My Thoughts – Theme

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The story taps into multiple fears, the most obvious being the malicious presence in the house. The fear of monsters and supernatural entities is a given in haunted house stories and it’s handled pretty well here. 

We also get the fear of things being too good to be true, or rather the fear that there is always a price to be paid, the Lutz’s get the house for a financial bargain, but they pay a very different price. 

The atmosphere is great, even knowing the story beforehand I still managed to hold myself during moments of tension etc. the story combines a thriller-horror type tension with classic horror and an all-out terror. The pervasive dread throughout the story is almost tangible. 

Overall, I’d say the book is worth your time, but if you’ve already seen one of the many film adaptations then you should be aware of your preconceived notions going in. 

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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