A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I have spent many hours walking in the last few months. My son, now seven months old, had a fairly long phase of only reliably napping in his pram and so I spent an hour or two every day wandering around the area where I live. It was actually very interesting getting to know streets I’d never been down and finding little shortcuts I didn’t know existed. After a while, though, I’d pretty much exhausted every new route and boredom set in. It eventually occurred to me that pushing a sleeping baby around would be the ideal time to listen to some audiobooks. I had quite a few Audible credits stored up so I set about browsing. For some reason the horror classic The Amityville Horror popped up and I thought “why the hell not?”.
I like a bit of horror. Not on film, nononono. I can’t watch scary or gory things, but I can happily read them. This means I’ve never seen the film versions of Amityville, and indeed only vaguely knew the story: family moves into distinctive looking house where a man previously murdered his parents and siblings; weird stuff occurs; family flee.
And this is broadly what happens. George and Kathy Lutz and their three children take up residence at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville in 1975, 13 months after Ronald De Feo brutally murdered six members of his family in the house. Their new home was a bargain, given its recent history, and not being superstitious sorts they weren’t bothered by its history. All the same, they asked Father Mancuso to bless their new home. Well, that doesn’t go well. While upstairs, he clearly hears an aggressive male voice telling him to get out. Following his visit, Father Mancuso’s car mysteriously broke down, he developed a flu-like illness, and finally stigmata-like blisters and markings on his hands. Every time he tried to phone George to warn him about the house the phone lines were cut or were distorted. All very weird but nothing compared to what was going on in the house itself.
Firstly, George started waking up at exactly 3.15am each morning with a compulsion to check the boathouse. This later turns out to be the time the De Feo murders were committed. Flies swarmed in upper rooms of the house even in December. A crucifix hung upstairs turned upside down and emitted a foul odour. Toilets went black. Cloven hoofprints appeared in the snow outside. Green slime slid down walls. Kathy was embraced by unseen entities, and lifted into the air. Five year old Missy’s rocking chair started rocking of its own accord. Missy also started talking about Jodie, a pig, who was her friend. George heard a marching band tune up downstairs at night. A huge ceramic lion moved about the house seemingly by itself, tripping up George in the process. After just a few weeks it all got too much and the family fled to Kathy’s mum’s place, leaving all their belongings and never returning to 112 Ocean Avenue.
I mean, the whole thing is ludicrous. It was all fine until the marching band and the ceramic lion turned up. A ceramic lion. If the Devil, like God, moves in mysterious ways, then a ceramic lion is surely a masterstroke. And a marching band. A marching band! Sorry, by this point I was laughing. I don’t think I was meant to be laughing. Because, of course, The Amityville Horror is subtitled A True Story, and so it was marketed. The tragic De Feo murders definitely happened (Ronald De Feo is still incarcerated in a correctional facility in New York). George and Kathy Lutz were real people who maintained that they had supernatural experiences in the house albeit not exactly as it was laid out by Jay Anson. But… come on. A MARCHING BAND. It is telling that the book is now classed as a novel.
For all its ridiculousness, though, it is hugely entertaining. The slightly hammy audio delivery only added to the entertainment value, and because of that I’m not sure I would have been so amused had I read the book in print. It certainly whiled away several hours of wheeling a sleeping baby around this summer, and for that I am grateful. I still have no desire to watch the film though.
Jay Anson: The Amityville Horror: A True Story (Audiobook, 1977)