History Channel documentaries are pretty slick productions, assembled with contemporary editing flourishes, and lots of pretty graphics and digital manipulation to compensate for limited archival visuals, but the pair of docs included on the bonus DVD that accompanies MGM's fun "Amityville" boxed set contribute a valuable dimension to material touched upon in parapsychologist Hans Holzer's commentary track and the making-of featurette on "The Amityville Horror" disc.
In the first of Daniel Farrands ("The Girl Next Door," "Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers") docs, "Amityville: Horror or Hoax?" Holzer's a mere participant, and is part of a flurry of many interviews that make up the engaging and occasionally creepy narrative of the "Amityville" lore. The doc manages to stay largely neutral, allowing each participant - the affected, the historians, the believers, and the debunkers - to state their respective cases. For the viewer, it all becomes a nutty soap opera, as one experiences sympathy, shock, and ridicule for some of the colourful characters involved in what's still an ongoing drama (if not bitter, lingering acrimony).
The first doc covers the Lutz' eviction and the publicized, battling egos and theories of the events, whereas the second doc, "Amityville: The Haunting," digs further into the history of the original land, the first home that resided on the property, the now-famous Dutch Colonial edifice, and the colourful theories of what other nefarious things may have occurred on the lot. Of note in the doc are William Weber, DeFeo's attorney, and a much more detailed examination of the DeFeo family, who were shotgunned to death by son Ronald. The doc uses extracts of Ronald's actual audio confession, and also addresses theories of demonic possession that allegedly led to the son's blackout of the entire slaughter.
Was it an elaborate hoax on the part of the Lutzes? Is Hans Holzer's discovery of an Indian burial ground in the town records legitimate fact? Did the claim of tomfoolery by rival parapsychologist Stephen Kaplan have any grounds when Kaplan himself practiced vampire hunting as a sideline? Was it a curse that killed the real author of the best selling book? Did the Lutzes secretly negotiate a book deal, while the DeFeo son was sentenced to life in prison? Why did his lawyer engage Holzer in the first place? Has anyone laughed all the way to the bank after multiple lawsuits were launched? Are the creepy apparitions photographed by Holzer and his team real proof that a ghost exists in the house? And who is that freaky-eyed girl in the black and white photograph that was taken when local reporter and news producer Laura DiDio partook in a videotaped seance?
The second doc places the Lutz' story under greater scrutiny, and goes through an almost blow-by-blow account (using short dramatic recreations) of their flight from the house. Of course, certain aspects of their flight remain off limit, but their on-camera retelling remains highly engaging; it's still a great yarn in spite of the ghostly pig head.
The last doc on the DVD is really just a short promo featurette on the 2005 "Amityville" remake (er, 're-imagining' if you prefer), that has actors and the new film's producer talking out their characters, and the eerie qualities of the house. Ironically, in revealing scenes and footage from the new film, one can see how much farther the filmmakers have drifted from the Lutz case, and turned the husband into a murderous, vicious loon - a characterization that none of the interviewees in the ninety minutes worth of documentaries ever claim as fact. So while the new film may spin a modern thriller from the Lutz case, ongoing publicity, a cult-like obsession with the house, a cottage industry of investigative books and documentaries, and factual distortions are inadvertently furthered for yet another generation.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan