From the truth behind the famous ghost boy photo to the telepathic death of George Lutz, let’s explore the strangest moments of the MGM+ documentary series.
What is the real Amityville Horror? Well, it may not be the ghost of an angry Indian chief, or even the notorious haunted house itself. The real horror may be the story itself, which the new MGM+ documentary series Amityville: An Origin Story lays out with bizarre new insights from friends of the Lutz family, and even one of the children who lived through it. Let’s explore some of the more curious and/or questionable moments from the series.
If you haven’t seen it yet, watch Amityville: An Origin Story right here >
The story of The Amityville Horror house, that dread-inducing Dutch Colonial at 112 Ocean Ave. on Long Island, has captivated us and stirred our deepest fears for nearly 50 years. It’s the original American horror story, the American dream gone wrong: A happy, loving family moves into their dream home, only to be driven out by the horrors that reside within its walls.
The story intrigues me for all the usual reasons, not to mention here in Wisconsin we had our own Amityville-like case in 1988 when a family fled their new home after months of being tormented by a haunted bunk bed. A historical lakeside Wisconsin mansion also served as the horrific Amityville house where they filmed on location for the 2005 remake starring Ryan Reynolds. Cast and crew reported paranormal phenomena during production, particularly after the real-life Kathy Lutz passed away in 2004.
When news of the Lutz’s ordeal originally broke after their notoriously brief stint in the house in 1975, it seems that some friends, family, and even longtime neighbors of the house where Ronald DeFeo Jr. brutally murdered his entire family a year earlier, were skeptical of the Lutz’s claims.
Today, the real Amityville horror seems to be how a paranormal hoax has been exploited for decades.
The MGM+ original series Amityville: An Origin Story is obviously intended to be entertainment first, capitalizing on the Amityville name like many works before it. The eerie music, dramatically under-lit interview footage, and creepy (often dizzying) B-roll speak to that. But it effectively sheds new light on the iconic haunted house story by painting a picture of culture in America at the time, the effects of recent films like The Exorcist on the collective imagination, and the emerging alternative spiritualities that challenged old-fashioned ideals.
Most importantly, however, the series gives us, for the first time, a clearer insight into the true nature of the events and characters involved through the testimony of friends and family.
The least of which is the perspective of Christopher Quaratino (formerly Christopher Lutz) who was seven years old when he, his siblings, their mother, and their stepfather moved into the Amityville house on December 18, 1975.
The Lutz children remained silent for many years, and rightly so, as their lives were deeply affected by the insanity of the world’s obsession with their story that has endured all these years.
Christopher first began speaking out in 2003 when he learned his ex-stepfather George Lutz was working on producing a new Amityville film. This one struck pretty close to home because, as Christopher explains, George had believed Christopher was trying to kill him with his mind when he was young (more on that later) and the premise of this new installment in the franchise echoed that paranoia.
Christopher’s older brother Daniel, who was nine years old when they briefly lived in the house, told his rather confusing and vague story in filmmaker Eric Walter’s documentary My Amityville Horror. The film was good, and it was interesting to get an inside perspective. In my opinion, though, Danny’s retelling of events felt insincere and incomplete.
In contrast, Christopher (who is now in his mid-50s) seems authentic, honest, and sometimes deeply scarred by both George and the sensationalism of the Amityville story, which he says is mostly fiction.
And that brings me to my first WTF:
1. What exactly is Christopher’s story?
Amityville: An Origin Story consists of four episodes, each close to an hour in length. And yet I still have very little idea what Christopher actually experienced inside the house. The series succeeds in giving us plenty of context illustrating the collective mindset of the country at the time to understand how a “true story” like Amityville would explode and take on a life of its own, but what of the story itself?
“So far there’s been three representations of what happened in that house,” Christopher said in a 2005 interview. “And not one of them is accurate.”
For the most part, that sentiment seems to be shared by both Christopher and Daniel. To the best of my knowledge, their younger sister Missy has never spoken publicly, so the brothers are potentially our only honest insight into what really went on inside those walls.
Christopher confirms the story of Danny’s hand getting stuck in the window, and reveals some fascinating details about his interactions with George, such as mediating with him, and giving him a bag of quaaludes he found in his room, hidden behind a panel in a secret space that had been used by Ronnie to conceal his contraband.
But while he makes it clear that most of what was depicted in the books and movies never happened, he did have some real paranormal encounters. The window was mentioned, as well as a time a shadow figure entered his room and moved toward him, and an incident in which something grabbed his leg after Danny had shut him in the playroom closet, but that’s it.
Christopher says there were enough paranormal occurrences in the house to make a fascinating story without all the fiction that George fabricated, but we don’t get a sense of what that actually is.
If Christopher is interested in telling his story, it would be great to actually hear it. Give me a four-hour uncut interview of Christopher relating his experiences in the house, please.
2. Missy’s Ghost Friend Jody
Though Missy has never spoken publicly, her story was related by her parents and depicted in the books and movies as some of the most chilling experiences in the house.
In old footage from a television appearance, Kathy explains that shortly after moving in, Missy approached her and asked if angels talk. When Kathy asked her what she meant, Missy said, “Something talks to me and I answer.”
Kathy then says that from outside Missy’s closed bedroom door, she would hear Missy carrying on a conversation, and would hear the other voice of the person she was speaking to. When Kathy would open the door, however, she would find Missy sitting on her bed, speaking to an empty rocking chair…that was rocking back and forth despite there being no visible person sitting in it.
That’s when Missy told her about Jody, the ghost girl (more on that below) that told her about the boy who was murdered in her bedroom.
“Missy had a very high degree of sensitivity,” Lorraine Warren says. “She truly believed that they were little playmates that were there. It was frightening. It was very, very, very, very frightening.”
Okay, but who is Jody?
Ronnie “Butch” DeFeo Jr. murdered his father Ronald Sr., mother Louise, his sisters Dawn and Allison, and his brother Marc and John Matthew. There’s no Jody.
And while believers in the paranormal will perform mental gymnastics to explain it, you know it just doesn’t make any damn sense.
And the claim is only further complicated by George’s public statement about the ghost boy photo.
3. Amityville Ghost Boy Photo
It’s become probably the most famous ghost photo of all time: A young boy with white glowing eyes, peeking out of the doorway into the second floor landing of the Amityville house. It was captured by professional photographer Gene Campbell, who was there with the infamous psychic and demonologist duo Ed and Lorraine Warren. They were among a group of mediums called in by local investigative reporter Laura DiDio, at the behest of George Lutz and DiDio’s news director, to investigate the house on March 6, 1976 for a paranormal segment on the local Channel 5 news.
Campbell captured the “demon boy” image with black and white infrared film in a camera he set up to snap shots automatically at intervals throughout the night.
George Lutz first revealed the photo on the Merv Griffin Show in 1979, claiming it had recently been discovered among the photos taken from that investigation.
To some, it is irrefutably the ghost of the youngest DeFeo child, John, who was just nine years old when his older brother Ronnie murdered him in the house.
“We don’t know who he is, actually,” George said in a television appearance. “But Missy knows him, our daughter. When she saw the picture, which was discovered now two weeks ago, she said, ‘That’s the little boy I used to always talk to.’”
But that ghost was a girl named Jody, right?
I guess George made later claims that Jody was not the ghost of someone murdered in the house, but rather an evil entity that appeared in different ways, including as a pig and an angel.
“Let me tell you a story about that photo taken during the Warren investigation,” Christopher says. “That photo has circulated around the world and all over the internet now. But here’s the thing. You’ll notice that head that’s sticking out of that doorway – attached to that head, it’s a plaid shirt. And it’s consistent with the same shirt as the photographer that’s taking these photos.”
Word is that Gene Campbell himself never claimed the photo was paranormal in nature.
4. Psychic Plants
Unrelated directly to the Amityville house, episode three gives us a fascinating montage of mediums, parapsychologists and other fringe science to demonstrate how common and mainstream they had become by the mid-1970s.
In one clip, we see research scientist Marcel Vogel, known for his 27 years of innovative work at IBM, sitting beside a plant that’s hooked up to a lie detector.
“He tries to communicate by psychic force with the plant world,” a narrator says. “The plant in question is a rather wan split philodendron, which Vogel has hooked up to a polygraph machine.”
I laughed out loud at this clip and had to learn more.
I discovered that Vogel was duplicating something called the “Backster Effect,” an experiment created by CIA interrogation specialist Cleve Backster, who founded the polygraph unit shortly after WWII. In the 1960s, Backster was using polygraph machines to formulate his theory of “primary perception,” also known as “plant perception” or “biocommunication” – the idea that plants are sentient, can feel pain, and have extrasensory (ESP) abilities.
One of Backster’s experiments involved attaching electrodes to the leaves of a plant, and then envisioning in his mind that he was burning one of its leaves. The polygraph readings apparently went off the charts, convincing him that the plant could sense his threatening thoughts. In another experiment, Backster believed a plant had telepathically observed and reacted to the death of a brine shrimp in another room.
Vogel claimed his later experiments had the same results. He also noted that his plant test subjects could read his mind from any distance, suggesting that “inverse square law does not apply to thought.”
Of course, this just conjures in my mind that scene in The Happening. You know the one, in which Mark Wahlberg is attempting to make peace with plastic foliage. Is it serious or is it intended to be comedy? Why didn’t the script get thrown out before cameras even started rolling? We may never know.
Anyway, modern science rejects psychic plants, stating that plants don’t even have any kind of sensory organs capable of detecting human thought. But we should probably be nice to our fellow flora anyway. Just in case.
5. 26 Cassette Tapes
Some time after leaving the Amityville house and moving in with Kathy’s mother, George and Kathy sat down and recorded the myriad details of their terrifying experiences on 26 cassette tapes so they wouldn’t have to continuously relive it every time someone asked.
They gave those tapes to author Jay Anson as reference material for The Amityville Horror book he was writing rather than relate their story directly to him.
“Look, we’re not gonna sit down to be interviewed about this,” George said he told Anson. “You can do what you can from the tapes. But we’re just not gonna relive this. We’ve done it once, and we’re not doing it again.”
Of course, they spent literally the rest of their lives working on Amityville books and movies based on their claims, and spoke about it constantly in television and radio interviews.
6. Inventing the Horror
The Lutzes were originally going to partner with Ronald DeFeo’s defense attorney William Weber, who was penning a book about the case. Weber wanted to use George and Kathy’s experience to lend credence to the idea that maybe DeFeo was possessed by the evil lurking in the house when he committed his crimes. They even held a press conference in Weber’s office to announce the partnership.
When it came time to sign a contract, however, the Lutzes backed out. George said it was because the deal would cut Ronald DeFeo (who was serving 5 life sentences in prison) in on 5% of the profits “for murdering his family.”
Not to mention that Weber would have control of the rights to their story.
“Our story was ours and we were not gonna do a contract with him,” George said.
Instead, the Lutzes got in contact with a publisher themselves, and handed over their cassette tapes to Jay Anson to pen a story they would maintain rights to.
Weber has always maintained that harrowing details of the Lutz family’s experiences were invented by himself, George, and Kathy over dinner and several bottles of wine.
Weber explains that some of the details he told them about the DeFeo crime scene, such as flies found near the body of the older DeFeo sister, and the greenish-black fingerprint powder residue around door knobs, became twisted into scenes of supernatural horror.
“So we took real-life incidences, and then we transposed them,” Weber says in an old interview. “Green slime was actually spaghetti that had been splashed on the wall at a time when Mr. DeFeo supposedly had hit his wife in the kitchen while she was carrying a plate of spaghetti. There were times when one of the DeFeo or a neighbor’s kitten would jump on Dawn’s window. And just taking that little incident, we developed it into a pig appearing at the window.”
7. The Horror Heads West
Carol Soviero, who was a friend of the family and is featured prominently in the series, says that when they decided to move to California, George told her it was because they were too close to the evil of Amityville. He wanted to leave it behind, stating that the evil couldn’t come with him.
George says they gave the house back to the bank because he “couldn’t stomach the idea of selling it to another family.”
He sold his business, and they boarded a plane headed west.
“I think I want my family and my children much more than I want a structure,” Kathy says in an interview. “And if you view it in that perspective, it’s easy to walk away from.”
In light of that statement, I’d like to note that around presumably the same time George and Kathy were giving these interviews on a months-long press tour around the world to promote The Amityville Horror, the children were residing in a Catholic boarding school known as The Orphanage. Take that as you will.
The Lutz family landed in San Diego about five months after abandoning their Amityville home. But it would seem that the evil did come with them to the west coast for their blockbuster follow up.
They hired writer John G. Jones to pen an “absolutely non-fiction” sequel that was published in 1982. The Amityville Horror II provides an account of their final night in the house that differs from the original, and details continuing paranormal experiences that disrupted their lives even after they relocated to California.
Even on the flight there, according to George, it became clear the evil entity was following them when Missy looked out the plane window and saw Jody on the wing.
Many of the people close to the story in Amityville came out to California to be involved in the sequel, as well, including Carol, Father Ray, Laura DiDio, and, of course, the Warrens. Christopher says Ed and Lorraine were testing them for psychic abilities.
When parapsychologist Hans Holzer investigated the Amityville property, he claims he discovered the house had been built on an Indian burial ground, and that Ronnie DeFeo murdered his family because he was possessed by an angry Shinnecock chief named Rolling Thunder who wanted them out of the house.
Because of that, Holzer concluded that the ghosts could not have followed the Lutzes to California.
Lorraine Warren said otherwise, implying that whatever hellish force that had inhabited the house could have traveled with them because it was not bound to the house.
8. George was on set for the filming of the movie
“The Amityville Horror is one of the first motion pictures filmed almost entirely in New Jersey,” a reporter’s voice says over behind-the-scenes footage of the crew filming on location in the town of Toms River.
Apparently, George was there, too.
“George went to the set a lot,” Carol says. “I don’t think they really wanted him there on set. But he just loved the fact that there were notable actors playing him and his wife. He really enjoyed that.”
“He was happy with the fame, to be part of it,” she continues. “So that’s what he did.”
9. James Brolin’s Take
“The first thing I’ve got to ask you is, do you believe in demonic force?” an interviewer asks James Brolin, who portrayed George in the 1979 film.
“Um, hmm, good question,” Brolin responds with a smile. “Yeah…uh, no? Yes?”
Then, more seriously, he says, “I sat with George, and I watched his eyes as I talked to him and asked him a specific question, looking for the liar who would stare right at me, look right at me and tell me a direct lie. And as he’d answer a question, I’d watch him think about it. And as he’d tell me about some of the things, his voice would begin to quaver a little. Then he’d try to regain composure. And I walked away saying, ‘this man believes that something went wrong back there.’”
In an appearance with George and Kathy on Good Morning America, host David Hartman asks Brolin, “Do you believe them?”
“Yeah, when I’m sitting here with them, yes, I do,” Brolin says. “It’s hard to deny a lot of the facts.”
In a much later interview, Brolin said, “When you would talk to the family and the kids and I would ask them questions, they would not go, ‘Well, um–’. They’d have the answer right now, like they’d been schooled.”
10. The Cromarty Family
Jim and Barbara bought the house after the Lutzes fled, and lived in it for two years before the movie hit the big screen. They almost fled, as well, but not because of anything supernatural. It was the gawkers and trespassers that nearly drove them from their home.
“It isn’t a house that we want to sell,” Barbara said at the time. “It’s a house we feel we’re being forced to sell because of The Amityville Horror.”
Ultimately, they stuck it out and lived there for 10 years without a single paranormal incident.
For a place as hellish as the Warrens and other clairvoyants made it out to be, you’d expect a family who lived there longer than the Lutzes to experience something other than disrespectful sightseers.
“As far as we’re concerned, the Amityville hoax is the real horror,” Jim said.
11. The Red Room
The Red Room is depicted in The Amityville Horror as a sinister space in the basement that just appeared to George one day and was clotted with the smell of human excrement.
Amityville: An Origin Story includes several incredulous opinions about this claim from those close to the Lutz family. It also shows a clip filmed in 1980 of young Patty Commarato, who was friends with Allison DeFeo, entering the small space with red painted walls, talking about how she used to play in it with the DeFeo children.
“Nothing more than a storage area,” Patty says as she enters the space, “where Allison and her brothers and I used to keep toys. Just red, you know? There’s never any feeling of spirit presence or ghosts or any sort of thing like that.”
12. George and the Occult
The 1960’s and 70’s were a great time to be into the occult. The hippie movement created a major upheaval in America. Alternative spiritual practices were replacing the dusty old fashioned dogma of previous generations. Hollywood bombshell Jayne Mansfield was involved with Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. Rock musicians such as John Lennon and Jimmy Page were fascinated by “The Great Beast” Aleister Crowley.
The cover of Time magazine asked, “Is God Dead?”
“The cover itself quickly became an icon of the period’s social and religious transformations,” writes Leigh Eric Schmidt, “apiece with John Lennon’s suggestion that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus among contemporary youth or with Timothy Leary’s imperative to ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out.’”
They were gloriously strange and godless times, before Christianity regrouped and launched a cultural attack with the Satanic Panic paranoia of the subsequent decades.
In interviews, George and Kathy maintained that they had no knowledge of the occult when they moved into the house.
Amityville: An Origin Story paints a different picture.
George’s friend and fellow motorcycle gang member Joe Vetter describes a visit he and George made in 1975 to the home of noted occultist Raymond Buckland. The home doubled as Buckland’s Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, “where he and his wife, a high priestess, hold nude rituals to summon neolithic gods,” according to a news report.
Vetter says they after they walked around the museum he went outside to smoke a cigarette before they got back on their bikes to head home. But George had remained inside, having a private conversation with Buckland that George would never discuss.
Vetter says that George had previously visited Buckland’s original museum in Bay Shore, Long Island, as well.
George and Kathy were also practitioners of transcendental meditation.
The idea was that this practice could open the doors to “mystical or spiritual kinds of states,” cultural scholar Erik Davis says.
Meditation, as we are all familiar with today, involves sitting cross legged with your hands on your knees, repeating a mantra to achieve alternative states of consciousness.
“A mantra is a series of sacred syllables,” Davis says. “And it might mean something but the point is to keep repeating it, not unlike saying a rosary. And you’re repeating the name of a god, or you’re repeating a certain phrase that you would get from your guru, a series of sacred syllables that have some extra power to them.”
Christopher says he sometimes witnessed George meditating, and believed George was intentionally tapping into something evil.
“The word that you repeat over and over again is actually the name of a spirit, and what you’re doing is you’re calling that spirit into you,” Christopher says. “What George doesn’t talk about is the other thing that he was mixing it with. What I found out is that the list of spirits that are recommended from transcendental meditation practitioners, they tell you what the word is you’re gonna say. The things that he was calling on are not on that recommended list. It’s not a good thing. And by calling that spirit into himself, he availed himself to possession. Because you’re giving it entry. What George was doing in that house would have caused a haunting in any home.”
In a television interview, Kathy even mentions that the first paranormal occurrence they experienced in the house happened while she was meditating.
“Something reached out and took hold of my hand,” she said.
She described it as the touch of a woman, because “there was a softness to it, but you knew there was an inner strength involved.”
After that, she began having other encounters with a presence in her bedroom, the kitchen and the dining room.
13. George and Kathy divorced over creative differences?
“The reasons we got divorced are really personal,” George says in an interview. “We went in separate directions about exposing the house.”
He then goes on to explain that Kathy “only wants to deal with the nonfiction part and does not believe that fiction also helps to do that.”
14. The Warrens: Demonology Advisors to Hollywood
Despite never wanting to be a sell-out (though you’d require some sort of initial success in order to do so, anyway) I live paycheck to paycheck and can now, at this point in my life, understand why one would take advantage of an opportunity to make some money.
Make hay while the sun is shining, right?
I mean, that really seems to be what the whole Amityville haunting story really is, anyway. It’s a cash cow, but not just for the Lutzes.
“Why is it you feel like people want to cling to this story?” one news anchor asks parapsychologist Hans Holzer.
“Partially because they have fantasies that they believe in,” Holzer replies, “and partially because there’s money to be made.”
The series then cuts to clips of Ed and Lorraine Warren making television appearances after having completed work as demonology advisors on the first Amityville sequel.
“The Warrens, they made a career for themselves,” Christopher says. “They highlighted the fact that they were involved in our story. Years later, I found out that they had been the creative consultant on multiple movies after the initial movie. And I didn’t find that to be, like, genuine.”
15. There are SO MANY Amityville movies
There are more than 40 movies (of questionable quality) banking on the “Amityville” title. The franchise got its start with the original, The Amityville Horror, which hit the big screen in 1979. It was the highest-grossing independent film of all time until Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit theaters in 1990.
Then came the sequels throughout the 80s and 90s: Amityville II: The Possession in 1982, Amityville 3-D in 1983, Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes in 1989, Amityville: It’s About Time in 1992, Amityville: A New Generation in 1993, and Amityville Dollhouse in 1996.
The remake starring Ryan Reynolds was released in 2005.
The advent of streaming seems to have sparked a renaissance of low budget Amityville flicks in the 2010s that continues unhindered (and unhinged) to this day.
Sometimes, numerous Amityville movies are released in a single year.
In 2022, for example, there were no less than 10, including Amityville Scarecrow, Amityville Gas Chamber, Amityville in Space, Amityville in the Hood, and Amityville Karen.
There’s even a XXX parody called Amityville Vibrator, in which protagonist “Cathy” encounters an ancient evil vibrator in her new home, and it must be dealt with before everyone becomes sex slaves for Satan. The tagline: “For God’s sake, get off!”
Fangoria’s Chainsaw Awards has a category for “Best Amityville.” In 2023, the award went to Amityville Christmas Vacation.
As Ryan Reynolds says in an interview clip, The Amityville Horror is the “greatest haunted house story ever told.”
16. Did Christopher kill George with his mind?
“George believed that, with my mind, I could make him ill,” Christopher says, “even to the point where he thought he was gonna die. And he came in and he started beating the shit out of me for my thoughts.”
“Killing him through telepathy was just so fucking fucked up, man.”
The series seems to imply that Ed and Lorrain Warren may have been responsible for planting this idea.
Carol, the family friend who moved out to California with the Lutzes, says, “If the Warrens found that Christopher, in a sense, has some psychic ability, I can see where one step could lead to another. Because George, he was afraid that Christopher took the evil with him, was possessed by the evil.”
Carol then goes on to explain how she frequently observed George “acting possessed,” often yelling into empty rooms or the back seat of the car at things that weren’t there, telling them to go away and not bother him.
“George was kind of constantly haunted,” she says.
George died of a heart attack in 2006.
“No doubt George was a victim of the karma that he put out,” Christopher says.
George had been working to produce a direct sequel to the original movie about one of the Lutz children returning to the house years later to kill him telepathically.
“I’m not gonna tell the story about what happened the day that he did die,” Christopher says in a low, ominous tone. “But that thing that he wanted in the movie? Careful what you wish for.”
“The energy in that house remains. It may take a hundred years of our time, but it will implode again. That house is purely evil.” – Lorraine Warren