Fantasia Film Festival 2012: Interview with My Amityville Horror Director Eric Walter
My Amityville Horror made its world premiere at Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival, and those who were expecting a glossy mockumentary disguised as a real documentary recalling horrific events were pleasantly surprised to see that it's a real film instead of bundled hyperbole.
This was because up-and-coming documentarian Eric Walter was more interested in examining Daniel Lutz, one of the Lutz children who lived in and fled from the now infamous Amityville house in New York decades ago, than exploiting the hauntings themselves.
While watching My Amityville Horror (review) unfold, more questions are asked than answered after it becomes apparent that the focal point of the story is not about the famous Amityville haunting, but rather Daniel's disturbing past, his abusive relationship with his late stepfather, George Lutz, and if Daniel's memories of the events that happened in the house are directly influenced from how Hollywood depicted them on the big screen.
Luckily, Dread Central had the opportunity to interview director Walter to discuss the questions left unanswered in the documentary, his own beliefs on The Amityville Horror and what it was like to interview the extremely intense and intimidating Daniel Lutz.
Friendly as ever, Walter told us how the project came to be and how long it took to bring this interesting character study to life.
"It took about three years. I was first contacted by a friend of Danny’s [Lutz] in the Queens area, and I was contacted initially for a website I write called Amityville Files, which is an archive which presents an unbiased point of view of the Amityville case. I was contacted because of the website’s success. His friend told me at the time that Danny wants to come forward with his account and talk about it. I didn’t know how it would go and what he would say, but he just really wanted to get this off his chest. I initially didn’t believe this was true, that he would come forward, until Dan’s friend sent a photo of Danny and I immediately believed that this was him. No one has ever seen Daniel Lutz grown up. He has been completely out of the public life for over 35 years."
From that point on, Walter discussed how and why Daniel Lutz was the only surviving member of the Lutz family that was willing to share his personal and harrowing story.
"He actually always wanted the opportunity to come forward, but he was waiting for his children to reach an age where they weren’t so young and wouldn’t be as impacted as he was as a child," Walter revealed.
"He always wanted it to be his account, and what is interesting is the title ‘My Amityville Horror’ is actually his title. That was his first request to me, and I did not argue with him. He was very clear to me that it was going to be a different kind of project and not just about him reliving the haunting, but more so on the fact that HE had been haunted by IT. When I was watching the hours of interviews, and I just saw how magnetic and how intense he was and how angry this guy was about this, I knew then that this was not going to be about The Amityville Horror, but rather this was going to be a character piece.”
Anyone who has had the opportunity to watch My Amityville Horror at Fantasia knows that calling Daniel Lutz "intense" is truly an understatement. We took the time to ask Walter about interviewing Lutz and if he was ever too intimidated to ask Lutz certain questions in fear of setting him off.
"There were no questions I was willing to stay away from, let’s put it that way, [but] I didn’t want to ask certain questions about his personal life in respect for his children and their situation. It wasn’t really necessary for the audience to know about certain details of his life. Doing interviews with him was very intense because he’s such an intense guy. He has very strict feelings as to what he thinks happened or what he believes happened," Walter explained.
Eric also went on about what was Lutz's trigger when it came to his anger.
"Obviously his stepfather, George [Lutz], was the main focus for him. The entrance of this man into his life was like a Titanic collision. It was interesting to see the combination of family discord combined and rippling with the unexplained phenomenon. One of the interesting things that he actually told me was that if his biological father moved into the house with his family, none of this would have happened."
After the initial screening of the film, we explained to Walter how many audience members were left unsure if Daniel Lutz was telling the truth or if he was just using the Amityville haunting as an excuse for years of psychological abuse. Walter weighed in on his own thoughts and his theory about the unexplained phenomenon.
"I believe that he believes it. I won’t say that I believe the haunting. I believe that the Lutzes experienced something. I believe that they were legitimately frightened. I was not there nor was anyone else. Coming from an agnostic point of view, I think that is the right viewpoint to have for a documentary filmmaker," he admitted.
"I know people thought this was going to be a puff piece and like a cheesy Halloween special. I just wanted to let [Daniel] talk, for better or for worse. It gets more intense on what he weighs down, like George [Lutz] practicing telekinesis and these types of things, and I know it lost a lot of people because he loses credibility. Half of the film is about giving the audience what they want to see, which is delivering the story and delivering the haunting details, but it’s mostly about getting into Daniel’s head. I wish that something like this was done with George Lutz and Kathy Lutz; just because he believes what happened was real, it doesn’t mean that we should, too."
Walter then talked about his love for The Amityville Horror and what led him to making this documentary in the first place.
"Like everybody, I read the book The Amityville Horror when I was very, very young. I was immediately enthralled yet disturbed by it as well. It stuck with me, and I didn’t want to read it again because it had such a major impact on me. It painted a very vivid image, and I think that’s why the book was very successful. I was never really interested in the films. They were never done the right way. While the original I still maybe like in a guilty pleasure kind of way, the remake was atrocious, and I was never really a fan of how the story was exploited," Walter stated.
"I was more interested in the DeFeo murders and that story that surrounds Amityville and the Lutzes’ stories. The personalities involved in the story of the Amityville hauntings are really more of a story than any of the actual events ever were. They themselves are so engaging, and that’s the story I wanted to tell at the end of the day.”
If you're in the Montreal area this July 27th, 2012, you can support Eric Walter by catching a second screening of Eric Walter's My Amityville Horror at the Fantasia Film Festival.
For the first time in 35 years, Daniel Lutz recounts his version of the infamous Amityville haunting that terrified his family in 1975. George and Kathy Lutz's story went on to inspire a best-selling novel, and the subsequent films have continued to fascinate audiences today. This documentary reveals the horror behind growing up as part of a world famous haunting, and while Daniel's facts may be others' fiction, the psychological scars he carries are indisputable.
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