The Amityville Horror is one of the most successful books and films of all time.
As a book it sold ten million copies, as a film it ran to fifteen sequels and spinoffs:
Amityville II (The Possession). The Amityville Curse. The Amityville Haunting. The Amityville Asylum. Amityville Death House. Amityville Dollhouse. The Amityville Playhouse. Amityville (The Evil Escapes). Amityville (It’s About Time). Amityville (A New Generation). Amityville (No Escape). Amityville (The Awakening). Amityville 3D.
So what is it that made The Amityville Horror unique?
Why was it so much more successful than any horror story before or since?
The answer is, it was true.
A family living in a possessed house built on a native American burial ground.
Demons appeared to their children, blood seeped out of walls, voices screamed in the night, slime oozed through the floorboards.
The awful story of a house possessed by evil spirits.
But the truly terrifying difference was that this time everything was real.
As all the advertising said: “More hideously frightening than The Exorcist because IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED”.
Except it didn’t.
The only part that was true was the initial crime that happened in the house before the family bought it.
Butch De Feo had been found guilty of shooting his parents, two brothers and two sisters while they slept.
Then another family, George and Kathy Lutz, had bought the house, cheaply.
That much was true, everything else was fiction.
De Feo’s lawyer, William Weber, was trying to find grounds for an appeal.
He was drinking wine with George and Kathy Lutz, when they asked what could make a man do such a thing.
One of them said, they hoped it wasn’t the house.
Over the wine, Weber wondered if he could work that up into a defence.
As they began imagining possibilities a light went on in his head.
He realised it wouldn’t work as a defence plea, but it could work as a book or film.
Between them they began to make up more and more fanciful stories about what could happen in a house like that.
Over the wine they let their imaginations run riot.
And they each imagined a lucrative book and film deal.
The only problem was, none of them were writers.
After a while George and Cathy Lutz decided to get a proper writer involved.
They recorded forty-five hours of tape for Jay Anson to write the book.
They excluded William Weber, the lawyer, from the deal.
This resulted in a lawsuit between them.
In 1979, Judge Jack B. Weinstein found: “The book is a work of fiction, relying mainly on suggestions from Mr Weber”.
But by this time it didn’t matter.
The public weren’t really listening, they wanted to believe it was true, it made the horror so much more deliciously scary.
Of course, an entire industry of ghost hunters, demonologists, paranormal experts, occult professionals, and supernatural documentary makers appeared.
And they found the evidence their livelihoods needed them to find.
Because the story, if it was fiction, was uninteresting and poorly written.
But it had one huge point of difference, it was real.
That was the only thing that made it interesting.
For us the lesson is, the public prefer an interesting lie to a dull truth.