In 'Amityville,' A True Real Estate Horror Story In 1975, the Lutz family moved into their dream home on Long Island — and barely lasted a year. Jay Anson chronicles their paranormal experiences in a 1977 pulp horror classic. Josh Kilmer-Purcell says Amityville's hyperbole and hackneyed plotlines keep his mind off of his own anxieties.


In 'Amityville,' A True Real Estate Horror Story

Amityville Horror house
The Amityville Horror
By Jay Anson
Paperback, 336 pages
Pocket Star
List price: $6.99

Read An Excerpt

It's growing increasingly frequent for a newspaper's Real Estate section to send shivers down one's spine, but recently I saw a new listing for an old home that has chilled millions of vertebrae for over 30 years. The $1.15 million property in question served as the main character in the debatably nonfiction book (depending on whom you believe) The Amityville Horror.

The original story, published in 1977 by Jay Anson, was based on taped interviews with the house's former owners, George and Kathleen Lutz. The couple and their three children had purchased their dream home in Amityville, Long Island in 1975, only to move out 28 days later. Over the course of those 28 days, they endured countless terrifying paranormal experiences, including demonic pigs and green slime oozing from the walls. Their story became an instant bestseller.

At the time America was enduring its own big national horror story -- rampant inflation, sky rocketing interest rates, oil shortages. And The Amityville Horror wasn't shy about exploiting them. As the story unfolds, George's business founders in the depressed economy. And on top of that, IRS agents launch an investigation into his taxes. American readers could share much of the family's horrors, even if their own homes weren't leaking paranormal slime.

The book also exploits contemporary trends in the pulp horror genre, cribbing a beleaguered priest and excessive vomiting (from The Exorcist,) a hard-drinking father growing uncharacteristically cranky (The Shining) and even its northeast beach town setting (Jaws.)

As far as I'm concerned, with horror stories, the worse the writing and the more cliches used, the better. As soon as a character concludes "everything that's happened around here must have a logical and scientific explanation," you know that sooner or later he'll be screaming "Get out! Get out in the name of God!" The predictable hyperbole and hackneyed plotlines are a guilty pleasure. But more than that, the overblown horrors distract me from my own personal anxieties.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell's reality show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, can be seen on Planet Green. Courtesy of the author hide caption

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Courtesy of the author

Josh Kilmer-Purcell's reality show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, can be seen on Planet Green.

Courtesy of the author

Ever since our national terror levels have reached a point where we actually have to color-code them to keep them straight, I've found myself turning to bestselling, pulp horror more and more, and the more sensational the story the better. It's almost as if the machine gun fire of exclamation points (I counted 11 on one page alone of Amityville) eventually numb me to that which they were meant to warn me.

So sure, I have two giant mortgages on properties that have lost a good percentage of their value in the Great Real Estate collapse. But, after spending a quiet evening in my 208-year-old creaky home re-reading The Amityville Horror, I sleep easier. I'm reminded of the first time I read it, as a 10-year-old, overly sensitive boy whose father was out of work, who had to sit patiently in gas lines, and lived in daily fear of Soviet nuclear annihilation. I survived all that. We all did.  And I'll make it through this too. As bad as it seems sometimes, at least I'm not being chased from my home by evil pigs and bleeding Catholic priests.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell Is the author of The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers.

My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva.

Excerpt: 'The Amityville Horror'

Amityville Horror house
The Amityville Horror
By Jay Anson
Paperback, 336 pages
Pocket Star
List price: $6.99

December 19 to 21, 1975

George sat up in bed, wide awake. He had heard a knock on his front door.

He looked around in darkness. For a moment, he didn't know where he was, but then it came to him. He was in the master bedroom of his new home. Kathy was there, beside him, hunched down under the warm covers.

The knock came again. "Jesus, who's that?" he muttered.

George reached for his wristwatch on the night table. It was 3:15 in the morning! Again a loud rapping. Only this time, it didn't sound as if it was coming from downstairs, more from somewhere off to his left.

George got out of bed, padded across the cold, uncarpeted floor of the hallway and into the sewing room that faced the Amityville River in the back. He looked out the window into the darkness. He heard another knock. George strained his eyes to see.

"Where the hell's Harry?"

From somewhere over his head came a sharp crack. Instinctively he ducked, then looked up at the ceiling. He heard a low squeak. The boys, Danny and Chris, were on the floor above him. One of them must have pushed a toy off his bed in his sleep.

Barefoot and wearing only his pajama pants, George was shivering now. He looked back out the window. There! Something was moving, down by the boathouse. He quickly lifted the window, and the freezing air hit him at fill blast. "Hey! Who's out there?" Then Harry barked and moved. George, his eyes adjusting to the darkness, saw the dog spring to his feet. The shadow was close to Harry.

"Harry! Go get him!" Another rap sounded from the direction of the boathouse, and Harry spun around at the noise. He began running back and forth in his compound, barking furiously now, the lead holding him back.

George slammed the window shut, and ran back to his bedroom. Kathy had awoken. "What's the matter?" She turned on the lamp on her night table as George fumbled into his pants. "George?" Kathy saw his bearded face look up.

"It's all right, honey. I just want to take a look around back. Harry's onto something near the boathouse. Probably a cat. I'd better quiet him down before he wakes the whole neighborhood." He slid into his loafers and was heading for his old navy blue Marine parka lying on a chair. "I'll be right up. Go back to sleep."

Kathy turned off the light. "Okay. Put your jacket on." The next morning she wouldn't remember having awakened at all.

When George came out of the kitchen door, Harry was still barking at the moving shadow. There was a length of two-by-four lumber lying against the swimming pool fence. George grabbed it and ran toward the boathouse. Then he saw the shadow move. His grip tightened on the heavy stick. Another loud rap.

"Damn!" George saw it was the door to the boathouse, open and swinging in the wind. "I thought I'd locked that before!"

Harry barked again.

"Oh, shut up Harry! Knock it off!"

A half hour later, George was back in bed, still wide awake. As an ex-Marine, not to many years out of service, he was fairly accustomed to emergency wake-up calls. It was taking him time to turn off his inner alarm system.

Excerpted from The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. Copyright 1977 by Jay Anson, George Lee Lutz and Kathleen Lutz. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.