05 November 2011

Jay Anson's "The Amityville Horror"

The 2005 cover.

The tag on the cover says, "This book will scare the hell out of you." Kansas City Star, we need to have an intervention. I understand that life in the 70s is different than our lives today, but come on. Hell House was a billion times scarier than this, and that came from the 70s, too.

Oh, wait. This book is supposed to be scary because IT REALLY HAPPENED, right? Nothing is scarier than the truth, is that the idea? So that means the author can take a break from creating fear and tension and let the story tell itself, right? Um...yeah.

The big thing about the Amityville Horror is that it's supposedly a true haunting. (Um....) 112 Ocean Avenue belonged to the De Feos, who were all shot in their sleep by the son, Ronald, who later got life terms for each family member he killed. Then the house went on the market, and the Lutzes moved in, and they only lasted 28 days in the house because some freaky stuff happened there. Flies and blackened toilets and angel pigs and marching bands and green slime and mood disorders and invisible hugs and temperature discrepancies and....stuff. 

First of all, it's hard for me to take anything the book has to say seriously. What really hurts the credibility is the quality of the writing. Personally I find many of the events that occurred at the house hard to believe, even when I actually do believe in ghosts and hauntings. Even if the book was written by someone like Dave Cullen, the Lutzes' account is still hard to swallow.  And the quality of the Anson's prose doesn't do the Lutzes any favors.

Some examples:

"He had been a bear all day, and by eleven o'clock that night, when it was time to go to bed, Kathy was ready to crown him" (Anson 29). I have no idea what this means. And I don't have sympathy for the excuse that "this was how people talked in 1977." It doesn't matter. This sentence doesn't tell me anything concrete, and if I take it literally, it makes no sense, except to say that the author thinks George Lutz is the Grizzly King. 

It's always best to pick solid, straightforward words to convey meaning, and to use words that have mileage to them. By mileage, I mean words that have been consistently used for hundreds of years, with no sign of an expiration date. The printed word is permanent, and authors need to make sure that someone thirty-four years into the future will still be able to understand what they've written.

"She began to gag at the sour smell, but couldn't retreat from the sight of the crucifix--now hanging upside down!" (Anson 43) or "[...] Missy's little chair was rocking slowly back and forth!" (Anson 55) or "It was only six in the evening and Harry was fast asleep!" (Anson 68) or "[...] He was stunned to find the two hundred and fifty pound wooden front door wrenched wide open, hanging from one hinge!" (Anson 37). !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The exclamation point has been overused so many times in this book that if I tried to do a running count (just like I did with the breast tally in an earlier post) I'd go insane. So for simplicity's sake let's say that the author used exclamation points 942 times.  As I've said before, anytime you overdo something (a word, a phrase, an action), you render it meaningless.  If the exclamation point was used to signify importance, then right at page 18 things no longer mattered. Because if EVERYTHING you read is important, then it means that NOTHING is. 

And...I thought the exclamation points were insulting to the reader, actually. The only way the reader is able to distinguish the supernatural from the mundane is to ascribe an exclamation point to every single unexplainable event! If there are no exclamation points, how can you tell that ghosts or the Devil are behind the phenomenon, and not something that can be rationally explained?!?!  If there are no exclamation points, how can you believe what I'm telling you is true?!?!

What if my head explodes?!?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

I'm also going to harp on the inclusion of mundane or unnecessary information to suggest that everything being presented is factual.  A lot of sentences contain details down to the exact temperature it was outside, the exact time something occurred, the exact day blah blah blah....because the author is being so specific, that means everything that happened has to be true, because it's been so completely and thoroughly documented!

The book doesn't need forewords from priests, or copies of the house's floor plans, or Missy's drawing of Demon Piggly Wiggly  (Jodie, the angel pig). This is just extra crap thrown in to make it seem like the story can be corroborated by others. It's like, this priest is here to tell you the history of human civilization and how man has grappled for eons to understand forces beyond himself! Since man has grappled with outside forces, outside forces must exist, and I'm a priest, so believe me! And wow! 112 Ocean Avenue is a real house! If you don't believe me, here is the floor plan! Missy drew a barely intelligible picture of an animal! It must be Jodie! And George Lutz also saw a pig, and if Missy saw it, that means more than one person saw it, so it's real! And Missy drew it, so she saw it! It's real!

Lastly, what pisses me off the most is the book's message that they ram down your throat over and over again. The preface from Rev. John Nicola rambles on about the three ways people believe or interpret phenomenon (scientifically, superstitiously, and religiously = irrelevant), but the point that he's making is that you still need to believe in forces that are beyond your control, because if you don't believe that these things are real, then you're in danger: "I, as a believer in science and in religion, would be remiss not to warn readers against the dangers both of an arrogance that professes a grasp of the unknown and of a bravado that boasts a control of the transcendent" (Nicola x). George Lutz himself "hope[s] that those who hear his story will understand how dangerous negative entities can be to the unwary--to the unbelieving. 'They are real,' George insists, 'and they do inflict evil when the opportunity presents itself'" (Anson 232).

Because the book tries so hard to pass itself off as a true story (you're pummeled with it all over the book jackets, in the preface and afterward), I don't see any of those quotes as a general push for the reader to acknowledge things beyond themselves...the preface, afterward, and George Lutz's final commentary all seem like bully tactics to me. It comes across like, BELIEVE THIS BOOK. IT'S A TRUE STORY. IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE THIS BOOK...THEN YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD! AND THAT'S THE WORST KIND OF PERSON TO BE, YOU NON-BELIEVER!

If the book was devoid of all the problems I listed above, then maybe, just maybe, I would actually stop and wonder if the events in this story were true, or plausible. I consider myself to be pretty open- minded about the unexplainable and God and the "forces beyond myself" (because I do believe in these things). But since I have a hard time believing the Amityville Horror, then I guess my bravado and arrogance have condemned me to certain dangers anyway. I guess I've been warned. Thank you, Jay, George, and John!

Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977. Print.


  1. Your posts make me happy, heathen and arrogant non-believer that I am. !!! There is nothing redeeming about this book, and reading it hurt my brain the entire time. Also, I think your estimate of how many exclamation points Anson used is probably accurate.!

  2. haha Kristina, your post is honest and probably holds the opinion of the majority of us in this class. I won't lie, you made me laugh with your comments throughout. I agree with you on the quality of the writing AND the use of the exclamation points. Sheesh. I still liked the book, but I do think you are right in the fact that some things, if not most, are a bit hard to swallow. Nice post!

  3. Great post. I was estimating at least two exclamation points per page, which would start it at about six hundred, so you could be right(!) Also, I'm now a little obsessed with the font you're using in your blog. It's very haunted house-y, yet readable. (Confessions of a design geek.)

  4. Kristina, hahaha. You and I had similar opinions about this book. I love the idea of Amityville. The story itself, told by Jay Anson...eh. I wish (like Graves End) that the Lutzes' had written the book. An actual first hand account. Instead, I felt like I was watching a horrible reenactment. I, too, wanted to barf. And with this book we weren't just dealing with ghosts, we were dealing with evil. Two very different concepts. Devil=EVIL...God=GOOD. We must choose our side accordingly.

    I felt bad for not liking this book more. I thought I would for one, but I also think most other enjoyed it for the most part. I don't know...we aren't in that boat :-).

    THANKS! (see that...!!!!!!)


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