Here's a blast from the past. In 2003, I met George Lutz at our annual conference, UNIV-CON. He is, of course, the man who lived in the Amityville house and fled after 28 days. It later inspired a book, "The Amityville Horror" and two films based off of it (one in 1977, then a remake in 2005). Back in my journalism days, I was a freelance writer. In 2004, knowing that they were remaking "Amityville," I asked if I could interview him about the process.
I found the entire Amityville controversy interesting because despite all the opinions and he-said, she-said fiasco's, Lutz was very open to the fact that the films and even the book were exaggerated. Think about it, he had experiences, signs with an author who promised to write about the process and finds that the book isn't 100% accurate. Then MGM makes a largely inaccurate film based off an already-exaggerated story. By the time the film came out, Lutz told me that so much truth had already been lost. Now take the 2005 Ryan Reynolds remake, which is based loosely off of the first film. It was even MORE exaggerated.
In 2005, Lutz filed a major lawsuit for defamation of character against the producers. I remember him telling me and others that the final straw for him is when the remake portrayed him as taking an axe and going to hunt down his children. He had had enough. Sadly, he passed away before the lawsuit could move forward.
Although a lot of people like to paint Lutz as the poster child for falsifying paranormal claims for money (and I can't say if that's true or not, being that I wasn't even born when Amityville occurred), I think the more likely scenario is that Lutz was the first major victim of Hollywood taking paranormal claims and bastardizing them without thinking of the consequences. A paranormal claim is only as good as the reputation the person claiming it has, and if the world only learns of the claim through pop culture (i.e. a film), then they become convinced that Lutz saw thousands of gallons of blood burst from his stairs, or that he tried to murder his family. The truth becomes lost.
It also doesn't help, however, that he also tried shopping around fictional Amityville ideas and sequels (which is what MGM did regardless. Anyone remember the awful Amityville 3-D?). The line becomes blurred as to what is true and what isn't.
As you can see in this article, Lutz was very optimistic that the new film was going to tell more of "the truth," whatever that may be. He was told that the writers and filmmakers were going to involve him in the process. I periodically checked up on him up until the films release, and his answer was always that the filmmakers and writers had "scheduling problems" or other commitments. I suspect that Lutz never even saw the film until it hit theaters, but who knows?
I also recommend this article by MOVIEWEB, which conducted an interview with Lutz after the film came out.
So here's the interview, which was conducted February 2004 - over 11 years ago (wow, time flies!). Let me know your thoughts.
Interview with George Lutz
So there’s a rumor now that both Dimension and MGM are doing the film? MGM doing domestic rights? Did you have anything to do with this cooperation merge?
That’s what I’ve been told. I own the sequel rights for the Amityville Horror for everything after and before the 28 days that are contained in the original book. Cathy and I own those together. MGM believes that they have the right to make a remake of the original movie. There are a lot of legal difficulties to that, I’m not sure that they completely understand just yet. When Dino De Laurentiis made the second movie, he violated our sequel rights in a fashion that caused a lawsuit that was 12 years long. (It ended up being a settlement). And, at that point, American International Pictures was then bankrupt; their film library was bought out by MGM. So that’s how they got the rights that they hold, in terms in being able to license them, etc. What happens with any contract is that, if you breach any part of it, you breach the whole thing. You don’t get to pick and choose which parts you wish to honor and which you don’t. So when they breached our sequel rights, there was breach of contract, notable enough to make a settlement for us. So in that process, our position is that they don’t necessarily have all the rights that they think they do.
So, Michael Bay was looking around for projects to do and it was announced in the trades that they had bought the rights to do a fictional movie that I had licensed. The first part of that deal was done 1 ½ years ago, the option that is. The Barstu Productions deal was done in May. When that was exercised, they looked around for financing and they continuously found better and better financing. So the ability to make a better movie surfaced. Dimension called us back in and asked to do a three-picture deal. So this last October, it then became an allusive three-picture deal. Then the people over at Michael Bay’s thought it would be better to do a remake plus two.
Have you met with Michael Bay and his production company yet?
We’ve had scheduling problems with Michael Bay and we’re trying to talk about this. I don’t have a problem with Michael Bay’s company; they’re kind of new to the equation in my mind on how to deal with this. We’ve been talking about me possibly helping out as being a consultant.
When did the idea to remake or rather, retell the Amityville Horror events come about? Were you approached?
I never had the right to retell the original. The 28 days would regard to my family. I’ve had the right to tell the story of the investigation of the house, but that hasn’t been done yet. There are a lot of stories there that haven’t been put on film.
Why did you decide to retell it?
My attitude about this is that anything that gets this in the public’s eye, that gets them to know the truth about this, to learn about it, anything that does that is a good and positive thing. I consider that to be very important.
Have you been working closely with screenwriter Scott Kosar? What is he doing differently?
As my understanding, that’ll be part of the meeting that we have in the upcoming week and a half or so.
If they do have the right to do this, then they’re limited to the 28 days and to the wording in the book. The original screenplay limits them as such so that they’re options to retell the story become pretty much line-by-line of the original. In other words, they have a very narrow definition of what they can do.
Would you like them to tell the true version of the events?
That’s something I’d very much like to see happen of course, the 28 days happening realistically. If we can get that to happen that would be wonderful. The problem is that most people don’t understand, that when rights are transferred for movies, you don’t have creative controls, the people who put up the money have the controls as to what goes on, how its depicted and the rest. And, it’s pretty rare for even a writer that has sold the rights from a book to be a movie, for them to ultimately be happy on what was transferred to screen. If you don’t put up the money, you don’t get the say. It’s a hard reality. That’s the way it is.
What’s the production status right now? Just waiting for the script?
It’s my understanding that he [Kosar] is writing right now. I try not to get involved in all that because it’s not my place is, I mean I’m always interested but I won’t interfere. These are busy people, and there’s a lot on the line in the investment.
So can you explain a little bit more about what you licensed to Dimension, and elaborate on the whole rights situation?
I licensed three fictional movies for Amityville. Amityville Horror is a trademark, as such to use the name, it has to be licensed. So they come to me and they ask me, and we come to certain agreements and it goes forward. When it happens, the people who put up the money have the ultimate control over it. We try to work with them so it’s not something totally off the wall and crazy. In the process, then, people find out that it’s a true story, part of all that fiction becomes education.
Who wants to believe that this stuff is even possibly true? I still don’t want to believe that this stuff happens. This is not the good stuff that life is made of. But I had to face this, and the fact is that other people are facing this as well. If someone watches one of the fictional movies and is motivated to learn more about the truth, then that’s a good thing. It becomes educational.
What’s funny is that Jay Ansen’s (the author of the book) original screenplay was much more accurate. The studio rejected it. The guy they hired was a dentist who wanted to be a screenwriter. They liked what he did and did his version of the movie. But Ansen’s is much more accurate.