Why He's On Our Radar: Eric Walter makes his directorial debut with the intensely creepy documentary "My Amityville Horror," which recently world premiered at the just wrapped Fantasia Fest in Montreal.
The film presents a first-person account by Daniel Lutz, the eldest son of the family behind the allegedly true story of the "Amityville Horror." For the first time, Daniel Lutz offers his take on his experiences living at 112 Ocean Avenue, the house his parents publicly claimed was haunted by paranormal activity when they lived there in 1975.
What's Next: "I'm currently developing several original film projects apart from 'Amityville,'" Walter told Indiewire, though he wouldn't specify. "In many ways, I've also been haunted by the Amityville story for years now, so I'm actually looking forward to the opportunity to explore a variety of different subjects in the future and expanding my palette of work."
This is your first feature film. How did you get into filmmaking?
I grew up in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and like any kid interested in filmmaking, spent the majority of my childhood shooting short films with family, friends and neighbors. I vividly recall staying up late at night listening to tape recordings of old radio programs such as 'Suspense' and 'CBS Radio Mystery Theater' and grew to deeply admire these forms of storytelling. I would cite these sources as being a major spark for my passion for filmmaking. I think the images provoked from these radio dramas helped to shape my own style of visual storytelling.
My entire life I’ve been universally drawn to the unexplained, unsolved, and the paranormal. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a believer or a disbeliever in these subjects, only that I’ve always actively sought them out in any manner possible. Documentary filmmaking has become an outlet for my research into these topics.
Tell us about "My Amityville Horror."
"My Amityville Horror" is an exclusive first-person account from Daniel Lutz, the eldest stepson of George and Kathleen Lutz and the first of the Lutz children to go public with his entire story of those 28 days spent at 112 Ocean Avenue. The film illustrates the real-life horror behind growing up as part of a world-famous haunting and the chilling psychological scars they've left on Daniel's life. Going much deeper than its predecessors, viewers will gain a very intimate account of the now world-famous haunting and how, according to Daniel, the Lutz family themselves may have had more to do with the haunting than first reported. At its core, "My Amityville Horror" is an examination of a man who has literally been indoctrinated into these events and how he copes with that indoctrination.
What drew you to this topic? When did you first hear about the story of Amityville?
After reading Jay Anson's novel "The Amityville Horror" at a very young age, I developed an almost obsessive interest in this story. Reviewing the years of heated debates surrounding both the DeFeo murders and the Lutz haunting, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the personalities that surround it and their apparent desire to defend their part of the story. This controversy would have never continued if the original participants weren’t still so entangled within it.
An enormous resurgence of interest followed Dan Farrands' two-part documentary series produced for The History Channel in 2000. Nearly all of the original participants were resurrected for this program, including a very active George Lutz, who subsequently began to establish his own website and projects surrounding the Amityville events. This debate lead to an almost cult-like legion of online factions devoted to the case, each attempting to separate fact from fiction. I was one of these people. I began by collecting and scrutinizing all of the available interviews and documentation on the case and interviewing some of the original participants myself.
In January of 2007, I launched AmityvilleFiles.com, an enormous online archive of Amityville-related research. I wanted to create an unbiased presentation of the known facts surrounding the case – somewhere people who are interested in these events could go and read through the original newspaper articles, view media and essentially draw their own conclusions on what they believe went down in that house.
How did you meet Daniel? He has been very quiet about his experiences until now… Why do you think he opened up to you?
AmityvilleFIles.com proved to be the calling card for what became "My Amityville Horror." I was contacted by a contractor in the New York area who claimed to be a friend of Daniel Lutz. Despite being very intrigued, I didn’t necessarily believe this man's claims until I was able to see a picture of Daniel. After this, I knew this had to be him and I went about engaging in conversation with them. In 2009, I traveled to New York and conducted nearly 12 hours of audio recordings with Daniel. I got the immediate impression that his willingness to speak to me was almost therapy for him — a way of unburdening himself of these stories that have lived inside his head for over 35 years.
Talks of creating a documentary were not on the table at that time. Daniel was making the choice to come forward with his story and was seeking assistance in putting together what was initially supposed to be a book on the subject. He did indicate to me that he wanted to work with someone who knew the story inside and out, so I felt honored to be chosen to collaborate with him on this. I think it was easier for him to talk to someone who knew the full scope of the story.
As I got to know Lutz more, I felt strongly the revelations I was hearing were ripe for a first-person documentary. I knew instantly that Daniel’s intensity and dramatic new testimony would not only be groundbreaking, but extremely effective as a character study in its own right. He has a very showman-esque appeal, something I believe his late stepfather also possessed.
How did your experiences filming 'Horror' change your impression of this story?
The blend of both family discord and unexplained phenomena fills so much of Daniel's account that I sometimes wonder to myself if there is a difference between the two in his mind. This is what really began to change my overall view of the Lutz family and what may have been fueling these emotions at the time. The idea that George Lutz represents a trigger for Daniel, both literally and figuratively in regards to the haunting, was a unique perspective and something that I felt set his account far apart from anything heard previously. Daniel seemed to be the black sheep of the Lutz family and that reclusive perspective intrigued me.
Has Daniel seen the film?
Without speaking for him, Daniel has seen the film and it's my impression that he's glad to have finally gotten this story off of his chest and is comfortable with the structure I chose for the finished piece. I know it has to be uncomfortable for him in places, not only watching yourself relive these memories, but to hear the skeptics voice their opinions as well. In my opinion, the entire subject seems like a fatal attraction for him. He's someone who is very guarded, yet vigorously rooted in his convictions, so I know it has be an incredibly difficult process for him.
What do you hope people take from the film?
I hope viewers not only walk away with a more intimate account of the dynamics within the Lutz family, but also witness first-hand the terrible mass effects relentless media hype and publicity can have on a person. For me, this is the real Amityville Horror and Daniel Lutz is the living embodiment of that. The struggle to comprehend, remember and make sense of something unexplainable to a public already mired in decades of misinformation certainly is not the easiest of prospects. However, within that lies a story unto itself and is the direct focus of "My Amityville Horror." Beneath all of his anger, Daniel Lutz is a victim and I think the film resonates with this theme.
What was it like screening at Fantasia? What are your hopes for the future of the film?
The Fantasia audiences were amazing and proved to be a huge payoff for our production team. Each audience was very engaged and lively, so it was wonderful to sit in the back of the theater and witness their reactions during our screenings. "My Amityville Horror" will be playing at a number of upcoming film festivals, both domestically and internationally, so we're very excited to share our film with the legions of Amityville fans out there, but also with the documentary community. We hope to secure distribution through a variety of different platforms.