The Amityville Horror House and American Demons

Andrew Belonsky :: Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 5:45 pm

Have you heard that The Amityville Horror house is on the market for $1.15 million? It seems every news site has a mention of it. Why does America, including myself, care so much? It’s not just the demons in the Long Island home’s basement.

The Amityville House has been infamous since Ronald DeFeo, Jr murdered his family of six in 1974. George and Kathleen Lutz moved in shortly after, but fled their home over “supernatural” occurrences. The author Jay Anson then used that story to write a 1977 movie starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin, which in turn led to six sequels, a television adaptation and a 2005 remake. Now that the house is on the market, it’s back in the press. Why won’t it just go away?

Amityville’s allure stems from two of the story’s elements, some more universal than others. The 1974 murders themselves are enough to capture America’s morbid attention: why exactly does someone kill their entire family? It’s simply ludicrous. The Lutz story and the subsequent retellings injected another familiar aspect: moral good versus hellish evil, a paradigm seen in films like The Exorcist, which came out four years before Anson’s book, and one year before the DeFeo murders themselves.

Yes, demons corrupting otherwise decent people form the perfect bedrock for an irresistible myth, and Amityville Horror successfully captures that horror. It is truly terrifying. This story’s special for another reason, though, one that’s more distinctly American.

Poor Reagan in the Exorcist moved away from her Georgetown home and still wasn’t free of her demon. Same with the Freeling family in Poltergeist: dastardly Kane kept following them. He even tracked Carol Anne down at a Chicago high rise. Some demons don’t take no for a reason. Amityville’s unique: aside from the lamentable 1992 video, Amityville: It’s About Time, which involves some stupid clock; the bulk of the myth revolves around a location; more precisely, a home, the symbol of the American dream.

Home ownership was once the pinnacle of American success, the end goal. If you had your own home meant that you owned a piece of America and all it stood for. To then have that house, like the one in Amityville, try to kill you plays on a subconscious fear. If you can’t go home, where can you go? If you can’t attain the American dream, what’s the point?

Now that millions of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure, and the Amityville House has hit the market, this myth takes on a new meaning. This listing is no longer the home that Satan built, or the inspiration for a Hollywood franchise, and countless nightmares. The Amityville Horror house has now become yet another house in an already saturated real estate market, another “for sale” sign across a struggling nation. Suddenly demons don’t seem so scary.