|08-11-2012, 11:55 PM||#1|
Join Date: Aug 2012
The Amityville Horror Books!
LONG POST ALERT!
Since the board is having a burst of Amityville discussion at the moment, I thought it might be nice to have a thread about the books. Some correspond to movies, some of them don't. Some are good, some are utter shite. But they're pretty interesting!
There have been Amityville-related books from many people, but the most prolific of the authors are John G. Jones and Hans Holzer. Jones wrote most of the books in the "official series", the ones which included copyright credit for George Lutz, and even called himself "the official chronicler of the horror". Hans Holzer was a paranormal investigator who is one of the strongest proponents of the theory that the supernatural presence was of Native American origin. He was originally hired to look into the case by William Weber, the lawyer for the man who shot and killed his family in the house (and the first to approach the Lutzes with a deal to publish their story, as a chapter in a book about the murderer - they refused when they discovered the deal would pay the killer).
Holzer wrote the allegedly-true Murder in Amityville, taking a look at the murders through a paranormal lens and making many controversial assertions about the DeFeo family. This book was adapted into the screenplay for Amityville II: The Possession by Tommy Lee Wallace (who also wrote & directed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, released that same year.)
Holzer later wrote two fictional novels about the house. One was The Amityville Curse, apparently written as a prequel to the original story, which offered a completely fabricated backstory for the house and the source of its hauntings. The book was loosely adapted into a movie of the same name by writers Doug Olsen, Norvell Rose, and the awesomely-named Michael Krueger. The film version cut all ties with the original house and story and adapted the basics of the book's plot to a different haunted house in Amityville.
His other book was The Secret of Amityville, for which little information is readily available. The sole summary I could find online says the book is about how the evil in Amityville is allegedly the end result of a chain reaction involving a Tibetan curse, an enchanted opal, a doomed pirate, and of course a desecrated Native American grave. Unsurprisingly, no one was interested in making a movie out of it.
Full disclosure: I have not read the Holzer books. If anyone here has, please let us know what you thought of them!
DETAILS AND REVIEWS ON THE OFFICIAL SERIES
I have, however, read all the "official" books and can offer my thoughts on those.
The Amityville Horror
The one everybody is aware of is the original The Amityville Horror, published in 1977 and written by Jay Anson. It was adapted into a movie by screenwriter Sandor Stern, released in 1979 to massive success. This book is about the 28 days the Lutz family spent in the infamous house in Amityville and the phenomena they claim to have experienced. It was written by Anson, a journalist by trade, based on a series of audiotape recordings the Lutzes made in which they discussed their memories of the event. Anson has admitted the altering or embellishing events which were unclear or didn't make for a good read, and rearranging or fabricating the time of the occurrences to make the story flow better. Until his death, however, George Lutz stood by this book as the most accurate account of his experiences. He claimed he allowed the book to be written in order to provide a reference material of sorts for people interested in the haunting, so that he would not need to go through the trauma of repeating the details to people (and to counter fabricated or embellished newspaper stories with a more truthful account).
The book is written in a somewhat dry, journalistic style, and generally seems more interested in being a piece of documentation than a terrifying novel. It's still scary by the virtue of the events it describes, but those looking for stylish and unnerving prose will likely be disappointed. There are also no bleeding staircases or priests trapped in swarms of flies - those were invented for the movie. However, the book also includes several chilling events left out of the movie, which I won't spoil here. It's definitely worth a read if you like the movies.
The Amityville Horror II
Written by John G. Jones (after Jay Anson's death) and published in 1982, this book continues right where the original left off, much like Halloween II continues from the first film. It starts with the Lutzes fleeing their house (in a telling which contradicts the ending of the first book somewhat), and then follows them as they move in with Kathy's mother and then finally to California, the evil presence following their every step.
The book starts out promisingly enough, despite the continuity snarls. Jones is a proper novelist and his writing is much more colorful than Anson's. The events described are mostly pretty creepy, and his writing makes it all the more effective. But the book loses steam once the family moves to California. Whereas the original book began with small events and built in terror to the end, this book starts out recounting the most horrific events in the Lutz story and then slows to a crawl, with smaller, less frightening, and less frequent supernatural events. The book's conclusion, set in London, is incredibly anticlimactic.
The book purports to be totally true, but I have a much harder time swallowing some of this stuff than I do with the original. And yet it's still obviously restrained in an attempt to seem believable, which hurts it in the end. One interesting aspect is how it details George and Kathy Lutz' reactions to their sudden unwanted infamy - it depicts the release of the book and movie, publicity tours they reluctantly embark upon, and their tense interactions with a skeptical press. In many ways this human drama is more compelling than the sparse scares.
It's worth a look if you liked the first one, and as a necessary bridge between the original and part 3.
Amityville: The Final Chapter
Published in 1985, written by John G. Jones. Here the series pulls a Friday the 13th Part 4 and declares itself over too soon. A better title might have been The Amityville Horror World Tour, as the story deals with the evil following George and Kathy through Australia and Japan even as it continues to torment their kids and babysitter back home in California. It all culminates in a supposedly final showdown: the Lutz family, their babysitter, and Father Mancuso (that same priest from the previous books) versus Jody the evil demon-pig-thing.
Although the cover still touts how totally true everything is, the story here is grade-A certifiable bullcrap. Jones wisely gave up on restraining himself to some semblance of reality, and as a result this book is far more entertaining than part 2. The pacing is much quicker and more consistent - I read the whole thing in a single day - and there's more supernatural mayhem. Some of the book is quite successfully creepy, while some veers off into unintentional comedy. It's also got one really annoying plothole - although the story is set seven years after the original, the children do not appear to have aged at all!
Still, it's a quick and entertaining read that's probably worth a go if you liked the first two.
Amityville: The Evil Escapes
Published in 1988 and written by John G. Jones. In this book the series pulls a Friday the 13th Part 5 by veering off in a new direction in an attempt to extend the story past its logical conclusion. Instead of following the Lutz family, who apparently vanquished the evil that was following them in the previous book, this one focuses on artifacts from the house that carry pieces of the evil with them, as well as some other people who visit the infamous house. It's not even actually a novel; instead, this is a collection of five short stories and one novella. The book was officially "adapted" twice into the TV movie Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (written by Sandor Stern) and the direct-to-video Amityville 1992: It's About Time (by Christopher DeFaria and Antonio Toro). Both movies involved the premise of a cursed item from the house, but neither is actually an adaptation of any of the book's stories. Amityville: A New Generation and Amityville Dollhouse also used this concept without crediting the book,
The first short story, Window into Hell, tells the story of a painting purchased from an estate sale at the Amityville house. The woman who buys it falls deathly ill and implores her friend to take it. When she does, the original buyer returns to perfect health - but the new owner begins to have terrible nightmares. And that's only the beginning of the trouble...
The second story, Lord of the Northern Sea, deals with a haunted power drill from the house, gifted to a rather offensive stereotype of a Swedish man (complete with written-out heavy accent - "voman", "diffrunt", "vhere"...) by his wife. Holding and using the drill gives him a sensation of incredible and supernatural power, and he begins hearing voices compelling him to use it. As he becomes helplessly addicted to the tool, he begins having vivid dreams in which he is a medieval Viking-esque warlord...
The third story, The Haunted Cycle, is about, well, a haunted motorcycle. A mechanic receives George Lutz' motorcycle and a hastily-written note from him saying only "take care of it". Soon after, a one-ton piece of machinery moves overnight without explanation. His grandmother, a rather offensive stereotype of an old Italian woman (once again complete with written-out accent), is terrified by a feeling of evil the bike gives off. As strange things continue to happen in the garage around the bike, the family decides to try and cleanse the evil...
The fourth story, The Truth or Not the Truth, breaks from the standard pattern. It's about a skeptical professor who develops an interest in the case that keeps building until she breaks into the abandoned house seeking proof of the phenomena. The evil is all too real, and it's waiting there for her - but proof comes at a price...
The last short story, Betty-D's New Toy, is about a family that buys one of the Lutz children's stuffed animals for their baby daughter. Soon after, a terrible smell invades their home and all their food spoils overnight. The baby is terrified of the toy, and soon the grown-ups are going to figure out why...
The book concludes with the 147-page novella The Obsession. It's about a man with an interest in the paranormal who becomes completely obsessed with the Amityville case - to the point where the evil comes after him. He seeks help from his rabbi and his would-be girlfriend, who is conveniently related to a Native American shaman. But will he be able to overcome the evil?
This book is f***ing terrible. The only part worth reading is The Truth or Not the Truth, which is actually fairly compelling and somewhat creepy. The other short stories all have a second-rate Twilight Zone feel to them, and are littered with too many absurdities to count. Sometimes they're good for unintentional laughs, but mostly they're just exercises in unscary, ridiculous banality. The novella seems somewhat promising at the beginning but never manages any real scares, instead devolving into heavy-handed and obviously fabricated Native American mumbo-jumbo. By the end of the book - spoiler alert for anyone who cares - our protagonist is raped by a horde of disfigured female demons, starts to like it, and then gets sucked down into hell. It's overdone, silly, and somewhat offensive - a perfect fit for the majority of the book.
Also of note - the front cover says "the terrifying true story continues", and it's published as non-fiction, but the copyright page says "This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places and dialogue are products of the author's imagination, and are not to be construed as real."
Only for series die-hards. Not worth the paper it's printed on.
Amityville: The Horror Returns
Published in 1989, and the last in the series written by John G. Jones. The Jason Lives equivalent in which the series is forced back onto its original track in a bid to retain its remaining audience. This book splits its time between the Lutz family (whose children are somehow STILL the same age as they were in the first book) and a friend/babysitter of theirs (not the same one from the third book) who is of Native American descent. This heritage comes in handy when, as the title so bluntly puts it, the horror returns, and only more fabricated and somewhat silly Indian mumbo-jumbo can save the day! Also, this one has a creepy zombie/ghost girl and a horror scene on a Utah golf course, of all places.
This book retains some of the absurdity and unintentional humor of its predecessor - and seriously, when the hell are the kids going to grow up - but it's generally improved. There are some decent scares, the pacing is fine, and some of the plot points are interesting. But it's never really explained how the horror returns, or how it even survived the confrontation in book three, and there's a sense of desperation, of trying to pander to the fanbase of the early books - not just with the return to the Lutzes or their Tuck Everlasting-esque kids, but also with the house itself, which - spoiler alert again - makes an appearance near the end of the book when the family's new, small home actually TURNS INTO the infamous Dutch Colonial.
Interestingly, the back of the book proudly proclaims that it's "soon to be an NBC movie" just like The Evil Escapes was - the plan never materialized.
Its inconsistencies and flaws are obvious and frustrating, but there's some enjoyment to be had. I'd put it on about equal footing with the second book.
Amityville: The Nightmare Continues
Published in 1991, written by Robin Karl. This book may not actually be part of the "official series" - it has no Lutz copyright or apparent connection to the other books - but I've always seen it listed as one.
Like The Evil Escapes, this book tries a new direction for the series - with much, much better results. It's almost a Blair Witch-style book; presented as a novelization of factual events pieced together in a journal by a friend of the author who had been investigating the case. The prose is occasionally interrupted with notes from the author on the "real case" or excerpts from the supposed journal. The book is, of course, entirely fictional, but the framing device helps distinguish it from the rest of the series and helps add some atmosphere.
The story concerns two young boys attending a Catholic school who break into the abandoned Amityville house. The mischievous one, nicknamed Kooch, suggests they steal items from the house to make a quick buck. The more cautious Lester isn't so sure, but ultimately agrees. From here, the story has many intriguing threads. We follow the boys through their troubles at school, under the strict eye of their headmistress, and at home. Kooch's mother is a broken single woman and an alcoholic who is largely incapable of bringing up her troubled young boy, who is also dabbling in drugs. Lester's father is a stern, humorless, abusive man. His mother has been dead for years, and his new stepmother is a well-meaning former nun who struggles to find her place in the family even as she begins receiving terrible visions of the evil house.
The items stolen from the house, of course, are cursed - something which Kooch attempts to use to his own ends upon realizing it. The break-in and the death of a pawnbroker who bought one of the items leads to a criminal investigation, and we follow a detective as he investigates the house's history, its possible haunting, and the disappearance of a priest related to the events - and uncovers dark truths about Lester's family along the way.
There's a lot of plot in this book, but it's not overwhelming. It's quite well-paced and woven together sufficiently, and provides an interesting new take on the franchise. Like the second movie, it's almost as focused on real-world human horrors as it is the supernatural. This helps ground the story and provides some of the book's most compelling moments. There are plenty of scares, and on average they're more effective than what was in the John G. Jones book. There's also far less accidental hilarity or groan-worthy absurdity. The story ultimately presents yet another alternative explanation for the haunting of the house that contradicts other books, but it's an interesting one that's a welcome diversion from all the Native American nonsense.
I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book is, actually. It's not a masterpiece of the genre but it's easily the best of the sequels, and I have no problem recommending it - especially to fans of Amityville II: The Possession.
As a final, odd note: the image on the cover is an illustration of the house from the first movie, not the house as it really looks. The same illustration was used on the cover of some editions of Hans Holzer's The Secret of Amityville!
|08-13-2012, 09:17 PM||#3|
Join Date: Aug 2012
You can find them ridiculously cheap used on Amazon... a lot of these were only $2-3 when I got them. I don't even feel bad about buying the awful fourth one.
|08-14-2012, 04:41 PM||#4|
Join Date: Jul 2000
Doomed pirate? Man, I want to see that Amityville movie!
Epic post, man, I feel like an Amityville connoisseur after reading that.
As far as the Native American theories of the house (being buried on sacred ground, as the movie remake depicted) is that all from Holzer? Do any of the original books depict this (from your descriptions it sounds like The Evil Escapes is the first but it is about a shaman, not necessarily the house itself)? It's been awhile now since I've seen the first three films, I can't quite remember if they also mention any of the Native American stuff...
"It's a good scream...it's a good scream..."
|08-15-2012, 10:21 AM||#5|
Join Date: Aug 2012
I know investigator Diane Warren also supports that theory, but not to the same extent as Holzer. He was convinced that was THE THING, whereas Diane considered it more as one ingredient in a sort of stew of evil
It was brought up in the early books (and I believe it was mentioned in the first two movies, at least), but not nearly to the same extent. There it was background info or a theory. Where I start pointing it out is where it sort of takes over the story and becomes silly and distracting.
As for The Evil Escapes' shaman, it does have to do with the house - in The Obsession, the evil of the house actually manifests as an evil shaman spirit (which fights his girfriend's relative's good shaman spirit.)