Of all the unexplained phenomena that swirled through the faddish 1970s, from the ancient aliens in the book "Chariots of the Gods?" to the spoon-bending Uri Geller, few fascinated the public like "The Amityville Horror."
The bestselling 1977 book and the 1979 hit film were based on the allegedly true story of George and Kathy Lutz and her three young children, whose Dutch Colonial at 112 Ocean Ave. in Amityville -- the site of a mass murder 13 months earlier -- turned out to be plagued by oozing walls and demonic spirits. The Lutzes' haunted-house tale became a media sensation, a lucrative franchise (James Brolin and Margot Kidder played them in the first of many movies) and remains the subject of a still-unresolved debate: Was it definitive proof of the supernatural, or just a canny hoax?
Daniel Lutz, who lived through it as a 9-year-old, is publicly telling his story for the first time in "My Amityville Horror," an independently produced documentary opening Friday at Manhattan's IFC Center and available through video-on-demand. Believers and debunkers alike may find that the movie provides fuel for their opposing arguments.
"I'm not a believer in what happened, but I'm not an outright skeptic," says Eric Walter, the film's Los Angeles-based director. "I believe something happened to these people, but we don't know what it was."
Walter, 28, grew up in Maryland and became so obsessed with the Amityville story as a youngster that he eventually launched the website amityvillefiles.com. It was through the site that he was contacted by a friend of Daniel, now a UPS driver living in Queens. In 2009, Walter flew out to meet one of the last eyewitnesses to the Amityville story who was willing to speak about it. (George and Kathy Lutz are dead; Daniel's siblings declined to participate in the film.)
What Walter found was an angry, chain-smoking man in his late 40s who appears deeply traumatized by his past. "This is not something I asked for," Daniel says in the film, explaining why he has come forward after so many years. "I've been running away from it, and it finally caught up with me." He declined to be interviewed for this story.
Daniel insists that the Amityville haunting was real and blames it largely on his stepfather, George Lutz, whom he loathed. He says that George dabbled in the occult and was capable of telekinesis; Daniel also claims that he himself was possessed by a spirit a la "The Exorcist," complete with a violently shaking bed.
Walter acknowledges that Daniel's memories -- such as a visiting priest being swarmed by flies -- sometimes mimic the movie version a little too closely. And skeptics may raise an eyebrow when Daniel refuses to take a polygraph test. What's irrefutable is Daniel's enduring emotional pain, though its cause may never become clear.
"I hope that viewers not only walk away with a more intimate account of the dynamics within the Lutz family, but also witness firsthand the terrible effects that relentless media hype can have on a person," says Walter. "And I think Daniel Lutz is the living embodiment of that."