Amityville Braced for Another 'Horror'

This much is true: On Nov. 13, 1974, police in Amityville, N.Y., responded to a frantic call, and the horrific crime scene they found forever changed what had always been known as a quiet bedroom community -- 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo Jr. had slaughtered his entire family in their beds.

DeFeo confessed to the methodically shooting his parents and four siblings, claiming that "voices" in the house drove him to commit the grisly murders.

This is also true: A year later, George and Kathy Lutz thought they had found their dream house. They had heard about the murders, and yet still felt drawn to that picturesque Dutch Colonial home by the water.

Only 28 days later, the Lutzes and their three children ran in terror, claiming an evil presence was still lurking in the house. They later claimed they saw blood oozing from the walls and a door inexplicably torn from its hinges. Lutz said he awoke to see his wife levitating above the bed. Their chilling tale became "The Amityville Horror" -- a blockbuster book that sold more than 6 million copies and a 1979 film that has become a cult classic.

Three decades later, all is quiet in Amityville, even as a remake of the film hits theaters today. Filmmakers say it's based on a "true story," but paranormal debunkers have challenged the Lutz family's tale of terror and DeFeo's attorney has even said he helped them concoct the story.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that no ghosts haunt Amityville: Since the Lutz family left, none of the subsequent residents has complained about supernatural disturbances, although many residents complain about would-be spook hunters, hoping to catch a glimpse of the house's distinct eye-shaped windows.

"We're not crazy about the attention this gives our town," says Marcia Besserman, president of Amityville's Chamber of Commerce. "The story is just not true."

In the years after the book was released, however, Amityville became a national sensation. A Gallup poll suggested one-third of the country believed the town's most infamous address was haunted. Even today, the haunted house of Amityville is one of the most enduring of modern ghost stories.

"I grew up on Long Island, 10 minutes away from Amityville, and remember driving by the house in the middle of the night with my friends and being scared out of my mind," says Andrew Long, one of the producers of the remake.

Long -- who was part of the same team of producers that remade "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" two years ago -- says the DeFeo massacre is a true story, and that's what keeps the legend alive, and so compelling to tell again.

"No one can dispute that Ronald DeFeo Jr. woke up in the middle of the night and murdered his six family members, and it became an enormous debate on how a man could shoot eight rounds from a Marlin rifle, which can be heard miles away, and not have one person in the house or a neighbor wake up."

When the Lutzes left Amityville, they moved to San Diego and then Phoenix, vowing never to return. Kathy died last year. George now lives in Las Vegas. He did not serve as an adviser on this film, but he has stuck by his story, even though it's come under attack.

One person who's helped undermine the truth of "The Amityville Horror" is DeFeo's attorney, William Weber. He claims he helped the Lutzes embellish their account while helping get the book published. In a 2002 interview on ABC's "Primetime Live," he described how the couple's story grew more and more elaborate as they retold it one evening.

"I don't remember the number of bottles of wine that we had, but it certainly was more than four," he said. "There was this give and take. And toward the end, we were creating ideas."

The original film, starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, opened to miserable reviews, but was able to capitalize on the popularity of the book, grossing more than $86 million at the box office. Rod Steiger plays a priest who attempts to perform an exorcism, only to have the spirits render him blind and gravely ill.

The remake is also based on the book but contains aspects of it that weren't depicted in the first film. Now, Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George play the beleaguered couple who reluctantly decide to call a former crime scene their home.

"There's no bad houses," Reynolds tells his onscreen wife, "only bad people."

Shooting the film in Amityville was out of the question, leaving producers searching for just the right house, with the same eerie qualities. They finally found what they were looking for in Wisconsin.

"The house is the predominant character in the movie," says Reynolds. "It's funny because at the beginning of the film, we're almost ancillary characters to the house, and throughout the story George slowly becomes one with the house.

"When I first saw the house there was something about it that was off. Those 'eyes' make you feel like they're always watching you."