Eric Walter is exactly the kind of guy that most audience members attending this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival could relate to — for years he’s been intrigued by the subject of the unexplained, the unsolved and the paranormal including the infamous Amityville Horror case which as he puts it, has haunted him for years. Given his predisposition to all things spooky, it’s no surprise that his documentary My Amityville Horror was well-received by the Toronto After Dark audience when it screened during the 6th night of the festival.
Despite the fact that he wasn’t able to make it to town for the screening, Toronto Film Scene was able to catch up with Eric Walter via email.
Describe your film in 10 words or less:
A man haunted by the internal demons of his past.
How did the film come about?
In January of 2007, I launched AmityvilleFiles.com, the web’s largest archive of Amityville-related research. I wanted to create an unbiased presentation of the known facts and personalities 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. It was through this website that I was approached by friends of Daniel Lutz, who suggested that I needed to speak with him.
A documentary was 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. But, as I got to know Lutz more and began conducting audio interviews with him, I felt strongly the revelations I was hearing were ripe for a first-person documentary. I knew instantly that Daniel’s intensity and dramatic testimony would not only be groundbreaking, but extremely effective as a character study in its own right.
How much did you know about the Amityville case before the film? Did your view change after making the film?
After reading Jay Anson’s novel The Amityville Horror at a very young age, I developed an almost obsessive interest in the 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 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.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?
I found this to be a unique opportunity to explore the subject of memory. Not only was Daniel very young at the time of these events, he’s dealt with being labeled “˜the Amityville kid’ for his entire life. Countless books, movies, articles, television shows and documentaries have been produced for nearly forty years on this subject. Surely, this has to have had an effect on how one would remember such events. I think it would be nearly impossible not to be affected by it. The years of media onslaught surrounding this story clearly have taken a toll on Daniel, whether he realizes it or not. So, I had to keep this in mind as I pressed forward and naturally this became a strong point of focus for the film.
What was the best thing about production? The most frustrating?
I was fortunate to speak with Daniel’s cousin, Bobby Sylvester, for a short interview that was included within the film. Besides this instance, the remaining members of the Lutz family wanted no part in the making of this documentary, which I found initially frustrating. Their hesitance is valid however, being that they’ve lived with the “˜Amityville’ label for nearly forty years. While I completely respect their decision for choosing not to speak about these events publicly, as a documentarian my main objective was to include as many perspectives from the real witnesses as possible. This was a great challenge in a topic already mired in controversy and division.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently developing an original narrative feature shedding light on many of the lessons I’ve learned in the process of making My Amityville Horror . I’m very intrigued by the enigma of the paranormal and how people cope with the unexplained. 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.