19 thoughts on “Based on a True Story: the Amityville Horror & the Ruin of a Subgenre

  1. I’ve only recently finished reading this for the first time! The story fascinated me when I was younger… and it was the whole “true” element of it that set it apart from other ghostly horrors. Like you said, when you start to learn that “true” doesn’t always mean true, it kind of loses something. Good story, but I guess the true part is very debatable! Really good post! 😊

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  2. Thank you for saying so, Lynsey! I have been perplexed at how many people claim to have seen the emperor’s clothes in this story… So many who we might have held in high esteem yet are in direct contradiction to what appears to be the evidence…Then we have to wonder what THAT means…Like they, “oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” And if there is truth to the story, surely so MUCH evidence should be VERIFIABLE evidence. Or so I would be thinking…

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  3. Kevin Curtis

    Another great article, KC, thanks for your slant on this story. I had heard that the house was built over an Indian Burial Ground. Fact or fiction, it was good for both the book and the movie. Bravo, Love. Keep them coming. Love you!!!

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  4. Thank you Kevin! I guess we can never underestimate Hollywood-style hype!

    Turns out the whole Indian Burial Ground thing wasn’t true either… the nearest burial ground was said to have been found at least ten miles from the place, and the Indian tribe in question — being actual, real Native People — never cast out their mentally ill there (or anywhere) either. So this was yet another myth floated to give the haunting a flavor of authenticity which cannot be verified but has been vehemently denied by Native Americans…Once again we are faced with doing the math. How haunted is too haunted to be real?

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  5. KC, you did it again. Such enlightened writing! I cannot remember the actual name but I took a class in college about the paranormal (probably under the psychology dept.) and it should be something I can recall better (but I don’t.) I know people want so much to understand the not-normal (ghosts and apparitions) – but they do exist! There is more we cannot explain compared to what we do explain. (And Holly-weird is not doing us any favors.)

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  6. I’ve been dismayed that in Hollywood, no ghost is good enough to JUST be a ghost. There is always something sordid going on, something “demonic” when — whether we are talking the Arts or that uncanny something beyond the reach of our understanding — typical “true” ghost stories involve the more dull events… it’s the injustice, the secret, the vengeance that matters, the story behind the ghost that makes the truth itself haunt the guilty. I could do with a lot less embellishment and a lot more justice!

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    1. Hollywood has literally created fear over what Native people would consider “signs” and good spirits – which makes me suspicious why. When spirits visit, it is for a reason. (Books could be better at sourcing this)
      You are correct. AND I am glad your grandma visited you. I usually have dead family visit me in dreams.

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  7. Well, we pretty much have botched the whole interpretation thing with our own religion — always fighting and arguing over who is right about sets of words. It’s no wonder to me why it is easier to just put everything in a box and make up a whole mythology…and I am willing to bet we don’t want to consider why a spirit might wish to make our acquaintance — or re-acquaintance: We also have a healthy fear of the tax man…same reasons!

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  8. Excellent article, KC — and I’m not just saying that because you said such nice things about me.

    Parapsychologists and credible field investigators are still dealing with the problem of “truth” when it comes to portrayals of ghostly experiences in the media. The popularity of the paranormal TV shows, which emphasize “evil,” “malevolent,” and “demonic” forces as well as bad investigative technique (no one in my field routinely investigates in the dark) has continued to fan the flames of fear when people experience anything paranormal or psychic (real or imagined). Much of this is due to the success and acceptance of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR as “truth.”

    At least today we’re seeing films use the phrase “INSPIRED BY a true story/experience.” But to the general public, this isn’t much different than saying it IS a true story (or “based on,” for that matter) — especially when TV ghost hunters seem to support such exaggerations (and sometimes out and out nonsense).

    Imagine if they producers of GHOST (1990) had put the banner “inspired by a true story” on the film. Maybe then we’d have had people focused on romantic ghost stories instead of ones that inspire fear (of course, inspiring fear is what a good horror film or novel or story ought to do, but it should not make people believe such things are inherently true).

    It would have been interesting to see what could have happened had GHOSTBUSTERS carried the banner of “true story”!

    Thanks for a great article.

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  9. Wow! I am star-struck! (Just goes to show you one never knows who will read a lowly blog…) Thank you, Mr. Auerbach for not only the kind words, but a terrific book on the paranormal…Still unequalled on the subject, in my opinion.

    Indeed, if Hollywood and book covers are to be believed, the public is completely gullible at the moment, and I don’t think that serves anyone but the folks taking the money… and that is a shame. The field of paranormal research should be of interest to us all, and we should not be afraid of finding out there are mysteries that are NOT paranormal as well as looking more closely at those which are. Neither should we let television shows convince us that hauntings are all rollercoaster rides worthy of season after season of manufactured malarkey. From what I have seen, most hauntings are boring, some are poignant, and others plain fascinating. But all are about being human and in the world of academic research, good things come to those who wait, and document. I for one, keep hoping for a sequel to your handbook!

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