"You go first."
"No way. You go first."
"You're both pussies. I'll go first."
With that, Jack scaled the makeshift fence that had been erected in front of the house. He fell onto the front lawn. We hesitated for about thirty seconds, waiting for something bad to happen. When nothing appeared out of the shadows to attack Jack, we joined him in the yard.
I stared at the house. 112 Ocean Avenue. A slight shiver went through my body, the kind of shiver that makes you think there's someone standing behind you, maybe reaching out a cold hand, ready to grab your neck. I pulled a beer out of the brown bag I was carrying and took a few swigs to settle my nerves.
This was in 1979, soon after a movie had been made about the house. The murders that happened there were the old news; five years had passed and the bloody family siege was all but forgotten in the wake of the tales of hauntings, glowing-eyed pigs and demonic possessions. The new owners of 112 Ocean Avenue had come and gone, leaving behind a legacy that was far more disturbing to some than the tragic life of the DeFeos before them.
We were teenagers with nothing better to do, I suppose. So we sat on the rickety dock in the back of the Amityville horror house, along with many other bored Long Island teenagers, drinking, telling scary stories and waiting. Just...waiting for something to happen.
While my friends were anxious for the moans of the dead to be heard coming from the house, or for a floating pig to appear at the windows, I thought about the real horror that had occurred there. A young man possessed by his own personal demons slaughtered his entire family right inside that home. Not that I was too mature to believe in demons and ghosts; I was just more concerned about the spirits of the DeFeo family members getting pissed off at us being there than the manifestations of some deranged couple's fantasy ghouls haunting us away.
Based on a true story? Sort of. There really was a guy who killed his parents and brothers and sisters one night inside 112 Ocean Avenue. There really was a couple named the Lutzes who moved in to the house shortly after. That's about as far as the "true story" goes.
But as drunk teenagers, we mostly preferred to believe the gruesome tale of oozing toilets and slimed walls because it gave us something to do. I think about it now - we spent nights hanging out in the vacant backyard of a fake haunted house? - and I almost laugh at myself until I remember all the other stupid things we did in the name of suburban excitement.
How often we hung out at Holy Rood cemetery, sitting on headstones, resting our beer bottles on grave sites. I want to reach back in time and smack myself upside the head. How disrespectful we were! But who could blame us, really? The appeal of a dark graveyard, with its prospects for ghostly happenings, seemed downright fascinating in lieu of hanging out in the landfill like we usually did. Even after that one time when Kevin was sure someone - no, something - stole his bottle opener right out of his jacket pocket and then later on deposited it on a headstone of a person who coincidentally had the same (albeit common) last name as Kevin, which scared the bravado right out of all of us, we still weren't quiet scared enough to stop tempting the fates.
There was no shortage of supposed haunted places on Long Island. A quick drive to the North Shore brought us to some spooky mansion that was rumored to have been home to an eccentric man who kept freakish midget elves as slaves. I kid you not. In the back of the sprawling estate were a few tiny little cottages, certainly meant for, well, evil midgets. Right? Of course it never occurred to us that perhaps these cottages were playhouses for the rich family's children. We were much more content to believe that at any moment, we would be chased across the grounds by evil midgets baring axes. Bloody axes.
Another estate had a topiary, much like the one in The Shining (the book, not the movie), with animals shaped out of hedges, said animals which seemed to wink and nod at us or, at other times, snarl and show their sharp, wicked teeth. It's hard to tell the difference between a snarling German Shepherd that's very real and meant to chase you off the premises and a green, leafy giraffe that's meant to be nothing more than a decoration when you are full of mescaline and cheap wine. Just saying.
Farther down the road from the barking dogs was the ancient cemetery where, if you parked your car at a certain angle and turned on your headlights at just the right time, the image of the Virgin Mary would appear on the side of a certain grave and, if you waited long enough, if you were brave enough to stick around after the Virgin showed up, some crazy ghost lady could be seen rising from her grave in a white gown, and one night we were actually daring enough to try it and we might have seen something if Billy didn't lock us in the car while playing the theme from The Exorcist on his tape player, causing one of us (not me, I swear) to nearly piss our pants, all three of us screaming at Billy to just forget it, turn the car around, drive over to McDonald's, get some munchies and call it a night. It wasn't until my sister screamed that Crazy Mary was rising from her grave and she had an axe in her hand that Billy fumbled with his keys, got in the car and peeled out of the graveyard, leaving a trail of dust, dirt and pebbles which may or may not have mingled with the spirit a screaming, ghostly banshee, shaking her fist and yelling "Get off my lawn!" Sometimes the suburban legends just write themselves.
I think that was one of the last times anything scared me quite like that. Ghost, goblins and zombies, while fun and entertaining, are not quite as frightening as electric bills or mortgage rates or the sight of one of your kids choking on a piece of candy. Growing up sucks all the fun out of life, sometimes.
Now that I'm seeing the commercials for the new Amityville Horror movie popping up on television, I keep thinking back to those nights we snuck into the yard at 112 Ocean Avenue. The real horror was much worse than the fictional (passed off as truth) horror from the movie, book and deluded brain of one George Lutz. Remember when you see "based on a true story" that the story it is based on has nothing to do with beady eyed pigs and exorcisms.
Which is a shame, really. I'd much rather be scared of a demon barnyard animal than a living, breathing lunatic. And it's been a while since I had a good scare, now that I think of it (tried with The Ring 2, but that went nowhere). I wonder if the Virgin Mary grave is still there?
The true story of what happened to the Lutz family can be found here. Of course, there will always be people who accept the Lutz version of the truth. Even if it has all been proven as a hoax.
Thanks to Lisa, who left a link in the comments to this site which has more details about the murder and the debunking of the haunted house story.