MGM+ introduced a new docu-series called Amityville: An Origin Story, and it is now available to watch on the streaming platform. The series includes footage from the iconic film The Amityville Horror, actual interviews with the Lutzes and their friends and neighbors, and an in-depth look at the very real murders that occurred in what is arguably the best-known haunted house in America.
1428 Elm had the chance to interview Amityville: An Origin Story‘s director Jack Riccobono, so let’s hear what he has to say about making this four-part series.
1428 Elm: Hi, Jack! So, 1428 Elm is primarily a horror fansite, but we also include a lot of true crime content. I am personally a big follower of true crime, and I’ve always said that the story of that house on 112 Ocean Avenue is the perfect blend of horror and true crime.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely.
1428 Elm: You are the director of a new docuseries on MGM+ called Amityville: An Origin Story. Were you really into this story before you went into this directing venture?
Jack: I was not a big superfan when this project came along, but I think in some ways that allowed me to have a bit of an outsider view of a story that has obviously already been told in a hundred different ways. I think one of the challenges for us was how can we take this story that people kind of think they know, and reveal something totally new and different?
Like you said, I think one of the unique aspects is the layers of this story. People have often heard of the Amityville film, but they don’t necessarily know that it was based on a true story of the Lutz family, and the book that came out in 1977. And of course, even before the Lutzes, that there was this mass murder in the same house of the DeFeo family. So, there were a lot of unanswered questions about that murder that happened in 1974.
I think the title, Amityville: An Origins Story really gets at what we were trying to do with the series, which is dig under the surface and try to understand what were all the strange things happening in the 1970s that helped give rise and give birth to the Amityville Horror phenomenon. Because, it’s still going to this day, I mean there’s I think more than 40 films out based on this franchise, so it’s kind of incredible.
1428 Elm: Yeah, very often they’re loosely based! The legend has been told and retold in many different ways, not all of them factual. We have received films about a haunted Amityville doll house, a clock, a lamp, and then a recent film even took it into Space. In what ways do you consider your version to be different or to stand out among the rest?
Jack: Well, I think what we did was really look at the factors that kind of made this story take flight in 1979. So the original film came out, and it was a huge phenomenon at the time, the most successful independent film, and it made millions of dollars. It really touched a nerve with people in 1979, and it kind of re-invented the haunted house for a whole new generation, and it really stuck with them. It led to all of these spinoffs and sequels, which kept spinning further and further away from any factual underpinnings to the story.
Each episode of Amityville: An Origin Story takes a different angle
We wanted to kind of look at the story in different ways, it’s a four-part series. The first episode is really almost like a horror docu-tainment ride, where you look at what the Lutzes say happened to them, and really feel what happened to them. So, it’s got some real horror genre elements to it, some really creepy original photography that we shot, and it’s really supposed to take you into the mindset of the Lutzes and what they said happened to them at 112 Ocean Avenue in 1975.
And from there, in episode two we actually go back to the DeFeo murders to look at what happened in the house before the Lutzes moved in, and really try to investigate that crime from several new angles. I think one of the things we’re most proud of is we had some new information that I know fans on your site…I’m sure you’ve got a lot of superfans who feel like they’ve seen it all. But we have the first ever in-depth interview with Christopher Quaratino, formerly known as Christopher Lutz, the son of Kathy Lutz. He was seven years old when he lived through the hauntings, and he sat down with us to tell, really for the first time in detail, what it was like to live through those 28 days within the house, what he experienced, what he remembers, and then of course, the aftermath, the impact on the family, and his theory of what really happened.
And he believes that something paranormal did happen to their family, and that’s one of the core things in the series. It’s telling his stories and his perspective. But at the same time, we have other friends of the Lutz family that have never appeared on camera before, and we also have new materials and documents that, again, have never been released before that shed new light on the story.
We really wanted to break some new journalistic ground, but also take a more elevated approach that looks at the Amityville Horror phenomenon within the period of time that gave birth to it, in the 70s where people were really obsessed with paranormal and the occult. And of course you have this incredible history of horror films in the 1970s that kind of culminates in a lot of ways with The Amityville Horror, which was kind of the first movie to have this “based on a true story” aspect to it, with the Lutzes doing press with James Brolin and Margot Kidder, who play them in the film. In a lot of ways, The Amityville Horror gave rise to the modern horror genre of “based on a true story.”
1428 Elm: Right, and one of the things I really appreciated was the fact that you used the photos, video and audio from the real life series of events, along with the scenes from the movie version of The Amityville Horror. Did you study that original film extensively, or do you think you placed more of your focus on the real life series of events?
Jack: Well, this is one of those stories that is special, because you have a lot of these original archival materials, and part of the premium approach that we were able to take was that we have the ability to license all of these original interviews with the Lutzes that they did contemporaneously in the mid-to late 70s. So you have this wealth of material, and you’re hearing it directly from them when they were first reporting it. But then, of course, you have these incredible interpretations of their story, both through the book and through the many film versions of what they said happened. So we really wanted to try to blend that together in an artful way to give viewers multiple angles on the story, both trying to pin down some of the real facts of what happened, or what they said happened, but then also leaning into the fun, kind of genre aspect of it, because again, there’s so many film versions and interpretations of it. We had incredible access to the original 1979 film, this is of course on MGM+, it’s an MGM film, and we were able to use the original film in a new and novel way. We tried to weave that into the telling of the story in the first episode.
1428 Elm: Were there other documentaries that you watched to prepare for this, regarding either the Lutz’s story or the DeFeo murders?
Jack: Yes, definitely. Like I said, there have been a lot of projects made about this topic, that was one of the challenges for us, which is how do we take this story that people kind of think they know, and turn it on their heads? I think part of our approach was to kind of put you in the story, and to have a more elevated approach to how we interviewed people, so we thought very carefully about the lighting and the way that people come across in the show, and of course the casting of the show to try to find voices that have never been heard before, and new photos and footage that have never been seen before.
That was part of our approach, and then also to really dig into the origins of the story. So, episode one, we’re really on this wild ride with the Lutzes and what they say happened to them, and in episode two, we look at the DeFeo murders, which have a lot of very strange, unexplained elements. You know, people didn’t hear the gunshots, the way the victims were found face down on the beds, you have six people all from the same family killed inside the house in close proximity to each other, nobody wakes up.
A lot of the aspects of the DeFeo murders have still never been satisfactorily answered to this day. So that’s kind of where we take the story in episode two, it’s really kind of a hard boiled true crime investigation of the murders. But at the same time, these unexplained elements of the case are part of what leaves the door open for the paranormal.
And so you see how these murders, and the gravity and the tragedy powered the story of The Amityville Horror. And in episode three, we look at how the story starts to spin out of the Lutz’s control in the media environment of the 1970s. The book is a best-seller, it sells 6 million copies, it’s been turned into this movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, and it’s this huge summer blockbuster release.
And then in episode four we look at this long legacy of Amityville, and the human toll. We actually have, again, some investigative aspects to episode four, we reveal things about George Lutz’s past that have never been known before.
1428 Elm: I think there are a lot of people out there now who think that the Lutzes made up the whole story, but, if you talk to those kids that lived in that house, they say otherwise. There was a documentary that came out a few years ago called My Amityville Horror, I don’t know if you had a chance to see that one or not. That was the other boy, Danny, right?
1428 Elm: They both maintain that these things really happened. So, I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Now that you are part of the Amityville legacy, what’s coming up next for you that you can talk about?
Jack: Well, I’m still in the throes of finishing this series, so I haven’t had a moment to think about what comes next. But, it’s been an incredible opportunity to dig into this story, and I’m hoping the horror fans will really enjoy it. In episode four we have an interview with John Carpenter, who is of course a horror director legend. You know, Halloween came out in 1978, just before The Amityville Horror, so we really have a lot of fun, horror-genre aspects to this. In the 70s and late 60s, you have the unholy trinity, which is Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen, and we look at how those three films really laid the groundwork for Amityville to become such a sensation.
Part of the fun of this series is you have a lot of different layers, you have a true crime, you’ve got horror genre, and you also have a good dose of paranormal, so there’s a lot of ways you can enjoy the show I think.
1428 Elm: Well, thank you so much for talking with me today, and I hope everyone tunes in to watch Amityville: An Origins Story on MGM+!
Do you consider yourself a fan of the Amityville Horror legend? Have you watched Jack’s docu-series on MGM+? Tell us what you think about it in the comments section.