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'Amityville' remake disturbs his spirits

Real-life figure in the story that spawned several horror films files suit over his murderous portrayal in the most recent installment.

June 17, 2005|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

George Lutz is being haunted again -- only this time, it isn't by supernatural forces in Amityville. It's by images on the big screen.

Lutz has filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming he has been libeled by this year's movie remake of "The Amityville Horror." The movie is based on the real-life story of Lutz and his family, who moved into a home in Amityville, Long Island, N.Y., not long after six people had been murdered there by the previous owner. The Lutzes fled within days, claiming the house was haunted, and their story became the basis for author Jay Anson's 1977 bestseller and spawned several movies.

But Lutz, who now lives in Las Vegas, isn't happy with how he was portrayed in the latest film version of the horror tale. Lutz filed suit June 10 against Dimension Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and others, including two screenwriters, for libel and breach of contract, claiming the movie remake makes him look like a "homicidal maniac."

During the course of the movie, Lutz is portrayed: killing his dog with an ax, attacking his son with an ax, building coffins for his wife and three children, trying to drown his wife, chasing his wife and children onto the steeply-pitched roof of the house at night during a rainstorm and also shooting at them with a rifle.

Lutz never did any of those things, according to the suit. A spokeswoman for Dimension Films declined comment.

While conceding that the film is a work of fiction, the suit notes the movie purports to tell the "true story" of what happened when George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the house where the previous owner, Ronald DeFeo, murdered his mother, father, two brothers and two sisters in November 1974. DeFeo is serving consecutive life sentences in prison for the crimes.

The Lutz family moved into the Long Island house on Dec. 18, 1975, but left only 28 days later, leaving behind most of their personal possessions, believing the house was haunted. Lutz and his wife later divorced and she died last year, according to Lutz's attorney, Larry Zerner.

The suit also states that Dimension failed to fulfill their promise to pay Lutz $50,000 once the movie reached $10 million in theatrical box office receipts and also owes him a percentage of both the film's net profit and merchandising profit. The R-rated remake, which starred Ryan Reynolds as Lutz, opened in April and, despite dismal reviews, has grossed about $64 million domestically.

While the Lutzes allowed their names to be used in the original 1979 American International Pictures film of the same name, which starred James Brolin and Margot Kidder, the suit contends there was nothing in the agreement they signed that would prevent them from filing a defamation action in connection with any subsequent movie.

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