I think what’s most interesting about this book is that even though it’s supposed to be real, it contains so many of the same “elements” as some fictitious “haunted house” books. And in this post, I’d like to explore some of those elements.
One is the idea of a certain place in the haunted house that is “particularly haunted.” What’s interesting is that this book has a few (rather than just one). Strange things always seem to happen in the sewing room (flies accumulate, the window slams on one of the kids’ hands, etc.), and there always seems to be something odd affiliated with the boathouse and the red-walled room in the basement. In Hell House, a particularly evil energy emanates from the chapel. In A Haunting on Hill House, it’s the nursery.
Another is the object that keeps moving or shifting position. In this book it’s the four-foot ceramic lion. It reminded me a lot of The Shining with the lion-sculpted shrub (although all the shrubs moved and what not).
The house’s history also gives possible explanations for the hauntings, like in a lot of novels. For example, on page 122 George unearths information about the house being built on land the Shinnecock Indians used to enclose the sick and dying. He also uncovers information about the past owners of the house performing Satanic rituals in the red-walled room involving slaughtering animals, such as pigs. The history of fictitious places in horror novels also offer possible reasons behind the hauntings, too, like the murders in the suite of The Overlook in The Shining, or the intense debauchery Belasco and his guests participate in in his house.
There are also lots of potential explanations for the hauntings in general, something I plan on exploring in my final project. In addition to the histories of the house, the weather is sometimes a potential reason (they have frequent storms that could explain why the windows and doors are blown open). Father Mancuso’s account of the hauntings (he becomes very sick whenever he even thinks about the house) is also called into question. On page 255 Father Ryan “wanted to know if Father Mancuso thought the recurring affliction could be psychosomatic. Wasn’t it possible that his emotional state could be influencing his rash of illnesses?” George also experiences some things like being levitated or his wife levitating – all while he’s in a “dream-like state.” So who’s to say he wasn’t just dreaming? To draw the similarities to fictitious stories, The Haunting of Hill House offers a few potential reasons, too: not only a history, but also the odd architecture of the house might explain why doors open and close. Not to mention the main character, Eleanor, exhibits signs of not being totally sane, which makes you wonder if you can even trust her account of what’s happening in the house at all (similar to Father Mancuso’s potential psychosomatic experience and George in his “dream-like state”).
Even though there’s no scientist in The Amityville Horror like there is in A Haunting of Hill House and Hell House, George states how he thinks it can all be explained by science on page 123. When asked by his wife Kathy if the house is haunted, he replies, “’No way…I don’t believe in ghosts. Besides, everything that’s happened around here must have a logical and scientific explanation to it.’”
The Amityville Horror also makes use of the “imaginary friend” concept. The younger daughter, Missy, sees and speaks with Jodie, a pig who is supposedly her imaginary friend – until George and the rest of his family see the pig outside the window in her room. George also sees the pig (or pig-related things) a few other times. This type of thing is used a lot in fiction. A couple movies I can think of are The Others, in which the young daughter sees a boy around the house, a sort of “ghostly presence.” Even though we didn’t watch it for this horror course, The Exorcist also employs the same idea. The main character, a young girl, has an imaginary friend who turns out to be Satan, who’s possessing her.
There’s even a similarity to the movie Ghostbusters in The Amityville Horror. In the movie, there’s a green blob of a ghost that leaves slime on whatever it touches. There’s no green ghost in The Amityville Horror, but green slime makes an appearance on page 226: “On every wall in the hall were green gelatinous spots, oozing down from the ceiling to the floor, settling in shimmering pools of green slime.”
Even though this post has been mainly comparing this supposedly true story to fictional stories, I find it interesting that there are also a few similarities between this book and another allegedly true “haunted house” account, Grave’s End. Examples include the fact the houses were built over a burial ground, they both contain a well, etc. So The Amityville Horror contains a lot of elements from both fictitious and nonfiction accounts, I guess. Makes you wonder if it’s real after all or just a hoax. Who knows?
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. New York: Pocket Books, 2005.