I met Claire Donner the way I meet most people these days. Online. I’m not sure how she found me in this dusty little corner of the internet, but she has one of the coolest jobs of all time: the New York City Director of Miskatonic. If you don’t know Miskatonic, and if the title doesn’t at least give you a hint, you need to go back to your Lovecraft. Its full title is Miskatonic Institute for Horror Studies. They also have offices in London and Los Angeles. Miskatonic offers a variety of one-session courses on horror and Claire had emailed me about the vexed idea of the nature of belief as it relates to horror movies. Her course on the Amityville Horror—“‘Based on a True Story’: The Importance of Audience Faith in The Amityville Horror”—was excellent. It left me in a thoughtful mood.
The way that I write books is that I have several projects going simultaneously. Eventually one reaches critical mass and starts a chain reaction until it gets finished. One of those projects that hasn’t yet attained critical mass is on Ed and Lorraine Warren. It’s such an avocation that on a visit to Jim Thorpe on a family trip, I stopped into a shop where the owner proudly displayed articles about the Warrens in his window. I asked him about the Warrens—whom he knew—but I wasn’t prepared for an interview (and I’m sure, neither was he). Meanwhile, relatives waited patiently outside. One thing I’m pretty certain about is that the Warrens sincerely believed in most of what they were doing. There are nagging loose threads, however, that suggest they kept the financial angle firmly in mind.
To bring this back to Amityville, the course raises the question of the Warrens’ involvement. They were among the earliest of “investigators” to take what was largely a hoax seriously. They, however, didn’t get a cut in the profits. I suspect this is what launched them into their promotional activities. That book and movie combo brought in, and still brings in, the cash. Who wouldn’t feel cheated? But still, there’s belief. For many of us belief requires some evidence, some tangible trace of truth. These are the kinds of things explored in this fascinating course. Horror and religion have been bedfellows for a very long time. They often converge on this concept of belief. There’s so much more to the Amityville Horror than meets the eye, even if we all know it was largely a hoax.