Amityville struggles to distance itself from the ‘horror’ of its past

When Amityville officials began to see more requests from filmmakers to shoot scenes in the village last year, some picturesque images of the “friendly village” by the bay could begin to appear on big screens nationwide.

But the most recent filming request – the first since the village passed a law to better control the filming process – was not the kind of screen time officials were looking for: a movie about the house. Amityville Horror, ”something the townspeople got tired of relating to their hometown.

“We were hoping it would be a different movie,” said Mayor Dennis Siry.

Streetcar Entertainment applied for permission in May to produce a documentary about the Ocean Avenue house, where in 1974 Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings. The book and movies “Amityville Horror” claim that the family who lived in the house after the murders were driven out by paranormal activity.

The haunted house claims have largely been debunked, but that hasn’t stopped the continued flow of books, TV shows, and internet thoughts on the phenomenon over the past three decades. To this day, tourists regularly visit the infamous house, much to the chagrin of the families who lived there, as well as their neighbors.

Maggie Mock, of FOX Alternative Entertainment, told village officials the documentary would “dispel” the hauntings and vowed to keep “the film’s footprint as small as possible,” with just a few crew members and portable cameras. . She told officials that the impact of the paranormal legend on locals was one aspect that puzzled producers.

“It’s not a story that hasn’t been told at this point so… why do people still care and what it does to the community is something that interests us,” he said. she said at a Zoom meeting on May 10 with village trustees.

Mock said the story sparked new interest on social media and among people trapped at home during the coronavirus pandemic who turned to horror films for entertainment. She said the filmmakers “would love to show another side and the fact that it’s frustrating for you guys that Amityville is defined by this incident.”

Administrator Mike O’Neil retorted that “for some people, Amityville is defined by that ”and a new film“ will only amplify… the influx of people coming to the neighborhood for months ”.

The family living in the house declined requests for comment.

“Having lived with this since 1974, I have to say that in my opinion this is a continuing exploitation of a terrible situation in which a family has been murdered,” administrator Owen Brooks told the filmmakers. “I think that will only continue this pain for the neighborhood.”

Siry said he’s never seen any of the horror movies, and even a commercial for one causes him to switch channels. He knew the DeFeo family, he said, and remembers the murders.

“That’s why I’m not a huge fan of anyone sensationalizing like a haunted house,” the mayor said.

But in the end, authorities allowed the filming, which took place over two days in May, with the company paying the village the required fee of $ 1,000 per day. Streetcar, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is producing the digital documentary series for Tubi, a streaming service owned by Fox Corp. FOX representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Siry said the green light was given because the filmmakers had promised the documentary “would not create any hype” and that there would be no disruption to the community.

The village regularly receives calls to inquire about the shoot, officials said, but few follow up with a formal request, which has only led to two such official requests in recent years. Almost all of the calls relate to “horror,” officials said. A film production for a romantic comedy was approved by the board of directors last year, but the company decided not to proceed after learning of the overtime costs it would have to pay for police employees. and public works.

The village filming law sets restrictions on how and where film crews set up, how notice is given to neighbors and requires the village to be reimbursed for any police use or public works employees.

Officials may deny requests depending on logistics – such as filming in the village courtroom while the court is in session – or if the request includes something outside the village’s jurisdiction, such as filming in the village. interior of the infamous house. But legally, Amityville cannot refuse a request based on the content of the movie or the TV show, village attorney Bruce Kennedy said.

“This is a First Amendment situation, and it’s not for us to regulate the content,” he said.

Administrator Brooks said he hopes filmmakers lose their fascination with the “nonsense” of supernatural activity in Amityville.

“If it was next door to you, you wouldn’t be happy to see people from all over the country disrupting your life,” Brooks said. “We have a great community here with great people. We don’t need to continue with this distraction.”

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