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When it comes to horror movies, Amityville is the town that keeps on giving.
The Long Island community is home to the infamous house in which Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family in 1974, and George Lutz and his family, who moved into the house a year later, claim to have encountered paranormal horrors that forced them to abandon the property after just 28 days. The case became the subject of Jay Anson’s 1977 book The Amityville Horror: A True Story and 10 movies, beginning with 1979’s The Amityville Horror.
Now producer Tony DeRosa-Grund, executive chairman of the Evergreen Media Group, is looking to mount a new film, based on the experiences of two reporters, Laura DiDio and Marvin Scott, who investigated the incidents for New York’s WNEW-TV.
DeRosa-Grund has acquired rights to DiDio and Scott’s account of a seance that was held in the house on March 6, 1976, for a news report. As he tells it, DiDio was a 19-year-old cub reporter who had tracked down the Lutzes through property records after they fled the house and secured George Lutz’s permission to visit the house. Her resulting news report purportedly revealed ghostly presences, including that of a young boy, in the house.
“Marvin and I are thrilled to be working with Tony and Evergreen,” DiDio said. “I lived through this horrific ordeal, and I am the only person who has the ability to tell the true Amityville prequel story in its entirety. Even after all these years, after what I personally experienced, there is nothing anyone could ever do or say to get me back in that house.”
While he’s not yet lined up a writer or director, DeRosa-Grund is about to take a package out to the studios that includes what he’s calling “found footage” of the news report’s seance. According to the producer, the footage had been thought to be lost, discarded when the TV station got rid of its archival material to make room for a new editing bay, but he tracked down a copy of the report as well as additional footage that Scott had in his possession. The reporters’ story, says DeRosa-Grund, will be the basis for a movie about their experiences investigating the Amityville house and their discoveries about what happened there before the Lutzes moved in.
“They discerned certain things during the sequence, which heretofore had not been corroborated,” DeRosa-Grund says. “With a lot of help from Laura and from the Catholic Church, we’ve been able to get confirmations and connective tissues, in terms of the evil and the origins of evil in the house that was there before the Lutzes moved in.”
While DeRosa-Grund’s project will steer clear of depicting the Lutzes themselves — rights to the original Amityville Horror belong to various rights holders — he says, “This will be the first time ever that the true prequel to the Amityville horror will be told.”
The first Amityville movie, The Amityville Horror, starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, grossed $86 million domestically when it was released in 1979. After a string of sequels, it received a major reboot, courtesy of Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, in 2005. That MGM-Dimension release grossed $108 million worldwide.
In 2011, Dimension and Miramax announced a project called The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes, with Paranormal Activity’s Jason Blum producing. That project also involved found footage and a TV news intern investigating the Amityville case. The project has not yet gone into production, though a representative for Blum said it remains in development.
DeRosa-Grund says the found footage he has secured probably won’t appear in his proposed films unless it is used in the end credits but instead will serve as the basis for his story.
His Evergreen Media Group owns a large collection of intellectual properties. Evergreen’s principals were founders of Archie Comics’ film and television division.
Evergreen and DeRosa-Grund are in postproduction on New Line Cinema’s The Conjuring, another film based on the story of real-life paranormal investigators, starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, that Warners will release Jan. 25. James Wan directed the feature, which was produced by Peter Safran, DeRosa-Grund and Rob Cowan.
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