First there were the flies, a plague of them that, even in December, swarmed inside the imposing clapboard house as George and Kathy Lutz were unpacking their belongings.
Then there were the cold spots in rooms and hallways, the odd smells of perfume or excrement and the jolting sounds at night.
George became increasingly volatile and would wake at the same time — 3.15am, a time that would later assume a sinister significance.
Other disturbances were far more terrifying: objects that flew across the room, walls oozing green slime, the crucifix that turned upside down on the wall, the hidden red room in the basement and — who can forget — the glowing eyes at night of some demonic, pig-like creature.
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House of horror: The family home that inspired terrifying film The Amityville Horror in 1979
As for the Catholic priest who came to bless the house, the site of a mass murder only 13 months earlier, the Lutzes only found out later he had heard a voice tell him to ‘Get out!’ as he sprinkled holy water in a bedroom — the one he told the couple that no one should sleep in.
By then, they had fled in terror with Mrs Lutz’s three young children from a previous marriage, taking little more than the clothes they were wearing.
It was January 14, 1976. They had lasted just 28 days inside 112 Ocean Avenue, a rambling house in the Long Island town of Amityville, 30 miles from New York City.
Haunting: Danny Lutz, was 10, when his family lived in the ‘possessed house’ in Amityville, Long Island. His documentary explores his experiences and life since has family left the home
They never returned, but the Amityville Horror, as their story became known, has come back to haunt — or at the very least, intrigue — us with the decision by one of the children to break their 37-year silence about what happened.
Daniel Lutz, a ten-year-old boy at the time but now a spooky-looking, middle-aged man with deep-set, piercing blue eyes and an unsettling smile, insists he was menaced by spirits in the house and that his family’s stay there has ruined his life.
And he blames the evil presence on his stepfather George, a man whose occult dabblings, says Daniel, opened the gateway to dark forces he couldn’t control.
Childhood trauma: Danny Lutz, left as a boy, had a troubled relationship with his stepfather, George, center, who his mother, Kathy, ended up divorcing
Inspiration: The most haunted house in America fueled an entire industry of films, books and documentaries such as Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
The six-bedroom house, with swimming pool and boathouse, was meant to be their dream home and was aptly named High Hopes. Instead, it turned into a nightmare.
Their experience in those four weeks was turned into a best-selling book, The Amityville Horror, and a 1979 hit movie of the same name.
The notoriety of America’s ‘most haunted house’ has since spawned an entire industry of books and documentaries, not to mention 11 Hollywood sequels and remakes, including two due to come out next year.
But what really happened inside that house has remained hotly contested for years as the Lutzes — both in their 30s at the time — became embroiled in legal battles that reinforced the notion they were just in it for the money.
Dream turned nightmare: James Brolin and Margot Kidder portrayed the Lutz couple who, after purchasing a new family home, fled in fear of their lives after just 28 days there in the 1979 film
Sceptics immediately cast doubt on the story, and it emerged Mr Lutz, a land surveyor, couldn’t really afford the house, even at its knockdown price of $80,000 (£53,000). Perhaps they had fled the property for reasons other than evil spirits.
The suspicions seemed confirmed when, just before the 1979 film came out, local lawyer William Weber claimed he had dreamt up the story with the Lutzes ‘over many bottles of wine’.
The lawyer had defended 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, who had shot dead his parents and four younger siblings in the same house 13 months before the Lutzes arrived. DeFeo, who was jailed for life, claimed he had heard them plotting to kill him. The murders were thought to have been committed at around 3.15am.
Weber — who had fallen out with the Lutzes over money — claimed he had passed detailed information about the murders to the couple who then weaved it into their fantasy account — in which, for instance, the neighbour’s cat became a pig-like demon that left cloven hoof prints in the snow. But the couple always stuck to their story, even if they conceded that some details had been exaggerated or invented by the media.
Take the ‘red room’, for example — a small, red painted room, around 4ft-by-5ft, that George Lutz discovered behind shelving in the basement.
The room was not mentioned in the building plans and the Lutz’s labrador cross, Harry, refused to go near it, cowering in fear. But previous tenants insisted it had simply been used for storage.
Nor did the Lutzes take what might have seemed obvious steps to verify their story. For example, they never took samples of the mysterious, gelatinous green slime that apparently oozed from the walls and through the keyhole of the playroom door in the attic.
Yet, inconveniently for the cynics, George and Kathy both passed a lie detector test.
Murder scene: The 2 bedroom property in Amityville was said to be haunted following Ronald DeFeo’s murder of his family. The Lutz family, who lived there a year after, claimed it was possessed
The couple later divorced, with Kathleen dying in 2004 and her ex-husband two years later. But the controversy has now been given new life by the re-emergence of Daniel Lutz.
A clearly troubled individual, he left home at 15, spending some time living homeless in America’s south-west.
Estranged from his wife and two grown-up children, he now lives in Queens, New York, where he works as a stonemason.
His side of the story would probably have remained secret had a friend not contacted a young film-maker, Eric Walter, who had set up a website devoted to the Amityville saga.
He persuaded the reclusive Lutz to speak in a new documentary, My Amityville Horror.
Terror: Rod Steiger, portraying Father Delaney and Don Stroud, right, in the role of Father Bolen as they try bless the house and exorcise the evil spirits
And given how much he says he loathed his late step-father, a domineering ex-marine who Daniel says would beat the children with a wooden spoon, one might expect him to want to rubbish George Lutz’s tale of demonic possession.
But instead he insists it was substantially true, even down to being levitated in his bed and seeing a demonic figure in his little sister’s bedroom.
‘I just wanted somebody to believe me. It has been in my dreams my whole life,’ he said, his expression looking tortured as tears welled in his eyes. But then, he is asking us to believe a lot.
Occult: The father of the family George, played here by James Brolin, dabbled in the supernatural
He recalled seeing his step-father’s bookshelves lined with titles on Satanism and magic. And he even claimed he saw George Lutz move a spanner telekinetically in his garage — before the family ever moved to Amityville.
‘George’s beliefs and practices triggered what was going on in the house,’ he said, his voice shaking. ‘It was like a magic trick gone bad that you couldn’t shut off.’
Daniel Lutz, whose real father had died, said he started feeling uneasy about the Amityville house within two hours of moving in. Taking a box upstairs to their playroom he found it swarming with flies.
He swatted a hundred but, after fetching his mother, discovered the dead flies had all gone. ‘That’s when my confusion started,’ he said.
Evil: Ronald DeFeo shot his entire family dead in the house in 1974, pictured. The Lutzs moved into the home a year later
He said he still dreams of the family dog ‘going ballistic’, almost throttling itself with its lead trying to jump out of its outdoor pen as the nearby garage door took on a life of its own.
‘The entire family was standing there, watching that garage door slam up and slam down, and slam up and slam down,’ he says.
He also recalled how he and his stepfather were returning from shutting the garage when they looked up at his five-year-old sister’s bedroom window and saw what Daniel described as a ‘cartoon character of an angry pig with wolf-like teeth and laser beam red eyes’.
He said he ran up to the room and discovered an empty rocking chair rocking back and forth.
On another occasion, as his mother was treating his injured hand after a window had mysteriously crashed down on it, Daniel described an invisible spirit entering the kitchen, knocking over a knife and sitting at the table, making an impression in the padded vinyl seat.
High hopes: The Lutzs received the house at a reduced rate because of the murders that had taken place just a year before
George Lutz recounted how, on the last night the family spent in the house, his wife’s face temporarily transformed into that of an ‘old crone’ and she later levitated off the bed.
Daniel, who shared a bedroom with his brother, Christopher, claimed that that night they also ‘shared a levitation experience’ in their beds — ‘we both woke up with our footboards smashing each other and banging off the ceiling’.
Pursued by the media as their story emerged, the family briefly went into hiding, but eventually moved to California.
The documentary makers unearthed various reporters, psychic investigators and paranormal specialists who descended on the house for a seance after the story broke, and who are still buzzing with theories.
Some clearly sympathise with Daniel Lutz’s view of his stepfather as a man who dabbled in the occult and paid the price; some wonder whether his stories of supernatural torment hide a more conventional tale of domestic abuse.
Bobby Sylvester, Daniel’s cousin, said there was always something off-putting about George, and the family had to tread lightly around him.
In the haunted house: Chloe Moretz as Chelsea Lutz in the 2005 film
‘As a child, you realised there was something not right about this man — something not good,’ he said.
For the Amityville sceptics, Lutz’s passion for the occult may be the solution they are looking for, one that even explains why the couple managed to pass a lie detector test.
For if the domineering head of the household already believed in telekinesis and the powers of darkness before they moved into a house that had just been the scene of a mass murder, it’s not stretching credulity to assume he and his family might be susceptible to supernatural explanations for mundane occurrences.
It’s what psychologists call the power of suggestion. Alternatively, Daniel Lutz could just be recalling exactly what happened.
Certainly Daniel — who declined all approaches for further interviews — has no plans to make any financial gain out of any of this.
Eric Walter, the new documentary’s director, is a sceptic but added that he doesn’t believe ‘a family would abandon everything and flee unless they were genuinely scared’.
Outside the home: Lutz visits the property in the documentary but doesn’t go inside. Another family currently live there
He thinks something paranormal might well have happened to the family but, knowing they were in the house where a mass murder occurred, they ‘fed into it by scaring themselves . . . and of course, later they saw how popular their story was and became more open to making money from it’.
Down on Ocean Avenue, where Daniel Lutz’s old home changed hands for $950,000 (£626,000) two years ago, the house has a different street number and its famously malevolent-looking quarter-moon windows, which gave it the appearance of a face, have been replaced to distract attention, especially on Halloween.
But the owners may as well ask the nearby Atlantic Ocean to recede than to expect the gawkers not to seek them out.
True or outrageous hoax, the Amityville Horror is just too chilling a yarn to be allowed to slip from our imagination.