Wednesday, November 9, 2005 Print This | Email This     

Judge tosses haunted house owner's 'Amityville' defamation suit

By Lisa Sweetingham, Court TV

LOS ANGELES (Court TV) — A judge has ruled against former haunted house owner George Lutz, who claims he was defamed after being falsely portrayed in "The Amityville Horror" remake as an ax-wielding dog killer.

Lutz's real-life ordeal living in a spooked Long Island home was the subject of the bestselling 1977 book "The Amityville Horror," which inspired the film of the same name and several sequels, including a 2005 remake starring actor Ryan Reynolds as Lutz.

Lutz filed a defamation and breach of contract suit this summer against Dimension Films, MGM, United Artists, and the producers and screenwriters involved in the remake.

Lutz maintains that he was terrorized by demonic apparitions and voices while he and his wife and children lived in the Dutch Colonial home where an entire family had been murdered in their sleep in the early 1970s.

However, Lutz says he n ever killed his beloved Labrador retriever, nor did he chase after his wife and children with an ax, as his namesake character does in the film.

Lutz claimed he suffered "loss of reputation, shame, mortification and hurt feelings" from the movie's depiction of him as "a homicidal maniac."

But a judge sided with the defendants, saying that the film was a work of fiction protected under the First Amendment, and that it fell within California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute designed to protect free speech.

"The remake of 'The Amityville Horror' is an activity of widespread public interest," Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu wrote in his order filed on Oct. 31. "It is a movie viewed by millions of fans and generating millions of dollars for the defendants who participated in writing the screenplay, producing the movie, and distributing the 2005 remake."

While the judge agreed with the studio's request to strike Lutz's defamation complaint under the anti-SLAPP law, SLAPPs are typically identified as suits filed by large corporations against individuals to intimidate or discourage public criticism.

Oprah Winfrey became a SLAPP defendant when she defeated a 1998 libel suit by Texas cattle ranchers, who claimed the talk show host sent the beef market in a downward spiral after telling viewers that she had sworn off hamburgers because of mad cow disease.

Judge Treu also upheld a release agreement Lutz signed nearly 28 years ago with the original film's producers, in which Lutz consented to allowing filmmakers to alter characters and agreed not to sue for defamation.

Lutz's attorney Larry Zerner did not return calls for comment.

The judge's ruling did not affect Lutz's breach-of-contract claim. The plaintiff says Dimension has yet to pay him a promised percentage of net and merchandising profits, as well as $50,000 once the film exceeded $10 million in box-office receipts. The picture has grossed more than $81 million since its April release, according to Lutz's June complaint.

In November 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot his mother, father, two brothers and two sisters as they lay asleep in their beds in the now-infamous white clapboard house with the jack-o'-lantern bay windows.

Lutz purchased the home a year later. After 28 days, he fled with his family in the middle of the night, leaving their possessions behind, never to return.

DeFeo, 54, is serving 25 years to life in prison. He was denied parole by a three-member review panel in September. His next parole hearing is scheduled for September 2007.

  • More trial and crime news from Court TV