Rebuttal – mossmacabre

    The “Based on a True Story” horror genre is one of the most popular among avid movie-goers in this day and age. James Wan’s The Conjuring films (a well-known series within this genre) have made a collective sum of $843,300,000 in the last ten years. The attraction comes from the feeling that the terrifying, supernatural events depicted in the films have some grounding in reality. It is much easier to immerse yourself in the story when you believe it takes place in the real world. Unfortunately, these stories are almost never carried out accurately to their real-life counterparts. Some may argue that these films are simply a form of harmless fun, but in reality, they are tragic events that are being grossly misrepresented for a profit, none of which is being shared with those that were actually affected. 

Director James Wan’s popular Conjuring series covers different cases from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-proclaimed “demonologist” and psychic medium. Before Wan’s film series, the Warrens were best known for their work with the Lutz family on the highly publicized Amityville Haunting. On November 13, 1974, Ronald Defeo Jr. murdered his parents and four younger siblings in their home in Amityville, Long Island. When on trial, Defeo Jr. claimed: “the voices from the house made him do it”. In the year following, George and Kathy Lutz moved in with their three children only to move out after a very brief twenty-eight days. George and Kathy claimed they were experiencing supernatural phenomena, such as hearing strange noises, waking up in the middle of the night for seemingly no reason, and a green-black slime dripping from the walls. The Warrens got involved to assist with their supernatural issues, and the Lutz became a household name. The case inspired a series of books by Jay Ansen called The Amityville Horror, which was used as the basis for Stuart Rosenberg’s iconic 1979 film adaptation of the same name, as well as its many sequels and spin-offs. While there are a few remaining adamant believers, the Amityville Haunting has overall been debunked and proven as a hoax. The Lutz’s own attorney, William Weber, has since said that the story was something the three of them had come up with one night after a few bottles of wine. When asked if he believed any of their story was true, he said, “Absolutely not. Because they were making a commercial venture.” The Amityville films, of which there are currently nine in total, have made a collective profit of $220,971,236 in the box office. The crime committed by Ronald Defeo Jr. against his innocent family is nothing short of horrific. It resulted in the deaths of four children, from ages nine to eighteen. It is amoral and unethical for the Lutz and their companions in business to benefit from a crime that they had nothing to do with. 

In the scenario that someone would be negatively impacted by a film like this, there is little to no legal protection for them to be found. There are no laws protecting vulnerable people from Hollywood producers who want to exploit their tragedy to make millions. Historical events, no matter how seemingly personal or specific, cannot be copyrighted. A producer or director seeking out these stories will not find much pushback in their way, and the First Amendment protects them from any kind of legal action pursued by the exploited people in question. There may be some that argue that these movies are a form of harmless, perfectly legal entertainment. Among horror fans, there is a very high demand for these types of films and they tend to be extremely successful in the box office. Horror, as a genre, has been used throughout history to explore topics that frighten and confuse us. Most commonly, this comes down to the human brain and the things that plague it. It’s a genre that has pushed negative stereotypes about mental illnesses and diseases such as Schizophrenia, Antisocial Personality Disorder (most commonly and incorrectly reffered to as “sociopathy” or “psychopathy”), Psychosis, Bipolar Disorder, Dementia, and many others. Mentall illness is a deeply misunderstood subject among the common man. A poll taken for a scientific study shows that up to 60% United States citizens believe that someone with schizophrenia is more likely to physically harm someone else. This study, called the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, found that violent crimes are more likely to be committed agaisnt the mentally ill, not the other way around. Audiences crave stories about “deranged” or sick people committing horrible atrocities and being posessed by demons because they misunderstand mental illness and how it affects those it afflicts. These are dangerous stereotypes that perpetuate a negative image and may prevent people suffering from mental illness from seeking out help. If there were more education concerning these topics, those negative stereotypes would no longer be understood as fact. 

The idea that filmmakers are exploiting people to make quick buck is not even remotely a new concept. It is not something that will cease to exist within the next five years. That said, if stigma towards mental illness began to decrease, I think there would be a large change in the kind of culture and media we consume. If better healthcare and better education began to be implemented, there would be a significant shift in understanding. With every coming year, there is more light shed on the signs of mental illness and how it can affect you and the people you surround yourself with. One day, that will hopefully extend to the producers and filmmakers of the world, and the practice of exploiting deeply sick people for entertainment and money will cease entirely. 


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