Another Indian Burial Ground, Please....
- The Native Truth
A column dedicated to historical truth and human rights activism
of the American Indian
Editor: Terri Jean
Established year 2000
Please note: This column includes spoilers about the 2005 Amityville Horror film.
Another Indian Burial Ground, Please....
I was 9 years old in 1979 when the first Amityville Horror movie hit the big screen. The supernatural " true story" account of 28 days inside a demonically possessed house included an Indian subplot completely forgotten until I plopped myself down at the local theater to watch the 2005 remake. Suddenly, my head was filled with suppressed images of diabolic Indian Chiefs, a haunted Indian Burial Ground and, for whatever reason, a portal to hell located somewhere in the basement.
I went home that night and did a bit of research on first the Amityville story itself, and then Hollywood's use of Indian clichés in horror movies. I was surprised by what I found... and perplexed. Before I explain, let me first play Movie Critic:
Amityville Horror 2005
- 1 out of 5 stars (only because I did jump a few times and screamed once)
- The "based on a true story" advert was a joke. This movie strayed not only from the original film, but it wasn't even close to the actual Lutz family account.
As for the Indian subplot? It went from ridiculous to bizarre. The Indian Burial Ground/cursed Indian Chief clichés were omitted... only to be replaced by the spirit of an evil preacher who impaled, sliced, hooked and lobotomized poor, insane Natives sent to his underground torture chamber-ish sanitarium.
Yes, you read that correctly. A 17th century diabolical white preacher-man was hanging crazed Indians from hooks and cutting their heads open way down deep in his basement's basement - or something like that. The images were disturbing (of course) but I did find it interesting that in the span of 30 years, the Indian storyline went from evil villain to helpless victim.
I first need to point out that the original story told by the Lutz family in 1975 did NOT have a haunted Indian Burial Ground (which will now be known as an IBG in an effort to separate the movie cliché from an actual sacred place). The IBG was not added until 1977, when a guy named Holzer (a professor of paranormal psychology) took a self-described medium into the house to contact evil spirits. She claimed that to have had a conversation with a deceased Shinnecock Indian chief on the "warpath" because he wanted his tribal burial grounds vacated. She said the Chief possessed the body of the previous tenant, causing him to murder his entire family, and would continue his hauntings until the property was vacated and the house destroyed. Strangely, this threat had somehow escaped the many families residing in the house before, and the families living there afterwards. No flying pigs, demanding voices, subterarian inhabitants, bloody walls or rooms full of flies had or have been reported. Apparently, the Chief's beef was only with a few select people.
Now I'm not all convinced this house sat on an IBG, or that it was haunted to begin with, but I am open minded to the possibility. And if 112 Ocean Avenue in Long Island, New York is indeed the portal to hell, I can only hope the current residents have that thing covered up. I'd hate to hear
of some kid or dog falling into it.
But there are folks who think the Lutz story is complete BS; a story concocted purely for profit, shamelessly exploiting the horrific events of the previous year. Actually, much of the account has since been debunked. For example, the Shinnecock were not from that area, their Burial Grounds are not on that property, and they said hauntings are not part of their culture.
Taking all that into consideration, I was actually surprised to see the new "crazy Indian" and even crazier preacher (Ketcham) plot-line. I thought these Hollywood big-wigs would know better by now.
When the screenwriter was asked about this aspect he said "...every haunted house film lays the blame on ancient Indian burial grounds. Actually, in the book, it's not a burial ground, but a sort of Indian nut house where the sick and crazed members of the Shinnecock tribe were locked up in these horrible exposure pens, far away from the rest of the community.... we tried to create some connection between Ketcham and the Indians, one in which the Indians would be seen as the first casualties on this piece of land, and that Ketcham was the blame for all that was evil with the property. Why not stick it to the white man for a change, eh?"
Does that mean that the 2005 Amityville Horror motion picture is some kind of political protest? Is it a metaphorical middle finger to "the man" for his historic mistreatment of indigenous people? If so, I gotta tell ya... I didn't get it.
Personally, I think the screenwriter guy is an idiot, but he's right about the IBG theme. It's a common, overused Hollywood cliché used in horror movies to explain hauntings and homicidal spirits. Think I'm kidding? After a quick google search, here's what I came up with:
* Blood Trail - cowboys, evil spirits, IBG.
* Pet Sementary - IBG, evil spirits, killer animals and kids.
* Dark Harvest - young people, car trouble, IBG, a demonic scarecrow.
* The Shining - IBG underneath hotel, dad goes crazy. People die.
* Death Curse of Tartu - go-go dancing on an IBG. Indian curse. Tartu comes back for revenge
* Zombie Bloodbath - a reactor built on an IBG, evil zombies.
* Poltergeist - IBG, haunted house, possessed tenants, and not-so-IBG coffins
* Savage Harvest - IBG. Described on one site as an "entertaining Indian-themed bloodbath"
* Identity - a modern movie with John Cusack and Rebecca DeMornay. A hotel, IBG, spirits, killings.
* The Dark Power - college girls, rented house, IBG, unhappy shaman
* Skeleton Man - archeologist, IBG, artifacts, killer spirit warrior
* Terror at Tate Manor - IBG, ghosts.
* Roy Colt and Winchester Jack - Indian skulls, IBG's
* So much staying alive and lovelessness - IBG under a mall, a cave. Bad things happen.
* Within the woods - friends, cabin, IBG, death
* Death4told - campground, ghost stories, IBG, shape shifters slaughter campers
* A second glance to make a first impression - business developer, IBG,
* The Haunted - phone booth installed in a cemetery (huh?) Indian curse. Evil Indian woman spirit.
* The Reptile - Indian curse, murder and gore
* Scalps - college kids, Indian curse, IBG
* Pirates of the Caribbean - I don't remember an IBG but an Indian curse runs through the entire movie
And for the kiddies...
* 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up - waste dumped on an IBG
* Kids World - IBG, wishing glass, and a witch doctor
I know there are a LOT more movies out there with IBG's and "Indian curses," but after ten minutes of searching, I had to stop. It was depressing.
So why the cockamamie cliché? I, of course, have my theories:
Theory One: The IBG plot-line worked in one movie, so it'll work in others. And they'll use it as long as people buy the tickets or rent the videos. (This is my "no duh" theory.)
Theory Two: Graveyards are often pretty darn spooky, but most are clearly marked. The location
of many indigenous graveyards are often unknown, so they could pretty much be anywhere.... you might even be on one right now. This possibility allows for much creative license with screenwriter's who need a reason why a home or property would be haunted.
Theory Three: The "bad Indian" cliché is a cinematic stereotype that subconsciously reaffirms the "savage" preconceptions deep within the minds of the masses - thus allowing the Manifest Destiny ideology to remain, justifying a races near extermination.
Theory Four: People are scared of Indians. They're mystical, magical shape-shifting creatures who, at any moment, will pop out from behind a tree and strike you dead - or, worse yet, you'll piss one off and he'll lay a curse on your soul that can never be broken.
Theory Five: Karma and guilt. Americans know that atrocities were committed and hundreds of nations were obliterated or nearly obliterated. Retribution is feared, and some people may believe that the ghosts of those who died due to this nation's invasion and European takeover will some day come back to get their revenge.
Those of you who know me or have been reading my column will probably guess that my cynical opinion is Theory Five. Americans have enjoyed their free ride long enough. They know what happened is wrong and the guilt continues to consciously or subconsciously well up inside those who know, but ignore, the truth. But karma is a powerful force and so is revenge. Someday, somehow, the Ghost Dance prophecy might just come true and then true justice will be served.
Regardless of the reason - or my skeptical, cynical opinion - the IBG/Indian Curse story plot-line is one movie cliché that needs to end. It's offensive and ignorant. Let's give it a rest.
But I must admit that it was interesting to see the change from villain to victim between the two movies, and the white preacher to be the bad guy this time. I'm not too sure if that's a progressive step forward for Native people, or if it's just another punch to the gut. For those of you who watched both films I would like to know your thoughts, and if you have any theories of your own please send them my way.
And now I'm going to drag all of my old horror movie VHS tapes and look for more IBG movies.
Cheers to you all and I hope you're having a happy summer!
><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>Terri Jean, director of the Red Roots Educational Project, is the author of
the daily inspirational, 365 Days of Walking the Red Road (Adams Media
Corp). Visit http://www.terrijean.com to learn more.
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