February 4, 2019 The Amityville Murders (Movie Review)
Widely regarded as one of the world’s most haunted houses, the Amityville “Horror House” seems to inspire a new addition to its oeuvre of films every several years. With nearly two years since 2017’s Amityville: The Awakening, right on schedule comes The Amityville Murders, which is actually a kind of prequel to the classic film and, of course, based on a true story. This brand-new Horror offering arrives to select theaters, VOD, and Digital on Friday, February 8, 2019 via Skyline Entertainment.
The Amityville Murders focuses on the tragedy before the Lutz family of 1979’s The Amityville Horror fame moved into 112 Ocean Avenue. Here, we meet Ronnie (Paul Ben-Victor: Tombstone 1993, Daredevil 2003) and Louise (Diane Franklin: Amityville II: The Possession 1982, Better Off Dead 1985) DeFeo and their family. There are the two eldest children, 24-year-old son Butch (John Robinson: Lords of Dogtown 2005, Transformers 2007) and 18-year-old daughter Dawn (Chelsea Ricketts: Crooked Arrows 2012, Scream Queens series), along with Allison (Noa Brenner: If I Could Cross the Bridge short 2015, Pandora’s Box TV movie 2017), Marc (Zane Austin: Unremarkable short 2016, Max 2: White House Hero 2017), and adorable little Jody (Kue Lawrence: The Crossbreed 2017, Beautiful Boy 2018).
Unfortunately, Long Island living with the DeFeo’s is not all sunshine and roses: Ronnie is physically abusive, known to be a drunk, and he has some sketchy side activities. Louise is overburdened by running the house, raising all of the children, and being mistreated by her husband. Meanwhile, Butch is struggling with drugs, under immense pressure from his father to ship out to the military and make something of his life. The tension is running on high, and fed up with the family dynamic both Butch and Dawn are ready to head for the hills. On the afternoon of their joint birthday party in October 1974, the pair agree that something has to change.
That’s when all hell breaks loose! Over the next three weeks, the family’s condition begins to steadily devolve: Butch is haunted by voices, Louise is having premonitions in her sleep, and all the hallmarks of a haunting are present – from doors opening on their own to phantom knocks at the door in the night. On top of all of this, there’s a mysterious black car casing the house and its inhabitants. With the clock ticking down, Butch and Dawn will begin to ask if the events at 112 Ocean Avenue are linked to something supernatural inside the house that has always felt “wrong.”
Clocking in at 97 minutes, The Amityville Murders was written and directed by Daniel Farrands (Scream: The Inside Story documentary 2011, The Haunting of Sharon Tate 2019). It also features Lainie Kazan (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2002, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 2016); Burt Young (Chinatown 1974, Rocky 1976); and Rebekah Graf (Entourage series, Lycan 2017).
Watching The Amityville Murders is a bit akin to viewing Titanic: we all know this ship is going down! Not to make light in any way, but on Wednesday, November 13, 1974, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. used a high-powered rifle to murder the six members of his family as they slept soundly in their beds in the village of Amityville, on New York’s Long Island. At his trial, DeFeo attempted an insanity plea, stating that “voices” told him to kill his family. This is reality and not a movie: real people died in this home. In this sense, utilizing the story for a Horror film is apt to cause some controversy with viewers and critics.
For The Amityville Murders, the script is loosely based off of the DeFeo story with some bizarre creative liberties with factual information (such as birthdates and ages) presumably to make for a more cohesive storyline that places Butch and Dawn together, as the central characters. The end result is a Horror movie adaptation of Butch’s story, one that utilizes a heavy supernatural element to try and explain the main character’s psychosis. It’s interesting, it contains several good jump-scares, and it’s an enjoyable watch — but it really amounts to another (emphasis on this word) Amityville tale.
The stand-out here is the exceptional acting of Robinson as the troubled Butch DeFeo. Butch is not a one-sided character: he’s troubled, he’s on drugs, and he’s hearing voices, all while the pressures coming from his abusive father are mounting. Through Robinson’s careful acting, we see a tenderness in his relationship with his younger sister, which keeps him from falling into clear-cut villain territory. It’s a testament to Robinson’s careful technique in depicting this tortured character that we are even able to show the slightest bit of empathy for a man who murdered his entire family in cold blood.
In her equally important role, Ricketts depicts Dawn as the loving and supportive younger sister, the rosy teen who wants the best for her big brother. She’s concerned, she’s willing to blame the supernatural and try to conjure forgiveness, but above all things she just wants Butch to escape and have a better life away from their horrible father. Dawn toes the line between martyr and accomplice, and Ricketts’ exceptional depiction of the role makes her believable and well-rounded in a family full of flat characters. In fact, while Ben-Victor’s Ronnie and Franklin’s Louise are extreme caricatures of a Brooklyn-born Italian couple who move to the ‘burbs, Brenner’s Allison, Austin’s Marc, and Lawrence’s Jody are merely rifle fodder.
In truth, the third stellar performance in the film goes to Kazan as Nona (the children’s maternal grandmother). Her performance is the one that ties many of the plot’s strings together, and she does so with a personable, perfectly grandmotherly elegance to her character. Nona is beloved by the children, the Italian grandmother that many Long Islanders cherish in their lives — and yet she has some secrets buried beneath her bed. Kazan is flawless in her role, adding some seriously haunting vibes to an already eerie tale.
All of this said, what you take away from The Amityville Murders heavily relies on what you are looking for when you enter the theater. Are you a stickler for accuracy in historically-based films, someone who wants to see a nonfiction retelling of the Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. story, or are you just someone looking for a creeptastic good-time?
If you are the latter, you are definitely in luck! With a score by Dana Kaproff (When a Stranger Calls 1979, Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee documentary 2016) that is truly ominous, careful attention to detail in crafting the film’s supernatural elements (which are reminiscent of 2018’s Our House), jump-scares, and an eerie vibe throughout, The Amityville Murders might not be exactly horrifying but it’s certainly going to make you think twice about buying real estate on Long Island! Handcrafted to add a dose of fear into your next rainy Saturday night, Cryptic Rock gives The Amityville Murders 4 of 5 stars.