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The Amityville Murders (Movie Review)

The Amityville Murders (Movie Review)
4 10

PLOT: On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot six of his family members to death with a rifle inside their home in Amityville, New York. Here’s the supposed reason why.

REVIEW: Coming off THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE, writer/director Daniel Farrands has again opted to revel in a real-life historical horror tale, this one a preamble to the infamous AMITYVILLE HORROR, ostensibly in order to milk the very last drop of capitalistic cream from the once formidable namesake of a now effete franchise. That is, it seems no additional AMITYVILLE movie need be made in 2019, especially one as limp, lifeless and listlessly moribund as this one. Granted, the choice to explore the forerunning chain of events to the infamous 1974 massacre, in essence serving as a prequel to explore the murderous mania of Ronald Jr.’s mind, would seem an inspired angle from the onset. Alas, nothing about the film convinces us, and the end result is a boringly torpid touch of tripe that, at best is not very scary, and at worst, is way too forgiving and sympathetic towards a real-life serial murderer. Perhaps most damming of all, THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS (WATCH IT HERE) adds nothing to the franchise canon other than grossly attempting to readjudicate DeFeo’s unthinkable crimes as the culpability of someone or something else’s. Even if the movie were relatively good, this stance would still be indefensible. But a bad movie this baldly and brashly irresponsible that’s making such a case? Simply unworthy of investing 95 minutes of your time!

October, 1974. The fey DeFeo family – Ronald (Paul Ben-Victor), Louise (Diane Franklin), Butch, aka Ronald Jr. (John Robinson), Dawn (Chelsea Ricketts), Allison (Noa Brenner), Marc (Zane Austin) and Jody (Kue Lawrence) – happily resides at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville New York. That is, until Butch begins hearing voices coming from the walls inside his bedroom, which sits atop the second story below the rat-like angular window-eyes of the titular manse, a location that most audiences will already recognize, and one that will in short order become one of the most infamously scary haunted houses in all of North America. One of the first things the strikes one as false is the poorly represented period of the 1970s. Never mind the anachronistic electrical outlets seen in the kitchen – the kind that didn’t exist in the 70s – the period detail, or lack thereof, never convincingly transports us back to the 70s us. The texture of the film feels artificial as it relates to the 70s. The other thing that struck me while watching the film is how nonthreatening the once terrifying abode comes across in the film. Rather than the Amityville house playing as a key character in the film, a terrifying one at that, as felt in previous incarnations, the house now feels more like a an old friend instead of a frightening old relative you’re petrified of seeing. Odd, you’d hope if not expect the opposite!

As the story dully meanders about, trying desperately to explore the untenable psychosis befalling young Butch, the fascination dissipates around the 45-minute mark. Way too much filler involving Butch wandering around, staring out rainy windows in a fugue state, lying in bed with headphones on and a faraway look in his eye, etc. is spent in a way that never once credibly entertains the schizophrenic headspace Butch ostensible suffered from in the lead up to murdering his family. Worse yet, this is a real life crime story, yet Farrands has felt the need to, or at the very least shows no qualms about, completely altering the true facts of the case in order to create a piece of so-called entertainment. That is, DeFeo’s story ought to be compelling enough as is, without amendment, so to alter the facts of the case does a major disservice to what really happened that night on November 13, 1974. To wit, by framing the way Farrands does, he all but justifies if not excuses DeFeo’s actions as the culpability of somebody else’s, not his own. I understand the edict "innocent until proven guilty" here in the U.S., but in reality, the insanity plea that Ronald claimed as a result of hearing Native American voices telling him to shoot his family, was thrown out in the court of law. So why bring it up here? Why give that theory any credence and thereby, however marginally, let Butch off the hook for his odious sextuple murder. Hell, the guy already got second degree murder, not first, we need to grant him anymore leniency than that in the name of fiction?

Adding to the illogic is the casting of Diane Franklin and Burt Young, who of course both starred in the completely unrelated AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. In that film, the two played members of the Montelli family, a unit that moved into the Amityville house after the Lutz family frighteningly moved out. Well, both died in that film, yet here Franklin is playing Louise DeFeo and Young playing the altogether unrelated Brigante in just a single scene. This makes no logical sense other than as a sort of cheeky in-joke for Amityville fans and completists, though I will say it’s good to see Franklin deliver the best performance in the film. The casting decisions here typify the macrocosmic issue with AMITYVILLE MURDERS, in that it just isn’t very well thought out, or for that matter, at all necessary in 2019. Of course, if any of the proceedings were genuinely scary, these other transgressions might be forgivable. But alas, the only terrifying thing here is watching Butch receive a blowjob in a car while on acid. The lack of scares derives, in part, from simply knowing the outcome of the real-life story before the movie ends. We know precisely how DeFeo’s case turns out, which zaps all of the requisite tension, suspension and mystery to make a thriller compellingly worthwhile. All told, THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS is simply not good enough to justify its existence!

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