Around 3:00 A.M. on Wednesday, November 13, 1974, six distinct rifle shots rang out inside a family home. Inside this residence, located at 112 Ocean Avenue Amityville, Long Island, NY, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family as they slept. Following his arrest, DeFeo Jr. confessed to his heinous crime. Just over a year later, DeFeo Jr. was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. However, since his conviction, “Butch” has spun many different stories as to what happened. Sometimes he would say that he did not kill his family. But, that he paid an out-of-town hitman to do the deed. Other times, he would claim he’d been whacked-out on LSD, and that demons told DeFeo Jr. to slaughter his family.
Although DeFeo Jr is a cold-blooded killer, insane or otherwise; many subscribe to his purported story of demonic influence. While I’m not sure how I feel about such a force, I can see why folks buy into it. After all, they have two compelling enough reasons to do so. There was the DeFeo family crime scene. Every victim was found dead on their stomachs; with no evidence of struggling or even waking from their respective slumbers. Now, how could they not have been awakened? I mean, they were killed one-by-one with a rifle that was not equipped with a suppressor.
Then, of course, there’s The Amityville Horror. In December of 1975, George and Kathy Lutz, along with their children moved into the uniquely shaped former home of the DeFeos. Because of the real estate’s grisly history, the Lutz’s got their new house in Amityville for a song. However, the new residents didn’t live at 112 Ocean Avenue for long; moving out after a mere 28 days due to allegedly experiencing a demonic presence in residence. Of course, George Lutz took his experience to the media causing a nationwide sensation. At one point during this media frenzy, the demonologists and paranormal investigation husband-and-wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren (who later received the movie treatment in The Conjuring films) confirmed the alleged demonic activity in the house as being responsible for influencing DeFeo Jr.’s familial slayings.
As with any story that captures a country’s immigration, a book based on Lutz’s experience entitled The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson was published in 1977. The book was a best-seller; thus it’s no surprise that a film adaptation of The Amityville Horror was released a mere two years later in 1979. Like the book on which it’s based, the movie was also a massive hit. As a result, it not spawned a ten-film franchise; but also inspired dozens of flicks that utilized Amityville in their titles. Having seen a handful of the official Amityville flicks, I feel most of the ones I’ve seen are overrated; notably the 1979 original. It’s always been my feeling that a movie which tackles the real horror of the DeFeo family murders should be made.
Well, it turns out that writer-director-producer Daniel Farrands (The Haunting of Sharon Tate) felt the same way. Having loved Farrands’ work as a horror documentarian with Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) and Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013), I was curious to see what he could bring to the table writing and directing a fictional narrative. The Amityville Murders is an account of the DeFeo family. It tells the story of the dysfunction and abuse within the family; particularly focusing on the conflict between Butch DeFeo (John Robinson) and his father, Ronnie DeFeo (Paul Ben-Victor). The movie does make an effort to depict events that led up to the murders in ‘74. Of course, it also touches on the possible demonic influences that could have provoked such violence.
I commend the movie in review for trying to do something different. After all, of every picture that has Amityville in its title, none have focused primarily on the Defeos. However, beyond that, I cannot praise The Amityville Murders without also leveling criticisms against it. While Farrands manages to make a competent flick, there is nothing inspired about its execution. The film in review sports the same look as many other modern horror movies. The film’s cinematography is drained of color in that misguided effort to inspire dread; instead only inspiring a sense of dullness.
Sadly, dullness is a negative quality that permeates all of The Amityville Murders. The cast in this movie is a prime example. Every single cast member he is good; however, they’re given nothing of substance to work with. Instead of being fleshed-out fictional portraits of a real family; these characters are nothing more than stereotypes of dysfunction, abuse, and what it can breed. While the movie does occasionally evoke sympathy for Butch and Dawn DeFeo (Chelsea Ricketts), that feeling doesn’t last long. I realize that people can be held back by their home environments; especially if that environment is one of abuse. Still, I couldn’t help but think, “Butch, you’re an adult, you could just take their car of yours and leave. Perhaps your doing so would inspire the rest of your family to leave their abusive drunk of a patriarch.”
Then again, if Butch did that, we wouldn’t get to the horror elements of this movie or its titular murders. In the end, I think what makes the movie in review a failure is the fact that it’s trite and inconsistent in tone. Instead of maintaining its focus on the horror of domestic abuse, The Amityville Murders attempts to make a left turn and incorporate demonic/paranormal horror and fails miserably. As a result, this film is ultimately an unbalanced mess. I still believe that a terrifying film based on these events can be made. Alas, The Amityville Murders is not it. If you want a better yet superior picture, I would recommend checking out Amityville II: The Possession (1982).
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