'The Amityville Murders' Review
'The Amityville Murders' is the Amityville movie we want, but not the one we deserve.
Release Date: February 8, 2019
MPAA Rating: NR
On the night of November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. took a high-powered rifle and murdered his entire family as they slept. At his trial, DeFeo claimed that “voices” in the house commanded him to kill. This is their story.
Director: Daniel Farrands
Screenwriter: Daniel Farrands
Producers: Daniel Farrands, Eric Brenner, Lucas Jarach
Cast: John Robinson (Butch DeFeo), Chelsea Ricketts (Dawn DeFeo), Paul-Ben Victor (Ronnie DeFeo), Diane Franklin (Louise DeFeo), Noa Brenner (Allison DeFeo), Zane Austin (Marc DeFeo), Rebekah Graf (Donna Benedettio), Lainie Kazan (Nona), Burt Young (Brigante), Sky Liam Patterson (Steve Pelskie), Steve Trzaska (Randy Buechler)
Editor: Dan Riddle
Cinematographer: Carlo Rinaldi
Production Designer: Billy Jett
Casting Directors: Dean E. Fronk, Donald Paul Pemrick
Music Score: Dana Kaproff
Ever since the first The Amityville Horror hit in 1979, the movie that many fans have wanted to see (myself included) has been a prequel – the story of the DeFeo family murders that supposedly started the whole haunting thing off. We kind of got that in Amityville II: The Possession, but not really. Well, now, with The Amityville Murders, we do get it.
The Amityville Murders revolves around Ronald “Butch” DeFeo (John Robinson from Wendy & Lucy and Elephant), the oldest son of the family that lived in the old house at 112 Ocean Avenue before the Lutzes. Butch’s father, Ronnie Sr. (Paul Ben-Victor from “The Wire” and “The Invisible Man”), is emotionally abusive and his mother, Louise (Diane Franklin from the aforementioned Amityville II: The Possession), is neglectful. One afternoon, after hanging out with his sister Dawn (The Hole’s Chelsea Ricketts) and a group of friends in a secret room off of the basement, Butch starts to hear voices that tell him to kill his family. So he does.
It may sound like that spoils the movie, but The Amityville Murders is pretty much spoiler-proof. Everyone knows how it’s going to end before it even starts. Hell, the ending is right there in the title. It’s one of those movies that’s more about the journey than it is the destination. But, unfortunately, in this case, the journey isn’t even that interesting. It’s just an uninspired mishmash of unfocused cinematic clichés and stereotypical horror tropes, all of which leads to a foregone conclusion.
The Amityville Murders was written and directed by Daniel Farrands, who also wrote Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and The Girl Next Door, but has spent more time making exhaustingly comprehensive horror documentaries like Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th and Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. He also did a pair of episodes of the television series “History’s Mysteries” that dealt with the Amityville case, so he is well-versed in the mythology of his subject matter. Farrands’ screenplay leans heavily into the mob ties of Ronald Sr.’s family (one of the conspiracy theories about the murder), but also dwells upon the paranormal history of the house (remember the Indian burial ground from the first movie?), so the whole thing has an awkward ghost-story-meets-mafia-tale vibe to it. It’s sort of like if “The Sopranos” were cast in The Legend of Hell House.
While the DeFeo murders are generally accepted as true, there has always been a shroud of “what’s real in these actual events?” about the Amityville saga. And that grey area continues here. Except now, a dozen and a half or so movies in, no one expects complete authenticity (even if the real Daniel Lutz absolutely believes in the hauntings – see My Amityville Horror). There’s a vacuous, ambiguous sense of reality in The Amityville Murders that really deflates the true crime aspect that could have made it a fascinating movie. Sure, some situations are presented just as they reportedly occurred (a scene where Butch tries to fire a rifle at his father only to have it jam comes to mind), but the spooky seances and shadowy figures outshine any of the man-is-the-monster intrigue. So, essentially, it’s just another Amityville movie.
And, just like most of the 20 Amityville movies (21 if you count the 2005 remake), The Amityville Murders is a fairly blah movie that will only appeal to hardcore fans of the franchise. Those hardcore fans, however, will be thrilled, because this movie actually fits into the same universe as the original film, which is more than can be said about the rest. As a prequel, it’s a bit disappointing, but at least Daniel Farrands and company didn’t just slap the word “Amityville” onto an unrelated flick in an attempt to cash in. So respect should be given just for that.
There are very few real scares in The Amityville Murders, and the ones that are there are cheap and manufactured. The voices in Butch’s head manifest themselves as typical (albeit creepy) shadow people, and the jump-cut editing that accompanies them is good for a few starts. There are also a few chills that can be attributed to callbacks to the original The Amityville Horror (the secret red room in the basement, for example), but those mainly serve to just remind the viewer of how great that movie is. As for having its own genuine, original scary footprint, there’s not much there in The Amityville Murders.