Amityville Murders, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/07/19 16:09:46
According to IMDb, there have been approximately 17 films that have been inspired to some degree or another by the allegedly haunted house at the center of what would become popularly known as “The Amityville Horror.” I cannot claim to have seen all of them—though I do remember catching the one where the evil is reborn within a dollhouse and the one where Bella Thorne was somehow involved—but of those that I have failed to avoid over the years, I have found them all to be unwatchable garbage with the sole exception of “Amityville II: The Possession,” the legendary 1982 prequel that took its inspiration from the genuine real-life mass murder that preceded all the paranormal piffle and which was such an unabashedly sleazy stew of abuse, incest and wild overacting that when the demonic stuff finally kicked in during the last half-hour, it almost seemed besides the point compared to what had come before it. Like that jaw-dropper of a film, “The Amityville Murders” takes that real-life crime as its jumping-off point but it seems to have been made by people who asked themselves “What would you get if you took “Amityville II,” stripped out all the around-the-bend lunacy and replaced it with stuff borrowed from the lesser “Paranormal Activity” sequels and the gratuitous use of Lainie Kazan?”. Shockingly—well, more shocking than anything you’ll find her—the answer is “Not much.”The undisputed facts of the story are that on November 13, 1974, six members of the DeFeo family were found shotgunned to death in their beds and the only surviving member of the family, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr., was eventually convicted of murdering his parents and four siblings despite his claims (after a couple of false starts) that he was driven to do it thanks to demonic forces inside the house. “The Amityville Murders” focuses on the three weeks or so leading up to this appalling crime as Butch (John Robinson), already bearing the brunt of the abuse that patriarch Ron (Paul Ben-Victor) doles out amongst the family, is evidently being afflicted by spirits that he and his beloved sister Dawn (Chelsea Ricketts) evidently conjured up during their shared birthday party (he turned 23, she turned 18 and both look to be well north of 30). While Dad fumes, beats and berates, Mom (Diane Franklin) cowers and cooks and the other siblings fade into the woodwork, Dawn tries to convince Butch to get away at last but he finds himself held back by the increasingly terrifying visions that he is forced to endure each night that have turned him into a near-catatonic zombie, not that anyone else really notices. Finally the big night arrives and Butch prepares to go on his rampage while Dawn makes some discoveries of her own that I defy anyone who actually sits through this thing to explain in a manner that makes even the slightest degree of sense.
That “The Amityville Murders” is crap is not much of a surprise—this is a franchise that has such a low artistic batting average that even a work as execrable as “Amityville 3-D” (1983) can still be considered one of the high-water marks. However, even by the admittedly low standards of the franchise, this is an extraordinarily chintzy enterprise. Writer-director David Farrands is clearly a fan of the horror genre—he has directed extended documentaries on the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm St.” franchises—but has not managed to make practical use of any of that knowledge as a filmmaker. Oh sure, he does the film geek trick of casting a couple of the stars of “Amityville II”—Diane Franklin (who played the daughter then) and Burt Young (who was the loutish dad)—but makes so little use of them that you get the sense that he met them at a horror convention, idly pitched them to appear in his film and then had to scramble to give them something resembling parts when they unexpectedly agreed to sign on. At least their presence will catch the attention of genre buffs, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast, all of whom seem to be acting as if they are trying to audition for a cheapo mob movie shooting next door. Technically, the film is appalling with hilariously bad digital effects straining to represent everything from the specters haunting Butch to the house itself. Of course, it goes without saying that the film is never even slightly scary for a second but the horror beats are so derivatively designed and incompetently executed that even the most generous-minded of genre fans—the only possible audience for this thing—are going to come away from it feeling completely ripped off.From a storyline that feels more like Butch DeFeo’s defense lawyer desperately grasping at straws in the hopes of creating reasonable doubt amongst a jury (at various points, the film hints at possible motives for the killings that range from mob execution to the satanic rituals of Lainie Kazan) to the incompetent filmmaking technique on display in each excruciating-for-the-wrong-reasons scene to the tasteless use of what appears to be actual crime scene photos during the end credits, “The Amityville Murders” is a wheezy and utterly incompetent attempt to further extend the life of a franchise that was already running on fumes back when Ronald Reagan was still a first-term president. This is a film that is so bad that it does the seemingly impossible—it makes you come away from it thinking that the whole “Amityville Horror” nonsense deserves better treatment than it has received here/
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