Studio: Skyline Entertainment
Director: Daniel Farrands
Writer: Daniel Farrands
Producer: Lucas Jarach, Daniel Farrands, Eric Brenner
Stars: John Robinson, Chelsea Ricketts, Diane Franklin, Rebekah Graf, Zane Austin, Noa Brenner, Kue Lawrence, Burt Young, Lainie Kazan, Paul Ben-Victor
Before “The Amityville Horror,” the notorious Long Island house curses Butch DeFeo to kill his family on a November night in 1974.
“The Amityville Horror” is bunk. Not the 1979 movie, or even the 2005 remake, but the bogus “true events” behind the hoax haunting. George Lutz concocted a distinctive ghost story of demon pigs and quarter-moon windows, but the reality remains, the notorious ‘High Hopes’ house on Ocean Avenue is no more cursed than your neighborhood Taco Bell.
However, six murders actually did occur inside the home and are unfortunately all too real. On November 13th, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. executed his unsuspecting parents and four siblings in their beds, inadvertently planting a seed that would sprout into “The Amityville Horror’s” backstory.
It turns out that Butch DeFeo and George Lutz shared more in common than shaggy brown beards. Both men were chronic liars too. In the years during, between, and since his arrest, trial, and incarceration, Butch invented as many explanations for what happened that night as George had stories about fly swarms, red rooms, and hoof prints in imaginary snowfall.
Police initially put Butch into protective custody because he said a mafia hitman targeted his family for assassination. A known drug abuser, Butch flipped on himself when the hitman’s alibi panned out, opting for an insanity defense by claiming voices compelled him to kill. Later, Butch’s bullsh*t shifted to say his sister Dawn killed their father while their mother murdered the other children. Another version of events pinned the crimes entirely on Dawn and an unidentified accomplice. Still another account cited Butch, Dawn, and two friends as taking out their parents to prevent mom and dad from murdering them first.
It’s fitting that Daniel Farrands, making his narrative feature directorial debut here, is the man attempting to craft a sensible story out of phantom whispers, mob connections, and other hogwash associated with Butch DeFeo’s familicide and George Lutz’s drivel. Farrands is the writer whom producers tapped to figure out “Halloween’s” increasingly convoluted continuity, resulting in 1995’s equally convoluted “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” (review here). If anyone can find a narrative among a load of nonsense, it should be Daniel Farrands.
What Farrands can’t do however, is turn a five-minute event into 95 minutes of filmic fascination. Butch DeFeo simply cracked and killed six people. That leaves “The Amityville Murders” to milk itself into a movie by filling plentiful space with ho-hum hullabaloo. Stale scary movie standards highlighted in the film include a bird flying into a window, a suddenly bursting light bulb, ominous lightning storms, and a whole lot of Butch hearing voices while slowly going mad. Not exactly intense.
Early exposition often plays like deleted material from “The Sopranos” featuring incidental actors too campy to make the final cut. “The Amityville Murders” tries so hard to cement itself in 1970s Long Island that everyone goes overboard on exaggerated New Yawk accents, bouffant ‘dos, and Woodstock wardrobes. Over-the-top efforts earn a few unintended laughs, but mostly trip mines preventing anyone from taking the film seriously as an accurate recreation of the era or events.
As Butch’s abusive, possibly mobbed-up father, venerable character actor Paul Ben-Victor becomes the cast’s sole standout, even though he essentially embodies the same stock goombah gangster he’s been playing his whole career. Burt Young appears in an awkward cameo as Butch’s grandfather. A stretched logic suggestion that he is also a mystery man with a hand in mafia money and the house’s haunting history makes Young’s quick role more confounding.
Speaking of irrelevant inclusions, I challenge anyone to remember the names of Butch and Dawn’s sister or two brothers, or to swear on a Jay Anson novel that they definitively recall seeing them in the movie. Farrands throws in other unnecessary support from Butch’s brief fling and a few forgettable friends. But he loses interest in doing anything substantial that isn’t associated with passing moments of supernatural drabness.
“The Amityville Murders” covers enough bases to be an average at best horror movie. Oddly, that’s good enough to make it exceptional as an “Amityville” film, considering the low bar of quality applied to anything with that word in the title. On the other hand, it’s ultimately redundant since “Amityville II: The Possession” already tells the same story, thereby adding nothing fresh to the pseudo-franchise’s ongoing fiction.
Being based on real people, “The Amityville Murders” introduces an additional problem by partly exonerating Butch DeFeo’s heinous actions with the insinuation that demons made him do it. But questionably tasteless appropriation of true-life tragedies appears to occupy prime real estate in Daniel Farrands’ wheelhouse. Two projects on tap have the titles “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” and “The Haunting of Nicole Brown Simpson.” From their summaries, both apparently combine their respective murders with supernatural encounters, walking a dangerous line between guilty pleasure goodness and offensive exploitation. Imagine what these victims, the DeFeos included, would think if they saw the trivial terror tales that came from their deaths.
Review Score: 40