Screamfest Review: The Amityville Murders – Family Dies

Amityville is actually one of the franchises I have not seen entirely. Every time I do see one, it discourages me from filling in the gaps. After The Amityville Murders it’s probably going to be a while before I see another Amityville movie.

The Amityville Murders tells the story of the DeFeo family, whose murder predated the Lutz family moving into the house. It plays out exactly as the backstory from the 1979 movie and its 2005 remake said it did.

Murders tries to make you care about the DeFeo family but it’s not really equipped to do so. Ronnie (Paul Ben-Victor) is abusive and especially hard on his oldest son Butch (John Robinson), who is still at home because he couldn’t get into Syracuse University. Louise (Diane Franklin) tries to be a loving mother and manage her husband, but we also learn they’re talking about selling the family house (which in hindsight could have meant they’d still be alive today).

So these were real people and Ronnie was allegedly abusive. Portraying him as a stereotypical mob goon who takes it out on the women in his family belittles the true gravity of abuse. If this man really did abuse his wife and daughters and sons, they deserve better than a superficial take on their struggle.

Every time there is a serious dramatic scene that’s supposed to endear the DeFeo’s to you, you’re taken out of it by stilted lines like, “Hey, shut your trap.” Maybe that was a common expression in 1974 but it sounds like a first draft in 2018. Musical stings to add gravitas to mundane events like a bird crashing into a window go so far over the top that it makes them seem ridiculous, not foreboding.

Butch and his sister Dawn (Chelsea Ricketts) hold a seance in the basement and after that Butch starts getting sick and seeing things (he also does drugs, but the movie never really considers that they had an impact. It was the ‘70s, man.)

The supernatural occurrences are all things we’ve seen before, too often: being pulled by an unseen force, levitating objects, bloody visions, flashes of demon faces… I mean, if this all really happened, as many believe it did, then they predate Paranormal Activity but there’s got to be a way to make it compelling in 2018.

The filmmakers seem focused on getting cool shots, and they do manage some. One scene has the shadow of Ronnie speak to Butch, and there are some elegant camera moves, but what is going on within those frames is just blunt.

The Amityville Murders is the type of horror movie intended to make you feel miserable, so when it’s not visceral it’s just no fun at all. It stalls interminably to get to the inevitable end which, even if you didn’t already know the story, is confirmed in the movie’s very first scene.

If you really need to know what happened in the DeFeo killings, The Amityville Murders opens on the anniversary of their deaths November 13. Hopefully there will be better movies to discover at Screamfest this week.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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