'The Amityville Murders' Has No New Tale to Tell Directed by Daniel Farrands
Starring John Robinson, Chelsea Ricketts, Paul Ben-Victor
Published Feb 06, 2019At this point, it may be safe to say that there are enough Amityville movies.
While it's possible to revive a long-dead franchise with a fresh, unique vision (2018's Halloween sequel), it's hard to keep retelling the Amityville story when it's based on such familiar true events. In 1974, 23-year-old Ronald "Butch" DeFeo Jr. (played in this iteration by John Robinson) murdered his parents and four siblings while they slept. After he was convicted, George and Kathy Lutz bought their now-abandoned home in Amityville, New York, and they later claimed that they and their three children were haunted by all manner of ghostly phenomena. The Lutz's account of this frightening tale was retold in Jay Anson's 1977 book The Amityville Horror, and formed the basis of nearly two dozen feature film adaptations sequels, and prequels.
We now know that the Lutz's account was falsified, but the DeFeo murders are, unfortunately, true. The Amityville Murders attempts to tell the story of Butch DeFeo and what happened that caused him to massacre his entire family, but still can't resist pinning the blame on the paranormal.
The real Ronald DeFeo Jr. has given numerous, alternate explanations for what happened to his parents and siblings, including that the murders were actually a Mob hit, and The Amityville Murders introduces a possible connection between the Mafia and Ronnie DeFeo Sr. (Paul Ben-Victor). The Mafioso elements of the film are goofy, featuring tough-guy goons straight out of a Sopranos outtake, and feel misplaced in a film that's ostensibly about a paranormal explanation for a tragic crime.
The Amityville Murders throws a bunch of ideas at the wall in the hopes that one sticks — that Ronnie was abusive and drove Butch to murder, that possible mob connections may have been at play, that the evil spirit of the house egged Butch on. The Amityville Murders plays out like a drinking game of "haunted house" tropes: ghostly voices, dead birds, exploding lightbulbs, seances, and musical cues that helpfully let us know that something creepy is about to happen. None of it is executed badly, per say, it's just forgettably dull. If movies were stock photos, The Amityville Murders would come up in a search for "haunted house horror."
Performance-wise, Robinson makes do with a by-the-numbers "tortured psychopath" approach complete with dead-eyed stares, and Ben-Victor manages to intimidate whenever he's on screen, but most of the acting is lifeless, with a corny script that doesn't help. There's another story here about the DeFeo siblings playing with a Ouija board (spoiler alert: it doesn't go well) and a neighbourhood girl who's got the hots for Butch, but these are forgettable B-plots.
There's just not much payoff to The Amityville Murders, and when there is, it's rote and formulaic, offering no surprises and little emotional buildup. It's just that this story has been told so many times before (and this exact story itself was essentially told in Amityville II: The Possession back in 1982). It's difficult to make such a familiar story seem novel, but by attempting to present several different motivations for Butch's actions, we get a muddily told story that's not particularly interesting to watch, especially when we already know how it ends.