After entirely to many sequels, knockoffs and outright ripoffs that had less and less to do with the original story, THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS brings the tale back to the original house. It also returns to some of the few documented facts concerning it, the murder of the DeFeo family.
This was, of course, fictionalized in the first sequel to the original film, AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. But this time the film sticks
What we do get is a very dysfunctional family. Ronald Sr (Paul Ben-Victor BODY PARTS) is a violent asshole. The most frequent target of his abuse being his oldest son Ronald ‘Butch’ DeFeo, Jr. (John Robinson ELEPHANT) who is trying to get into college rather than end up in Vietnam. He’s also abusive to his wife Louise (Diane Franklin BETTER OFF DEAD, TERRORVISION). Franklin, who played the oldest daughter in the previous version is one of two returning cast members. Burt Young (ROCKY, BLOOD BEACH), who played the father has a small role as the grandfather this time.
After a particularly bad beating from his father, Butch becomes even more withdrawn, only confiding in his sister Dawn (Chelsea Ricketts JACKALS). A bag of cash his father keeps in a safe goes missing. The missing cash drives his father into more and worse rages. As Butch’s health deteriorates and Louise resolves to leave her husband it all explodes into bloody murder.
Writer/director Daniel Farrands has a background in documentaries such as NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY and CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th. It shows here as he balances the various possible explanations for what happened. We see that Butch has issues and the family’s situation is pushing him to his limits, and his drug use isn’t helping. We also see possible evidence of a supernatural presence in the house. And there’s the possibility that the bag of cash was mob money, supporting his first claim that his family was killed in a mob hit.
The overall feeling though is of a man’s descent into madness, with those around him not only unable to help, but making matters worse. The cast does a good job at portraying this, especially Ricketts who’s character is caught in the middle of it all. The only one her brother trusts and the only one who has any idea of his true condition. But also having to put on a front that everything is alright. Remember this is 1974 and admitting a family member had mental issues was something you just didn’t do.
THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS will probably appeal more to true crime fans than horror fans. We do get the occasional shadowy figure or self-opening door. But we get a lot more indications that the murders were committed without any supernatural involvement. Given the direction taken here, it will be interesting to see how Farrands handles the material in his next film THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE.
THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS will debut in theaters and on iTunes February 8th