J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Amityville Murders: The Original Suffolk County Horror

This is the kind of notorious history real estate agents are supposed to disclose. We’re at 112 Ocean Avenue, one of the most notorious addresses in America, but it is before the Lutzes, who came before James Brolin and Margot Kidder. The evil started with the DeFeo family murders, which are dramatized for the first time—entirely exploitatively—in Daniel Farrands’ The Amityville Murders (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

The notorious DeFeo murders really did happen, but probably not the way they are depicted here. Regardless, this would be “film zero” in the Amityville chronology, but Murders is clearly not part of the increasingly loose franchise of sequels, reboots, and whatever you might call Amityville: The Awakening. Previously the stuff of prologues, the DeFeo family takes center stage as Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. precipitously descends into madness. Arguably, it is all his own fault—and that of his sister Dawn. They decided they wanted to fool around summoning a spirit. Now they can’t get rid of it.

Frankly, the DeFeo family is a nightmare even before they open the portal to Hell or whatever. Ronnie DeFeo Sr. is abusive towards his long-suffering wife, his teen daughter Dawn, and old Butch. He also appears to be engaged in some sort of shady mob business. Plus, he is a Nixon supporter (serious, can’t they give Tricky Dick a break?).

At least Sr. doesn’t bother the young ones too much. Usually, Dawn can also up-manage him relatively well, unless he thinks she is acting trampy. Unfortunately, the hippyish Butch is practically asking for it. The mysterious black car surveilling their house does not help his disposition either, but it is just massive loose end that goes conspicuously unresolved.

Arguably, Amityville Murders is fundamentally ill-conceived, because it climaxes with an utterly horrible murder-spree. There is precious little fun to be found in this film and even less suspense, thanks to the opening sequence featuring the fateful 9-1-1 call.

The hard truth is Eric Walter’s documentary My Amityville Horror is still the best Amityville movie, but Amityville Murders isn’t even in the running. Supernatural tom-foolery is implied, but most of what Farrands shows is just terrible parenting.

Paul Ben-Victor is suitably ferocious and rodent-like as Ronald Senior. He is a rather unsavory character, but that doesn’t mean his complaints aren’t valid. Alas, Lainie Kazan and Burt Young are largely wasted as Ronald Sr’s in-laws. However, John Robinson is so sweaty and twitchy as Butch Jr., he might as well be wearing a “murder-suicide” t-shirt.

The overriding problem with 'Mitty Murders is not its predictability, but it’s the plodding pacing. This is a hard slog. That’s not exactly what you typically look for in a lurid “based-on-a-true-story” cash-in. Not recommended, Amityville Murders opens tomorrow (2/8) in LA, at the Arena CineLounge.

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