Another year, another Amityville movie. In 2019 The Amityville Murders is our first foray into America's most recognizable haunted house. Sure, the actual haunting case has been well and truly debunked, but that hasn't stopped Hollywood from milking the story for all it's worth. This film is a little different, however, as it aims the story at the initial crime that made the house infamous. The DeFeo murders are a fascinating true crime case but in reality they're just that, not paranormal.
For those unaware, the original Amityville murders were committed by Butch DeFeo who murdered his entire family whilst they slept, all seemingly undisturbed by the gunshots occuring rooms away. The Amityville Murders is that story but with the supernatural bent carried over from the numerous books and films based on the incident. The film does touch on spousal abuse and parental abuse. The DeFeo's are not a happy family and when they are contemplating packing up to move out of their family homestead the home fights back, possessing Butch DeFeo who then commits brutal acts of violence.
First, let's discuss the writer and director of this film, Daniel Farrands the same Daniel Farrands who wrote Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, a film which I love. I bring this to attention only to lament how Amityville Murders is just like every single Amityville movie I've ever seen. It offers very little in the way of twists to the haunted house genre. Where Curse, for all its flaws tries something new, The Amityville Murders is dreadfully dull. The best elements of the movie are when they take full advantage of the 70s time period. Seeing the resignation of Nixon and how it affects the mindset of Ronnie DeFeo is as close as this movie gets to a subversion of formula.
There are a lot of interesting angles this story could have taken had it only fleshed out its characters out even the tiniest bit. The DeFeo family is a large one but unfortunately only Butch, Dawn, and the parents of the family receive any character development. How does the abusive father treat little Jody DeFeo? You never find out. They could have used the very real world scenario of an older sibling taking abuse in order to shelter their siblings but the film opts to spend its runtime with whispering walls and mysterious shadow figures. The true drama of the tale is completely passed by and what we're left with is a selection of subpar scares.
As much grief as I give this film the performances are not bad. The main cast does a solid enough job even when the script lets them down. There are also some surprising cameos such as Burt Young who was previously in Amityville II: The Possession in 1982 and Lainie Kazan from the My Big Fat Greek Wedding films. Unfortunately Burt Young has a total of two scenes and the script completely wastes Kazan.
What could have been an interesting twist on the formula ends up being a lacklustre horror film you've already seen a million times. The film misses the opportunity to take two more interesting routes by either showcasing the effects of abuse or detailing the true crime case on which the series is based. Rather than moving forward in the genre, it's a picture content on treading water.
Oh, and for anyone looking to avoid crime scene photography be sure to skip out before the credits as you see the real life crime scene photos.