My notes on The Amityville Murders, out in US theatres and digital platforms on February 8.
It’s been nearly fifteen years since that Ryan Reynolds remake of The Amityville Horror – one of the least memorable of a run of unmemorable 1970s/80s do-overs – and the band wagon is still rolling. Written and directed by Daniel Farrands, who scripted the much-messed-with Halloween The Curse of Michael Myers and the utterly odious The Girl Next Door, this is a de facto remake of Amityville II The Possession – covering the 1974 crimes that got 112 Ocean Drive its haunted house reputation – and at least has the self-awareness to cast Burt Young and Diane Franklin, stars of the earlier film, as the father-in-law and mother of the characters they played last time round. Franklin, who was outstanding in Amityville II and subsequently didn’t get the breaks she deserved, is excellent as doomed Louise DeFeo, trying to protect her out-of-it druggie beardo son Butch (John Robinson) from her violent, mobbed-up, whiny Catholic husband Ronnie Sr (Paul Ben-Victor, also good).
It’s an issue with the whole metastatising franchise that the most likely explanation is that the original haunting was entirely made up by charlatans, with the actual tragedy of the DeFeo family sucked into an abyss of fiction. By virtue of bearing the Amityville tag, this feels obliged to go down the Conjuring route – and it’s promised that the Warrens will show up at the distinctive house in some future sequel – and hoke up the preliminaries with an Exorcist-style séance game that gets out of hand, an invasion of shadowmen, a ridiculously melodramatic thunderstorm that rumbles throughout the climax, a lot of backstory about the cursed land (Lainie Kazan turns up as a grannie to utter much of this) and flashes of CGI spookiness. Ben-Victor and Franklin are in a more serious film about a family racked by abuse and shady dealings, and Chelsea Ricketts makes a good job of Franklin’s old role as Dawn, Butch’s twin sister and semi-soulmate.
The weak link is the blandly maniacal Robinson, probably because he’s stuck with an impossible part. It’s obvious, even in this telling, that the real Butch was just a strung-out druggie who snapped and had easy access to a high-powered rifle, then told a whole bunch of mutually exclusive stories blaming other folks but still got convicted. However, the film feels obliged to exonerate a mass murderer by blaming the supernatural. Ronald DeFeo Jr is still serving six life sentences, but must be flattered that filmmakers profess to take his claims seriously. It’s in dubious taste, as is the use of crime scene photos at the end. It swings away from true crime into hokey spook stuff with an epilogue that trails the story we know all too well as George and Kathy are shown the house by a real estate agent. Ferrands has The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson in the can, and seems to be out to corner an unwanted market in paranormal true crime. It’s by no means the worst Amityville spinoff, but the haunted well must surely have run dry by now.
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