In 1979, The Amityville Horror, inspired by a book of the same name, introduced the world to what is regarded as one of the most haunted houses in the world, which was reportedly plagued by all manner of supernatural entities. In the 40 years since that film’s debut, the Long Island home has inspired more than 20 feature films that have delivered audiences a wide spectrum of specters, though The Amityville Murders attempts to deliver audiences the story of the real-life murders that took place in the home on a fateful night in 1974. That attempt ends up feeling like every other chapter in the long-running franchise, offering audiences the tried and true interpretations of a haunted house that drives someone to madness, with the major difference being that we know exactly how the film ends as soon as the opening credits start.
After partaking in a seemingly innocent “ritual” that allows you to communicate with spirits, the DeFeo household becomes plagued with otherworldly events. The unexplained occurrences seem to center around Ronald (John Robinson), whose combative relationship with his father is heightened by the terrifying visions he has of shadowy spirits around the home. The rest of the family dismisses what Ronald is going through as him being sick, only for each day that passes sending him further into madness, made all the worse when he discovers the home was built on a Native American burial ground. Oh, and then Ronald kills his family. The end!
The DeFeo murders are a key component of virtually every incarnation of the film franchise, as each new resident is wary about moving into a home where murders occurred. Understandably, the discovery that you’ll have to worry about where you put your recliner in relation to where a body was found is something that would make someone feel a little uncomfortable, even if there wasn’t a supernatural explanation for the event. In that regard, the setup of virtually all other Amityville films makes perfect sense, with Murders requiring an extra leap in logic to invest any interest in the narrative.
One big flaw with The Amityville Murders is that the only connection the case has to the supernatural is that, in 1975, DeFeo claimed he heard “voices” that told him to kill his parents. In the decades since the murders, DeFeo’s story has changed numerous times, which includes blaming other parties for taking part in the murders, while historians have confirmed that the burial ground connection is false. In other words, the only confirmed details about the events are that DeFeo killed six people and the family that moved into the home a year later claimed to have experienced otherworldly events.
In that regard, The Amityville Murders is nothing more than an attempt to cash in on a real tragedy with a recognizable word in the title. As a horror movie, everything is safe, forgettable, and generic. The 1974 setting offers a slight twist from other horror films in the Amityville legacy, and it also feels like an authentic interpretation of a Long Island family’s tense dynamic. While most of the performances are effective, there are times when the tone falls too deep into parody, leaving viewers unsure whether we should be laughing with the film or at it.
If you’re willing to look past the many, many factual inaccuracies in the film, you’re given a predictable ghost story that has moments of unconventional staging and framing, which allows it to briefly stand out from other films in the Amityville franchise. The film’s conclusion, unfortunately, features actual footage and photographs of the crime scene, driving the point home that these were real people who were tragically killed. This only makes everything that preceded the final moments of the film feel all the more disrespectful, serving as nothing more than a cash grab on the horrific events that unfolded in the quiet community.
While the overall experience of the film is a safe and traditional haunted house movie, you’ll have a hard time washing the taste out of your mouth regarding the filmmakers’ decisions to go such an expected route when so many other psychological elements that motivated the murders could have finally been explored. Save your time and just watch the original Amityville Horror, it has James Brolin and Margot Kidder!
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