The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Amityville Murders (dir by Daniel Farrands)

Ronald DeFeo, Jr. may not be a household name but he’s someone who was indirectly responsible for a lot of cinematic schlock.

Of course, that’s the least of DeFeo’s crimes. When the 69 year-old DeFeo passed away in March, he was serving a life sentence in the state of New York. That’s because, back in 1974, the 23 year-old DeFeo grabbed a rifle and killed his entire family while they slept. When he was brought to trial, DeFeo claimed that he heard Satanic voices that urged him to kill his parents and his siblings. His lawyers tried for an insanity defense, though the prosecution successfully argued that DeFeo was lying about the voices and that he was in full control of his actions on the night that he killed his family. After being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, DeFeo sometimes claimed that he had been possessed by the devil and sometimes said that he committed the murders in self-defense and then other times, he said that he did it because he was hoping to inherit his father’s money. Out of all the excuses that he gave for his brutal crimes, DeFeo’s claims of being demon-possessed were the claims that everyone remembered.

Years later, the DeFeo house — which sat in Amityville, New York — was purchased the George and Kathy Lutz. The Lutzes made a small fortune by claiming that the house was haunted and that they had been forced to leave their new home by demonic spirits. (Their claims were apparently supported by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren of Conjuring fame.) The Lutzes told their story to Jay Anson, who wrote a book called The Amityville Horror. That book was later turned into a movie and the success of that movie led to a series of sequels and spin-offs. At last count, there’s been at least ten books written about the Amityville case and there have been 30 films that, in one way or another, claim to be connected to the Amityville haunting. Few of those films share much, other than a haunting and the word “Amityville” in the title. There’s not a great deal of continuity to be found in the Amityville films.

One of the latest of the Amityville films, 2018’s The Amityville Murders, deals with the actual murders that supposedly started off the whole cycle of possession and violence. (1982’s Amityville II: The Possession also dealt with the murders, albeit with Ronald DeFeo renamed Sonny Montelli. Two of the stars of that film — Burt Young and Diane Franklin — appear in The Amityville Murders.) John Robinson plays the bearded and withdrawn Ronald DeFeo, Jr. Chelsea Ricketts plays his concerned sister. Paul Ben-Victor plays their abusive father. The film covers the general facts of the DeFeo murders while trying to have it both ways as to whether or not Ronald was in control of his actions. Ronald DeFeo is portrayed as being genuinely unbalanced but, at the same time, potentially demon-possessed as well. The talented John Robinson does a good job of playing Ronald and there’s a few effective shots of his looking unbalanced but, for the most part, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in a dozen other Amityville-influenced horror films. As well, since you know from the start that Ronald is going to end up murdering his family, there’s really not any suspense to be found in the film. Instead, the entire movie is just about waiting for Ronald to pick up that rifle and start shooting people, including two children. It’s more than a bit icky, to be honest.

Whenever it comes to an Amityville prequel, the main question is always just how stereotypically the DeFeos are going to be portrayed. It only takes five minutes for DeFeo, Sr. to admonish Ronald with, “Oh! Watch how you talk to your mother!” Every cliché about Italian-American family life is present in The Amityville Murders, from the father hulking around in his undershirt to the mother decorating the house with religious iconography to the superstitious grandmother. Watching the film, I found myself imagining Tony Soprano watching a cheap Amityville film and exclaiming, “Oh! The mouth on this fucking kid over here, like he’s possessed by the devil or something!” The Amityville Murders hints that the DeFeos themselves may have had mafia connections. Indeed, before he decided to blame demonic possession for his crimes, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. claimed that his family had been taken out by hitmen from New York.

This film was directed by Daniel Farrands, who also directed The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. The Amityville Murders is neither as well put-together as the Sharon Tate film nor as offensive as the Nicole Simpson film. It’s somewhere in between, just another link in the endless chain of Amityville films. I will say that I personally think Farrands is a talented director and I’d like to see what he could do with a budget and a decent script. The Amityville Murders has its share of impressive shots, even if the end result isn’t exactly the last word in Amityville horror.

Two From Billy Mavreas : “drop”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Next up on our mini “tour” of recent published projects by Montreal’s unofficial ambassador of the avant garde, Billy Mavreas, we come to 2020’s drop, another nicely done chapbook-style ‘zine from Ottawa-based above/ground press that has a tight focus thematically, conceptually, and even visually, but nevertheless feels like an innately expansive experience rather than a limiting, or worse yet limited, one.

Droplets of water constructed from text, clippings, and various and sundry found materials are the de facto “protagonists” here, either by themselves, in small “groups,” or as part of veritable torrential downpours, and as with other Mavreas works, each page can be taken as a discrete “concrete poem” (albeit in liquid form, ha!) on its own, but in succession the effect they have is cumulative at the very least, exponentially multiplied if you’re really picking up what he’s laying down. A visual poem with each page…

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Two From Billy Mavreas : “B V A”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

I received a generous sampling of wares from Montreal multi-media artist Billy Mavreas some time back (hey, I did say I was taking last week off from writing to catch up on my reading), and while his work generally falls outside the standard definition of “comics” (except when it doesn’t), I nevertheless feel like it’s both right in my wheelhouse as a reader and critic, and certain to be of a fair amount of interest to many of you good folks, particularly those of you who are into the experimental visual arts. If not, hey, fair enough, but for those of you who are still in the metaphorical building —

The first of two ‘zines we’ll be taking a look at is B V A, a “concrete poetry” project published by Ottawa-based above/ground press in 2019 that has about as tight a self-imposed remit as possible to conceive…

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The Angst of Replaying Red Dead Redemption II

Last month, I started replaying Red Dead Redemption II and it’s been nice to be reminded of just how good this game actually is. I usually only play for an hour or two a night. Since I already finished the game the first time I played, I’m taking my time with this replay and I’m trying to enjoy all of the little details that I originally missed. After a long day at work, it’s relaxing to come home and just spend a while riding my horse through the countryside. I might stop to do some hunting or just to relax at camp. Red Dead Redemption II is a thoroughly immersive world and one of the great things about the game is just how easy it is to lose yourself in the world that it creates. Even if you don’t feel like doing the missions or following the game’s storyline, you can still just ride out and enjoy the scenery. Rediscovering the visual beauty of Red Dead Redemption II has been a wonderful experience.

At the same time, it has also been downright traumatic to rediscover just how easy it is to accidentally shoot people.

From the minute I started my replay, I promised myself that I was going to play Arthur Morgan as being a good guy. He may be an outlaw but he’s not a cold-blooded murderer. At least, that’s what I wanted to believe. Unlike the first I played, I wasn’t going to rob any strangers unless it was absolutely necessary. I wasn’t going to shoot any helpful shopkeepers. I was going to help everyone who needed help. Though the game may require me to play an outlaw, my goal was to promote peace in the wild west and to only fight when I had no other choice.

It hasn’t worked out that way, though.

It’s not intentional. It’s just that it’s very easy to push the wrong button on your controller. Over the past few weeks, there have been so many times when I’ve thought I was pushing the “greet” button just to discover that I had accidentally pushed the open fire button. Just last night, I entered a cabin. The old woman inside the cabin asked me if I was delivering her groceries. I walked up to her, fully intending on telling her that I was the deliveryman and I’d help her in any way that I could. Instead, I hit the wrong and shot her in the face. I’ve felt bad about it every since. Tragically, it’s not the first time that I’ve shot someone while trying to do the right thing. Accidentally shooting the man who just wanted someone to help find his way back to the town of Strawberry is one of the biggest regrets of my Red Dead Redemption II life. I’ve even gone back and restarted the game a few times because I’ve felt so bad about shooting the wrong person.

The big difference between Red Dead Redemption II and a game like Grand Theft Auto is that when you kill someone in Red Dead Redemption II, they don’t come back. In Grand Theft Auto, you can run over a hundred pedestrians just to find them all resurrected as soon as you turn onto a new street. In Red Dead Redemption II, accidentally shooting the wildlife photographer means that you never see him again. It can be traumatic but, at the same time, it’s also emotionally rewarding when you manage to get through an entire mission without accidentally murdering anyone.

As I said earlier, I’m taking my time with my replay so I’m just wandering my way through Chapter Three right now. I’ve been busy exploring the towns and the countryside. There’s many more chapters and locations to come. Hopefully, I’ll remember to push the right buttons and the violence can finally come to an end.

The Babe (1992, dir. by Arthur Hiller)

John Goodman. He’s a good actor but not a very convincing baseball player.

Last night, I watched The Babe, which starred John Goodman as Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, the first of the great sluggers, and the holder of the career home run record from 1935 to 1974. He was the type of player that I wish The Rangers had right now because we’ve got a 22-27 records right now and the only bright spot is that we’re doing better than the Angels.

The Babe starts in 1902, with George Herman Ruth getting dropped off at reform school and learning how play baseball from Brother Matthias (James Cromwell) and then follows Ruth through his career, his first failed marriage, his attempts to become a manager, and his eventual retirement from the game. At first, everyone makes fun of the Babe because he’s not very sophisticated and all he wants to do is hit the ball. Then he shuts them all up by knocking ball after ball out of the park. Babe Ruth was a big man, like John Goodman. But he was also a great athlete. Goodman looked like he was in pain every time he had to swing the bat. Maybe that explains why Goodman plays the Babe as if he never actually enjoyed one minute of playing baseball.

The Babe is like a highlight reel of famous anecdotes. Babe Ruth hits his first home run in the Big Leagues. Babe Ruth promises a sick child that he’ll hit two home runs. Babe Ruth calls his shot. Babe Ruth hits three homers during his final game. In real life, Babe Ruth retired after he injured his knee. In the movie, he retires after he hears an owner talking about how having Babe on the team is only good for selling tickets to the rubes. All the famous Babe Ruth stories are here, along with all of the drinking and the womanizing. The movie never digs too deep into what made Babe tick or what it was like to be the most famous and popular athlete in America. It never even really explores how Babe Ruth changed the sport of baseball. Watching The Babe, you would never know that home runs weren’t even considered to be an important part of the game until Ruth established himself as someone who could hit one ball after another out of the park. The best baseball movies make you feel like you’re either out on the field with the player or you’re in the stands with the fans and they make you want to stand-up and cheer with every hit and every run across home plate. The Babe never does that. There’s no love of the game in The Babe.

The Covers of Lariat

July 1948 by Allen Gustav Anderson

Running from 1925 to 1951, Lariat was one of the many western magazines of the pulp era. At the time, it published stories and novellas about the men and the women who conquered the old west. Today, issues are sought by collectors who appreciate the magazine’s tough, colorful, and often violent covers. Some of the best artists of the pulp era did covers for Lariat.

Below is just a sampling of the covers of Lariat. Where known, the artists have been credited:

November 1943 by Allen Gustav Anderson
March 1945, Artist Unknown
May, 1945, Artist Unknown
November, 1945 by George Gross
March, 1947 by Allen Gustav Anderson
November, 1947 by Noman Saunders
January, 1948, by Norman Saunders
March, 1948 by Allen Gustav Anderson
September, 1948 by Allen Gustav Anderson
May, 1949 by Norman Saunders
March 1950, by Allen Gustav Anderson

Edgar Wright gives us the Last Night in Soho Teaser

Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) showcased the teaser for Last Night in Soho on Twitter today. This trailer gives me the same set of goosebumps I had for Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale. The film stars Thomasin McKenzie (JoJo Rabbit) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit). I’m enjoying the 1960s backdrops for some of the scenes. The story was written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917), so it’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

Last Night in Soho is set to release this October in cinemas.

Artwork of the Day: Run Tough Run Hard (by Raymond Johnson)

by Raymond Johnson

Yesterday, I said we’d probably see more artwork from Raymond Johnson and, right on schedule, today’s artwork is from Raymond Johnson!

This book was originally published in 1964. That’s a nice motorcycle, I wonder if whoever wins the fight gets to keep it. I also like her shoes. I don’t like the motorcycle helmet that’s being worn by the man who has back to us. It looks like it might be too big for his head. Hopefully, it will provide some padding when he gets punched because the other man looks like he knows what he’s doing.

Music Video of the Day: Far Away Eyes by The Rolling Stones (1978, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg)

“You know, when you drive through Bakersfield on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening, all the country music radio stations start broadcasting black gospel services live from LA. And that’s what the song refers to. But the song’s really about driving alone, listening to the radio.”

— Mick Jagger on Far Away Eyes in 1978, to Rolling Stone

The Rolling Stones do country!

Actually, the Stones were always heavily influenced by both the Blues and Country music. This song was written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and there’s a bootleg version of Richards singing the lyrics. The official version, with Jagger singing, was the sixth track on the Stones’s 1978 album, Some Girls.

The video, a clip of the Stones performing the song in an intimate studio, was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who did a number of videos for both the Stones and the Beatles. For instance, Lindsay-Hogg is the credited director on Let It Be.