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.

Playing Catch-Up With The Lesser Films of 2015: Get Hard, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pixels, The Wedding Ringer


SPOILER ALERT!

One or more of the films reviewed below will appear on my list of the 16 Worst Films of 2015!  Can you guess which one(s)?

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Get Hard (dir by Etan Cohen)

Will Ferrell is funny and Kevin Hart is funny and you would think that putting them together in one movie would be especially funny but … nope.  Get Hard, which I watched on HBO a few weeks ago, is incredibly not funny.  Ferrell plays a hedge fund manager who is convicted of fraud and embezzlement and it’s a sign of how haphazard this film is that I was never really sure whether he was supposed to be guilty or not.  Anyway, Ferrell is terrified of going to prison but fortunately, he runs into Kevin Hart.  Hart is playing the owner of a car wash here, a mild-mannered family man who simply wants to be able to afford to send his daughter to a good school.  However, Ferrell assumes that, since Hart is black, Hart must be an ex-con.

So, Ferrell hires Hart to teach him how to survive in prison and Hart agrees.  And, to be honest, this is not a terrible idea for an edgy satire but the film pulls it punches and never really exposes or challenges the racism that led to Ferrell hiring Hart in the first place.  Instead, it’s more interested in making homophobic jokes about prison rape (there’s a particularly long and unpleasant scene where Ferrell attempts to learn how to give a blow job that feels like it was lifted from a deservedly forgotten 90s film) and eventually, it devolves into a painfully predictable action film.

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Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (dir by Andy Fickman)

I know what someone out there is saying.

“YOU’VE NEVER EVEN SEEN THE FIRST PAUL BLART: MALL COP!!!  WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO REVIEW THE SEQUEL!?”

Well, listen — it’s true.  I’ve never seen the first film and the only reason I watched the second one (on HBO at a friend’s house, which means that it literally cost me nothing) was because I had heard how terrible it was and I figured that I should see it before making out my list of the worst films of the year.  But, even with that in mind, I think I can still give this film a fair review.

(At the very least, I’ll try.  Dammit, I’ll try.)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is one of those films that is so forgettable that you forget about it while you’re watching.  Kevin James plays Paul Blart, a mall security guard who goes to Las Vegas for a security guard convention and ends up getting involved in thwarting a big heist.  It’s a comedy, though I can’t think of a single time I laughed.  Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was not quite the abomination that I had been led to expect.  It was, in no way, comparable to Birdemic, April Rain, or Man of Steel.  Instead, it was just an incredibly empty and soulless film.  It was a zombie movie that existed only to eat money.

One thing that is frustrating about a film like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is that Kevin James seems like he could actually survive appearing in a good film, if he could just get a chance to make one.  He’s likable and he’s got an everyman quality about him.  But, for now, he seems to be trapped in films where he either plays Paul Blart or he’s surrounded by talking animals.

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Pixels (dir by Chris Columbus)

Speaking of Kevin James, he’s also in Pixels!  He plays William Cooper.  When he was a kid, he was obsessed with playing video games.  Now that he’s an adult, he’s the President of the United States!  And he still keeps in contact with his best friend from childhood, Sam.  Sam, needless to say, will never be President.  When Sam was a kid, he was traumatized when he lost a national video game championship.  Now that he’s an adult, he installs home-theater systems and he’s played by Adam Sandler…

When Earth is invaded, it turns out that the aliens are under the impression that video games are real!  So, they recreate a bunch of classic video game characters and send them off to do havoc.  Who better to stop them than the President and Sam?  And who better to help than a nerdy conspiracy theorist (Josh Gad) and Eddie Planet (Peter Dinklage), the same guy who cheated in order to defeat Sam at the video game championship….

If you’re thinking that sounds like way too much plot for a silly comedy about video games coming to life, you’re right.  Pixels has some cute moments (though, based on the comments and occasional laughter of the middle-aged people in the theater around me, I get the feeling that a lot of the film’s video game-themed humor was a bit too “before my time” for me to fully appreciate) but oh my God, it was such an unnecessarily busy movie.  The idea behind Pixels had some potential but the film refused to take advantage of it.

I’ve said this before and I always get some strange looks but I honestly do think that — if he would actually break out of his comfort zone and stop doing movies that mostly seem to be about finding an excuse to hang out with his friends — Adam Sandler could be an acceptable dramatic actor.  Check out his work in Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People, Reign Over Me, Spanglish, and even the first half of The Cobbler.  (Tarantino even wrote the role of Donny Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds with Sandler in mind.)  The fact that Sandler could be doing good work makes his continual bad work all the more frustrating and annoying.

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The Wedding Ringer (dir by Jeremy Garelick)

And speaking of Josh Gad…he’s also in The Wedding Ringer!  For that matter, so is Kevin Hart.  Hart plays a guy who, for a sizable fee, will pretend to the lifelong best friend (and best man) for grooms who do not have enough real friends to fill out a wedding party.  Hart refuses to get emotionally involved with his clients but that all changes when, despite himself, he becomes friends with Josh Gad, who is on the verge of getting married to Kaley Cuoco.

The Wedding Ringer got terrible reviews but it also was very popular with audiences and I imagine a lot of that had to do with the relationship between Hart and Gad.  Both of them give very sincere performances that elevate some otherwise unpromising material.  The Wedding Ringer wasn’t good (it’s predictable, it’s portrayal of Kaley Cuoco’s character verges on misogynistic) but, at the same time, it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.  In the end, it was pretty much a typical January film.

I'm so excited!  I'm so excited!  I'm so ... wait a minute, am I just here because this is a post about bad movies?

I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so … wait a minute, am I just here because this is a post about bad movies?

Which of these four films will make my list of the worst 16 films of 2015?  The answer shall be revealed soon!