Movie fans have seen the title card countless times in film across the genres: based on a true story. This message is especially striking when starting a horror movie, as it suddenly makes it all feel much more real. 1979's iconic horror flick The Amityville Horror is one of those projects, and now the real-life killer Ronald DeFeo Jr. has died at age 69. What's more, his passing was right before he would be eligible for parole in July.
This news comes to us from Daily News, which reports that Ronald DeFeo Jr. died last Friday the 12th of March at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Upstate New York. DeFeo was serving a 25-to-life sentence after being convicted of murdering his family. He'd reportedly been trying to plea insanity, and was facing another go at parole this summer. The reason for DeFeo's death hasn't been revealed, and is pending an autopsy at the time of writing this story.
Ronald DeFeo Jr.'s murder of his family has enthralled and terrified for generations, ever since the killings occurred in 1974. Around a year later the Lutz family moved into the house, and eventually fled citing paranormal experiences. This inspired the plot for the iconic movie The Amityville Horror. The flick was a sensation when it hit theaters, and contains a ton of iconic scenes from horror lore.
There would go on to be a number of other works surrounding The Amityville Horror including some disappointing sequels. Eventually a 2005 remake was produced starring Ryan Reynolds. The 1979 movie was also spoofed in the Scary Movie franchise, further showing how the story itself has continued to remain part of the pop culture lexicon.
Robert DeFeo Jr. was just 23 years old when he reportedly massacred his family including his parents, two brothers, and two sisters. His name was explicitly used in the movie adaptations of the story, rather than renaming the character. In the end he died in prison, and his story will no doubt be adapted for film again in the future.
As a franchise, The Amityville Horror has extended to literature and movies. Nine novel follow-ups arrived over the years, as did countless film sequels. While none of them had the pop culture impact of the original, it's kept the story in the minds of the public. The infamous killing was also touched upon in The Conjuring franchise, as DeFeo's murder was depicted in the prequel of The Conjuring 2.
Given Ronald DeFeo Jr.'s death, I wonder if there will be renewed interest in the grisly true story. If so, perhaps that could mean we'll get yet another reboot of The Amityville Horror. The horror genre has been in the midst of a renaissance, with other classic properties like Halloween and Scream returning to the big screen. In the meantime, check out our 2021 release list to plan your next movie experience.