Interview: Star Diane Franklin on returning to the based-on-a-true-story Amityville horror franchise

Wess Haubrich

Diane Franklin is still a heartthrob and oh so insightful.

I caught up with the one and only Diane Franklin for an in-depth chat on the ‘80s (naturally!), acting, ghosts, curly hair, and 1980s teen filmmaking (a trend that she was the vanguard of with films like The Last American Virgin and Better Off Dead…), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (and its third installment), great film, and her latest, The Amityville Murders, which tells the story of the very real DeFeo Murders that did much to spawn (or at least reinforce) the Amityville legends.

Diane is a veteran of the Amityville franchise, having starred in Amityville II: The Possession where she played daughter Patricia Montelli – a loosely based-on-a-true-story character. In The Amityville Murders, however, she plays one of the real victims, Louise DeFeo, in a tour de force performance that adds tremendous humanity to this very dark story. The Amityville Murders as a film does this too while giving us a truly disturbing look into the underbelly and dysfunction of what – for most outside accounts – seemed like a normal New York family.

On the night of November 13, 1974 in Amityville, NY on Long Island. Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr., also called “Butch”, (played by John Robinson in the movie), aged 23, grabbed his father’s .35 caliber hunting rifle and went room to room in his family’s huge, rambling Dutch colonial house, shooting his mother Louise, father Ron DeFeo, Sr., and his 4 siblings as they lay, sleeping in their beds.

One of the oddest parts of the grisly discovery at 112 Ocean Avenue was that only 2 DeFeos stirred as Butch went room to room firing a rifle with a report louder than a jet engine – not even a single neighbor heard the shots. All of the DeFeos were found on their stomachs in bed. There was also zero evidence of drugs in the victims’ systems.

The DeFeo Murders happened two years before the Lutz family would move in and have the experiences that shaped the original 1979 Amityville Horror. As for Butch, he is still in jail (serving 6 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life), after having told a number of stories about the murders – including saying it was actually the mob who killed his family and (at a different time) that voices compelled him to kill. To hear more on the true-crime details, check out the Real Monsters podcast here.

Enjoy the interview below and catch The Amityville Murders On Digital, and On-Demand. Stay tuned for our interview with writer and director Daniel Farrands too.

Hello, Diane. Welcome!

Hi, Wess. How are you?

To be honest, I've been better. I'm fighting a bit of a fever at home today, but I'll live.

Oh my goodness. Well, I will make this the best part of your day, okay?

I have no doubt of that. [Laughs]

[Laughs] We won't let it to go waste.
Diane Franklin in Amityville II" The Possession.Bloody Disgusting

To start things off, I was just curious, did you ever see yourself going back to Amityville? Let alone in this way? That is from a fictionalized story (in the second Amityville movie) to The Amityville Murders?

Never. No. Not at all. I couldn't imagine.

First of all, I was in Amityville II. I thought, at the time, who is going to ever watch part two? That was the first part, who watches part two? Because in the ‘80s, nobody really watched part two. Everyone would watch the original, right?


You would go, “Why would you spend your money to see part two when you could see part one?” Who could ever imagine that the internet was a topic and that we would be watching whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

So, that's the first thing. And then, the second thing was, if anything, I thought, “Oh, well, maybe there'll be a remake of Better Off Dead. Or, maybe Last American Virgin. Or, Bill and Ted,” which they are going to do, which is kind of amazing. Which I may be in.

Oh, wow. That’ll be fun to see.

But, never Amityville. And when the director said he would like me to play Louise DeFeo, I burst into tears because this was such a respectable, wonderful story. I mean, the woman ... This is based on a true story. The ability to play someone who was real was always a dream of mine and it couldn't have come at a better time.

If he had offered it to me years ago, I would've probably said no because I was raising my kids. I wanted to raise my own kids, I didn't want somebody else ... I didn't want to be traveling and acting, I wanted to be there for them.

So, the timing of this was unbelievable, that my children are old enough and I have the time to do the film. It was a dream come true, it really was.
Ronald Bitch Defeo, Jr. mugshot.Forbes

Absolutely. It’s really kind of a microcosm of family breakdown in the larger society, I think. What were the challenges like with Louise DeFeo versus Patricia Montelli in Amityville 2?

Okay, so the challenges playing Louise DeFeo ... First of all, there was very limited information. I didn't realize that when I played Patricia Montelli – which is based on Dawn DeFeo – because I didn't research it at the time when I was younger because I wanted to keep myself really innocent and I didn't want to scare myself playing the role. I wanted to keep myself very open and vulnerable.

But, in this case, I really tried to do more research because I'm playing a real person, plus I'm playing the mother, and the mother in the story knows what's happening. All mothers know what's going on. I really wanted to get more information, but there wasn't a lot. Which is, really, kind of interesting.

From an internet perspective, we always look at the world and we think, “Oh, we can get any information whenever we wanted.” But, back in the ‘80s, or ‘70s, especially, people were ... I remember growing up, cause I'm from Long Island, a couple of towns away from Amityville…

Oh, wow.

People would be like, “Don't take that picture. I don't want ... “ Others would be like, “Please.” They wouldn't to look good, but it was like, “No, don't even put me in that photo.” There was no plastic surgery. There was nothing else. People who were older were more like, “Let the kids have the pictures.” They were just more ... There was more ... It was considered vain to take a lot of photos. “Don't look at yourself in the mirror.” It was a different trend than it is today, certainly, with all the selfies.

Wow. I was just thinking about that. The details of that crime, too, are just ... I still find it difficult to wrap my head around how nobody heard that rifle that night in the DeFeo house.

Yeah, absolutely. That's a rifle. We're talking about using a gun. We're not talking about the fact that ... I don't know if silencers were happening back then, really, that nobody moved, and that nobody ... That, and then, it took a while for the guy, the son, to go from room to room.

Neighbors would've heard the shots, then they would have heard it stop, then they would have heard another. I think it's kind of interesting even that the neighbors didn't call anyone or ... I don't know, the whole thing is very odd.

It really is. A rifle with a similar caliber to the .35 caliber Butch DeFeo used that night, has a report that comes in at 156 decibels. Which (for perspective) is 16 decibels louder than a jet engine taking off. It’s also about 36 decibels above the threshold where most people feel pain from a loud noise.

I believe that ... We don't think about it often – we don't think of haunted houses as something that is practical, or real, but I believe that people feel energy differently, and some people can feel it stronger than others.
Diane Franklin in this still from THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS.Movie Elite

I agree with that Diane.

Butch DeFeo, who is in jail right now and he is serving his sentence, has had many different stories. I have to say, I don't know what the truth is, but the ability to go from room to room and do that, something possessed him. Something possessed him.

No doubt.

I'm not saying ... even if he was on drugs or some kind of under the influence, something got into him. I've got to believe that when you're in a house, and you feel it, it's real and you've got to get away from that energy. The Lutz family who moved into that house ... If you feel that energy, you can't stay around it, you feel it. Through your senses.

I have to say that my experience doing this film, because I read all this and I was more the mother and vulnerable, it was actually much scarier to do it as an adult than it was as a child.


When I went home, I honestly couldn't ... I found myself sleeping on my stomach. Could not do it. From this day, I cannot sleep on my stomach anymore. It brings me horrible feelings. Terrible dreams. So, yeah, it affected me this time.

Wow. Yeah, I imagine. With every victim found that way after Butch murdered them.

By the way, I have to tell you, Amityville, the first one, I got a shock of gray hair after that film.

Oh, really?

It's amazing. I was absolutely affected by doing the horror film.

That's incredible. I would never have thought to get into that.

Yeah, as an actor, you know. You get affected when you do these films. There's a residue, there's a bad energy. You need to be careful. You have to be careful.

I have very positive energy, so that's good, but you… have to be careful.

You certainly do have a very positive energy. That answers a question I had too, which was what's it like to get into the head space of Louise DeFeo?

Yeah, just for the audience's information, Amityville II is basically ... half the story takes place in the house, and the second half is an exorcism story.

The first half of that story, which takes place in the house, there's family abuse. It's really real. The parents, who were Rutanya Alda, who was wonderful in the film. I love her as a person, and Burt Young, who played my dad in the film. Very strong energy. I played Patricia Montelli, and there's incest in the films.

So it's a lot. It's very raw and it's very scary…

It really is. I watched it last night and was very impressed with it. Of course, I’ve always liked the original too.

In this film, Amityville Murders, it's much more real. You stay in the house, but everything is more real. Though there is not as much ... Younger generation might say, “Oh my gosh, I've seen better special effects.” There's nothing really scare happening, eyeballs popping or a snake coming out of an ear, or something crazy. That's because this is based on a real story, and honestly, if you look at the real story, it is creepier. It's scarier. Real facts, to me, are scarier. Shadows are scarier. To me, that is closer to what could really be happening.

I completely agree. The best horror is grounded more in reality than fantasy like Amityville II and The Amityville Murders.

And, as far as Daniel Farrands knows, director, writer who studied and did the documentary on Amityville, this is all accurate. So, it's very little in this film that did not really happen. So, I think that just makes it just a creepier feeling, and to understand that I'm actually doing the same story, but there are differences and the differences are based on the reality.

Oh, absolutely, and I actually talked to him yesterday. So, that'll be-

Oh, wonderful.

Yeah, that was a good interview, as well…

He's wonderful.

He really is. I didn't know he was a producer on The Haunting in Connecticut, too. He has a specialty in based on a true story work.

This is his first writing tour de force. I was so honored that he thought of me, even the production company style. It's also our first work together, and I was so excited to be part of their ... this big jump in entertainment. Really, I was very proud of him, very happy that I was included.
Diane Franklin in this still from THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS.Forbes

Oh, he definitely made the right decision, casting you like he did. All the casting really couldn’t have been better.

You mentioned it a bit earlier, and I did have a question about it. Bill & Ted at 30 years. I was just wondering if you had any reflections about that.

Oh, yes. Well, I was Princess Joanna, and also a little picnic for those who don't know, I played one of the medieval princesses and originally I was cast as Princess Elizabeth, but someone got the credits wrong…

Oh wow. [Laughs] I did not know that.

…so I became Princess Joanna. And then, in the sequel Bogus Journey, they had a woman play my role, and yet, Azcuy, I forgot how to pronounce her last name, but Azcuy, and she was Princess Elizabeth, so they went back to that name.

Ah yes. Annette Azcuy.


Now, they're going to do Bill & Ted III, so the princesses are included. I'm not sure if I'm in it, but please knock on wood, cross your fingers…

Oh, I am right now.

…but they're going to shoot it this year. And, if I am in the film, we'll see what my name is, it might be back to Princess Elizabeth. So, that would be very fun for the fans too, a little tidbit. The old-school fans would be like, “Oh yeah. She used to be princess Joanna. Now, she's Princess Elizabeth,” so, that'd be kind of fun. So cross your fingers.

If it's shot, even if I'm not in it, it'll be a great film.

Oh, I'm sure it will be. It'll be a lot of fun to go see. Will absolutely keep our fingers crossed.

It's called Bill & Ted Face the Music, and I also teach acting, and one of the things I found is that so many teachers show Bill & Ted, the original, the Adventure, to their students, and that makes me so proud. Because, it's like, “Oh, look,” like a nice role model for the kids. They always like that, so it's funny. It's very fun.

Very cool.

Switching gears, just a little bit, to a question I ask everybody, what makes a great film?

Very nice. I like that. I'm going to tell you something that I find interesting. There are some films that are great films as we speak. Right? Like, today, a film comes out, and it's very commercial. People connect with it, right now. And, those are actually ... we might say, "Oh, well, maybe those films are commercial, but they do represent what's going on in the moment, right?


And, I think, those details, well, maybe they're not that important. They might represent what's happening today, currently. They represent who we are as people, and our American culture. And then, that brings nostalgic memories, and if the films we watch who help us grow up. And, I think, those are the ones that become great films later on. Because, you look back and you go, "Wow, that raised me, or it taught me something."

Couldn’t agree more Diane. Well said.

As an example, Last American Virgin was a film I did, the first film I did, and I would have thought that that film would have, originally, when I got the script, maybe never would have seen the light of day. This was a small film at a time when Officer and a Gentleman was out, and this film, I thought, would disappear. But, because it came out, and so many people saw it. It was the beginning of films where teenagers were the lead, teenagers had a voice, and teenagers were acting as adults. It raised a generation. There are people who watch that film and learn from it, and they never forgot it. And, it is still around today.

Definitely. That’s a one-of-a-kind power of great cinema, I think.

Actually, also it's a microcosm of the ‘80s. ‘80's subject matter, the ‘80s ... the abortion and drugs, and drinking, and there's nudity, and there are so many things in that film that ... and the sex. It's just very timely and it also ... the music and the costumes. It was the first film where my curly hair started the perm. My curly hair that's still short curly hair, opened up doors for Julia Roberts and actresses who had not curled their hair before, like a perm. Starting with Flashdance … It just opened up a whole world.

So, I have books about it, if you look up Diane Franklin books, my second book is “Diane Franklin: The Excellent Curls of the Last American, French-Exchange Babe of the 80s”. We're talking about things emerging in culture, so when I see a great film, I have to say that, I think it evolves and changes. What we see as a great film, at the time, maybe evolved, and something else becomes a great film. Because, does it last, and how does it affect us in the world and in the big picture?

Absolutely. Fantastic questions to ask and look for.

To let the audience know as well: I'm going to be doing a convention at the end of May, Retro Weekend, and if anyone's interested they could come… I have pictures I sign, and if anyone has a CD or whatever they want to be signed, they should come to Retro Weekend at the end of May, the last weekend of May. It's in Ohio though. I don't know if that's too far, but just letting you know.

Oh, definitely. That’ll be a lot of fun. In Cleveland, I see.


The last question I had was just, what's next for you? That is, if you had anything that we haven't covered yet?

Very exciting. Okay, so first of all, just letting everyone know, I did a small cameo in a film called Wally Got Wasted. It is on Amazon Prime, and if you're interested…

Absolutely will check that out.

I have a funny, very funny cameo in that film, so you can get that through the Amazon Prime app, only. I guess it's just one of those things.

Next, I also have a film I did called, The Final Interview, for a director named Fred Vogel. It is an art film. It is going to film festivals across the county this year. So, if you hear of it, go see it and I have a thriller, very exciting thriller. Very wonderful. It takes place in the ‘80s, and I play a lead woman and news director. Grainger Hines plays my husband in this exciting film. I'm sorry… Grainger, yeah.

That one actually caught my eye during research. My kind of movie.

And, the third thing that's very exciting for me, is that my daughter is a filmmaker and her name is Olivia DeLaurentis, and she's coming out of ... she's actually written a film. It's been picked up. She's twenty-two years old. This is, perhaps, the youngest film director that has…

Very cool.

She does dark comedies. It's probably the youngest film director to be picked up. She's written it. She's directing it. She's acting in it, and I will be in it, and we're shooting it this year. And, it's called This Gets Ruff.

So, if you look up Olivia DeLaurentis, and you look up This Gets Ruff, you also might see her, she's under Barely Legal Comedy. Put “comedy” in there, because I'm not responsible if you don't put that in.

[Laughs] won’t forget that “comedy” part.

[Laughs] She is a comedian, but beautiful, funny, and she's the next one coming up. She's amazing.

And, the princess from Bill & Ted, the other girls who I worked with Kimberly Kates, she's producing the film. She's actually a producer now.


So, she saw Olivia's work in Barely Legal Comedy, and she said, “You are brilliant,” and she said something about, if she has a script, she wants to auction it. And, the minute Olivia got out of UCLA, she picked it up. And so, I am very excited to act with my own daughter this year.

That’s great! Will be sure to catch that too.

So, here I am. It's all hitting, and I am beyond excited.

Follow Diane on Twitter here.

Comments / 0

Published by

Former editor, now dogged-maverick journalist and researcher covering the crime beat. I examine the weird, absurd, and downright infamous in American crime both here and at Real Monsters podcast. Contact:


More from Wess Haubrich

Comments / 0