The Axe Murders of Villisca (2016)

DVD Release Date: June 6, 2017


The Axe Murders of VilliscaIn The Axe Murders of Villisca (2016), five members of the Moore family and two Stillenger girls who had been visiting the family were found bludgeoned to death in the Moore home on the morning of June 10, 1912. Amateur ghost hunters, Caleb (Robert Adamson of The Princess Protection Program) and Denny (writer and actor, Jarrett Sleeper), plan to spend Caleb’s last night in town investigating the legendary murder house. The new girl, Jess (The Inbetweener’s Alex Frnka), decides to tag along. Will they make contact with the souls left behind and will any of them make it out alive?   The Axe Murders of Villisca is very loosely based on a true story of murders that happened in Villisca, Iowa on the night of June 9 to the morning of June 10, 1912. There are lots of liberties taken with the story, as one might expect in a fictionalized account of a true event. The movie lays the murders at the door of Reverend George Kelly (Sean Whalen) who did ultimately confess to the crime but was later acquitted. It seems before the confession was signed he was subjected to many hours of interrogation and later recanted the confession, though that detail doesn’t appear to have played a role in his acquittal. As with most horror films, there are darker elements at play who entertain the trio of teenagers when they visit the house.

The Axe Murders of Villisca is very slow to start. The three main characters are bonded by a common story line in which their lives are made a hell by a bully who doesn’t hesitate to publish material for the sake of embarrassment. In the case of Jess, she’s slut-shamed and Caleb stands up for her which brings her, somewhat illogically, to his door. Too much time is spent making sure that we know that these kids are normal put upon teenagers that time is lost with the actual horror story. The Axe Murders of Villisca gives us a few gimmicks — possession and peril — which could have gone very wrong with lesser actors. Sleeper’s performance especially stands out as the kid for whom the ghost hunting world is an escape.

Reverend Kelly is the role that character actor Sean Whalen was born to play. If you’re not sure who that is, do a quick Google search and you’ll recognize him immediately. Seven of the nine victims were children and the actor’s glee as he swings the ax is perhaps the scariest thing about The Axe Murders of Villisca. His screen time is limited but the impact is lasting. The young Stillenger girls get a featured role among the victims. Lena Stillenger (Madison Lawler) and Ina (Elsie Fisher) and they play the heart-wrenching murder scenes with a macabre beauty.

I always wonder about these “based on true story” films and what the descendants of the victims must think. In the case of The Axe Murders of Villisca, seven of the nine victims were children and there are no direct descendants. I have to think that neither the Stillenger family or relatives of Reverand Kelly would be especially thrilled about their portrayal in the film. That said, it’s an entertaining horror movie that this viewer didn’t really find all that scary. I would have liked to have seen fewer teen issues and more story, but I understand why the writers felt that they needed to set up the characters in their world before bringing viewers into the horror story line.

If you’re looking for good acting with a meh story line, check out The Axe Murders of Villisca today. If you’re looking for a really interesting read, do a Google search on the real Axe Murders of Villisca. Apparently, the real house (not used in the film) is still standing and is said to be one of the most haunted places in Iowa.

The Axe Murders of Villisca is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video

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Title The Axe Murders of Villisca
Director Tony E. Valenzuela
Actors  Robert Adamson, Jarrett Sleeper, Alex Frnka
Length 1 hour and 18 minutes
Rating not rated
DVD Release June 6, 2017

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