I have just finished watching Shattered Hopes and for an independent release, it wasn't actually THAT bad, however, I felt (like others have said) Geraldine, Ryan and Ric did have a lot of screen time, but then I felt that Gloria and her son just as equally had about the same amount of screen time so in a way it sort of balanced out the interviewees and researchers a bit.
So without further ado, here is my review of Shattered Hopes: From horror to homicide. Feel free to skip some parts, as I have divided them up for easier reading.
The packaging and artistic presentation
The packaging of the DVD was air-tight. I mean, the seal was much tighter than what you would normally expect for a brand new DVD (which is usually half-ripped or sticking out in places) I found that to be very professional, it was a good time trying to break the seal, but nonetheless I was left pretty impressed. Yes, the smell of inks! I recognized the smells instantly upon opening the DVD, I work with printing and such quite a lot due to my massive hobby in photography so this smell was pretty normal for me. No smells of tobacco, kids.
The front cover - I liked the shopping done on the cover, but I felt that the photo of the house was a little too dark - though this is a genuine mistake to make, sometimes photographs look brighter on a screen until they make it to print and there's not a lot you can do if you're on a production line. The cover of the DVD was very well edited (photograph wise) bright enough to see the photographs, and I liked how the back of the DVD was very informative and edited to look like a proper DVD you would scan at a shopping till to purchase. The only criticism I have there is that there was a little too much information and for a dyslexic person like myself, it took a few reads for the small text and 'heap' of information to register in my brain. I think it could have been better summed up in two paragraphs as there was already writing about the documentary on the front of the DVD. But looking at the DVD I couldn't help but feel an awe of excitement rushing through my veins...
Genius idea! Takes me right back to the one year I survived in film school. The editing and way the titles open for the first time with voices in the background from witnesses and interviewees, along with snippets of the film and newspaper articles has been nicely put together - although, each time you watch the DVD you'll have to watch through a minute or so of this until it reaches the main menu options, the special features have also been nicely done, you can easily navigate back and forth to the main menu from this screen, so there's no problem there. You have two options here - watch movie or special features. I'll pick watch movie.
** The DVD came with a chapter selection booklet as seen in most DVD cases so I'm dividing the rest of my review going by that**
Ah, I see what Ryan has done here. He's got a screenshot here of the house with eerie music playing in the background whilst the cast names are coming up on the screen. This (to me) looks like an obvious reference to the opening titles of the 1979 film,'The amityville horror' which he shows snippets of during the course of the introduction whilst we are taken through a brief summary of the story of that night and how amityville became infamous for the house which still stands on Ocean Avenue today.
Some shots of the town were done nicely and smooth, but some of the zooming out to trail shots were a bit shaky and out of focus. There is a fair amount of archive footage used here from the NBC 1974 reporters outside the Defeo house to Ronnie being lead away to the courthouse for his 1975 trial hearing (yes, we have seen these clippings before, but they work nicely in the narrative timeline).
We then cut to Ric Osuna and Ryan in separate interviews explaining about how they both first got into Amityville. Both at a young age and Ric's interest with both the film and the book.
We then go through a timeline of what transpired that night, Butch going home - shooting all his members of the family (it's here we see about four 'new' crime scene photographs which flash very quickly, one of Allison turned over, one of big Ronnie turned over and one of Marc turned over) it's a good thing they are quick due to the gruesome nature, but we do see one of Louise later on for a lot longer when the discussion of a necklace comes up (which I will get to in a minute).
Ryan touches on the subject of Ronnie watching 'Castle keep' on the night of the murders and believes this may have been fuel for the events of what were to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen, taking the stage... MS GERALDINE GATES
Ric talks about how he set up his website in 1999 and was helping George Lutz on his coffee table book, when he gets a phone call in summer 2000 from Geraldine stating 'His website is BS' and that 'Webber, Lutz and Butch coined the story together'. I like the introduction of Geraldine because you think to yourself as she comes into the scene, 'Woah, this woman MEANS business.' It doesn't introduce her as a controversial character at all, but it depends on how you respond to the way the scene has been edited, because it's edited in a way to make you realize she's a controversial figure, they use the real Geraldine and the real Ric Osuna to re-enact the scene which unfolded when she gave him that phone call telling him that she wanted:
'No fame, No money - just the truth to be told once and for all.'
Ric then explains that he wanted to vertify her authenticy so he asks her about the crime scene photographs, something which hardly anyone could get their hands on (apart from Ric or Ryan of course) and she makes reference to a necklace stating, 'That's not a catholic cross she is clutching, it's a heart on a thick chain'. According to the stories, she had fears of being pregnant years after John Matthew whilst she was still in Ocean Avenue and the church wasn't too supportive if she wanted an abortion, so she changed her cross to a heart to state that 'she will still hold onto her beliefs (religion) but she will not be ruled by them.'
The meeting of Louise and Ronald Sr.
This part was rather interesting. We see a photograph of the two as teens and we find out that Mike did not approve of their relationship. He sent Louise to a private girl's catholic school because he wanted the best for his daughter, but then disowned her and cut off all ties with her when she found out that she was pregnant with Butch and because of her beliefs decided to marry Ronald Sr. But shortly after Butch was born they came to an agreement and they were speaking again (Louise and Mike). After their last child was born (child number five, John) Mike told Louise that he felt her relationship with Ronald Sr. had 'potential' (according to Geraldine) and so he bought them the big house in long island, 112 Ocean Avenue.
Geraldine makes a reference to Louise leaving Ronald Sr. at one point in 1963, that he wrote her a song and she came back to him. Louise did not tell Mike about what went on in the house, or her reasons for leaving Ronald Sr. before deciding she would get back with him.
It is also mentioned that there were family problems since day one, and the incident of Ronnie being shoved out of his chair at the age of two by Ronald Sr. is brought up.
Now, the 70s music here is really fitting, but it gets loud, then cuts whilst Ed is giving a few words in the narrative then continues as quieter music in the background whilst Geraldine is talking.
Geraldine meets Butch
Geraldine talks about how she met Butch during her bar scene career. He introduced himself as 'Ronnie Black' to her and she pretty much said that he was disgusting and walked away from him as he was bragging about having loads of money and owning a mansion in up state new york - yet, a couple of days later she sits on some roses Ronnie has left for her on a chair (which she wasn't happy about sitting on) and then starts to become attracted to him. She says that she got married to Ronnie and there are pictures of Stephanie Pisani as a baby which show up on the timeline. She talks about Ronald Sr. painting the house black to preserve it from river water.
She then meets the family. Comments on how Louise is wearing long clothes on a summer's day and big glasses, hiding her bruises that she received from Ronald Sr. That the kids, Ronnie, herself and two of his friends - Robert and the other guy (whose name I did not catch) when Ronald Sr. comes running out the house and throws a cherry bomb into the pool. She makes a sort of false laugh here - sarcasm? - as she explains how she freaks out, runs down the driveway and how she doesn't want to come back to the house. But then how come she sees Ronnie throw a cherry bomb back into the pool at his father afterwards, (who now has the pool all to himself and his float has just burst) and becomes so enraged that he beats up Ronnie on the lawn in front of the house for all the neighbors to see?
There is then talk about how Ronnie is beaten up at dinner for bending over to pick up a dropped cloth. Ronald Sr. gets mad and beats him up for the soul purpose that 'anybody leaving the table is showing disrespect'.
The psychologists come in at this point and state that back in the 1970s 'abuse' was not seen as 'abuse' like it is today, that teachers were even granted powers to physically discipline children back then so that sort of treatment in family homes was normal back then.
Gloria, Gloria's son & Rodger
Ah, now we see things from these guys instead of Geraldine for a change of scenery. Gloria and her son talk about how they met the Defeos through going to football practices with Marc and that because Gloria and Pat (her late husband) had five kids too, just like the Defeos they would come round to their house a few times a week. Rodger told about how Linnea used to go to the house to clean the place up a few times a week and she became close to Louise, Rodger then became close with the family when they asked him to help him fix a chair one evening. Both Gloria and Rodger hit on how Ronnie Sr. was 'average, generously helping the kids, helping the football team' and how he became very superstitious - that he allegedely saw auras around people, could predict the outcomes of games. Rodger talks about the break down in the relationship between Louise and Ronnie Sr. and how it was affecting the kids.
Geraldine states that each child became different - John running around everywhere, Marc getting too interested in his football even though initially he had been forced into doing it in the first place, Allison staying in her room all the time, Dawn becoming a clone of her father and Ronnie developing an interest in Guns. Rodger says that he noticed upon visiting the house once that Ronnie was sitting on the table tops one evening and that he seemed to be distant to his father and closer to his mother.
There is talk of a red phone in the kitchen which only Ronald Sr. knows the number to and that apparently it was there because he was afraid that Louise was having an affair with the painter. The only thing Rodger can say about it is, 'Linnea did say something about a red phone but that's all I know about it.'
It's said by Geraldine that Ronald Sr. has been stealing from the buick dealership, that he allegedely told ronnie to shoot his grandfather and that this (along with not allowing Dawn to go to Florida with her boyfriend) was the catalyst for the night of the murders, that Ronnie, Kelske and the other guy (whose name I still didn't get) were pulled aside by Mike and then coined up a plan to do away with big Ronnie. Rodger says that he knew Dawn's boyfriend by name, but he never met him in person or spoke to him at all. Gloria also verifies who Dawn's boyfriend is.
The mob ties
This part was all gobble wobble to me. It's pretty much a summed up version of what Ryan has on his site about the different mob families and how they are all tied to each other. It's not really my area of expertise to review, but I did find this part pretty dull.
The Trip to Canada
This part is also weird. Gloria recalls that Big Ronnie took them all there for a family and friends vacation (Just her, Pat, Louise and Ron Sr.) to see a priest who told him that each time he gave him money his gifts would become stronger, Gloria felt that Ronald Sr. was mad with Louise the entire time for no apparent reason, or if he got angry with someone else he would take it out on her, when confronted by Pat all Ronald Sr. could say was, 'We are all friends. Lets forget what has happened.' Then he freaks out the priest, Gloria, Pat and Louise by getting his car stuck on a snowy mountain, letting go of the wheel and stating, 'The angels will guide us downhill' and the car starts rolling...
It ends where a family argument breaks out, Dawn has just gone after her father with a knife and he's ended up in a washing basket for some reason, Dawn then makes a snide remark, 'Wanna smoke of my pipe? Might make you feel better!' Ronnie leaves geraldine at home and drives to the house on 112 ocean avenue. After the argument and seeing John all bloodied up from being beaten by his father, kelske and the guy (whose name I STILL don't get) come to the house and they are downstairs playing pool. Dawn comes down and joins them doing drugs and alcohol and they proceed to the stairs where they hear someone playing on the piano trying to cover the sounds of Louise and Ronald Sr. plotting to do away with both Ronnie and Dawn. It ends with the whole family being shot and a black figure handing Ronnie the rifle...
My ending comments
The documentary was pretty interesting, it kept me entertained for long enough, but there were parts (such as the mob) which dragged on a little and whilst I was pleased with Geraldine's stories in the beginning, as it went on they started to seem more and more less credible - because I simply couldn't believe Dawn would do drugs, have anything to do with the murders or even stage her own kidnapping to get her hands on $5,000 from her grandfather to escape to Florida with Billy, or that Ronald Sr. threw a cherry bomb in the pool as a sinister act (maybe he was joking, if he did do it). I also found that Ronnie being painted as the family man or trying to get a job in the postal service was also pretty unbelievable - but I think that possibly in part II (like I said before I watched SH) he may go on to become the nasty, lying ronnie we all know.
I liked the editing, I liked the music score and I liked the filming and lighting techniques, even though some of the shots were personally shaky. Yes, Geraldine does smoke a lot during the film, but so do the other actors... quite a lot. I think smoking is pretty disgusting anyway (I live with three chain smokers) but that's just my opinion, different for people who actually enjoy smoking I suppose. The actors I found were actually really good at acting considering that this is an independent budget, Dawn and Ronald Sr. in particular. Sure, the beard they used on the actor for Ronnie jr. was fake, but it still looked alright enough in my opinion.
Part I was a little vague in the sense that we already know all the information which it features, but come parts II and III I am hoping we see new material. Anyways, I think it's worth a watch, but as I say, Geraldine does get too much screen time and it maybe would have worked better if she had a little less if she is the controversial character in all this, because as I stated before, her stories got less and less believable for myself personally once they got past a certain point - but her introduction was very well done.
Anyways, that's my long long review over with. Now back to the ranch...