Between the night of June 9th and early Morning of June 10th, 1912, eight people were murdered in their beds in the dead of night in Villisca, Iowa. Josiah and Sarah Moore and their four children: Herman, Katherine, Paul, and Boyd, along with their two houseguests, Lena and Ina Stillinger, were brutally bludgeoned to death with an axe as the slept. A hundred years later, the house still stands. When Denny (Jarret Sleeper: The Fourth Door), Caleb (Robert Adamson: The Young and the Restless) and Jess (Alex Frnka: Vanity) visit the house to find out more about the tragic murder, they got more than they bargained for. Directed by Tony E. Valenzuela, The Axe Murders of Villisca depicts three social outcasts going into a house of darkness where they must also face their own demons.
As a resident of Iowa, I have known about the murder house for a long time. It was the main reason that I sought out the paranormal, the weird and the unknown. So when I found out that this movie was going to be made, I was excited to see what the filmmakers would add to my love of the Villisca Axe Murder House. Although I was disappointed that the story had inaccuracies and I feel the filmmakers missed opportunities to use more of the paranormal element, there was still much to love about it. Some scenes really drew me in plus the character performances were amazing.
The actual axe murderer in the movie was Reverend George Kelly played by Sean Whalen (The People Under the Stairs). This was a fantastic choice to cast Whalen as Reverend Kelly since he is a phenomenal actor with the same look and build as Kelly. Also, ofWhalen can play crazy to a tee. His character really stood out and you couldn’t take your eyes off him!
Reverend Kelly, in real life, was older than Whalen and was the main suspect in the brutal murders. He was tried twice for the crime and was acquitted both times. Kelly also gave a confession to the killing, but the confession was never mentioned in the film. I think it could have been creepily added to the movie, like in his confession when he claims that God spoke to him, saying, “Slay, and slay utterly.”
The characters of the three teenagers are developed more than the actual house. Luckily, they all give awesome performances and are intriguing to watch. Denny, Caleb and Jess all have their own tragic backstories. Denny is bullied because he’s gay. Caleb helped his father in a failed gas station robbery. Jess lost her virginity and was exposed through video deeming her as the class whore. With their own darknesses, the evil of the house ingratiates itself into the characters.
I also really loved the cinematography of rural Iowa. The filmmakers captured the beauty of the state and also portrayed the open, eerie feeling like in Stephen King’s Children of the Corn. At the end of The Axe Murders of Villisca, thanks were given to Villisca County, which is also pretty awesome.
However, the film falls flat in some scenes where the scares are somewhat predictable. One example of this is when Jess (Frnka) looks in the mirror and as the scene progresses, it breaks. When the ghosts of Lena and Ina scare the characters, Ina was wearing a mask as she appeared so we never get to see her face, which she only reveals if off camera, which was a little disappointing.
I also didn’t care for the inaccurate pieces of information. The murders occurred on June 10th, not June 9th. Lena and Ina were staying at the Moore house for a sleepover, as they were friends of Moore’s daughter, Katherine, not because of a town blackout.
In the end, The Axe Murders of Villisca was good overall but focused more on character development than the actual house. As someone who has intimate, detailed knowledge of the history, I kept wishing for certain things to happen and felt slightly annoyed with the inaccurate information. That being said, watch the film and decide for yourself. The performance by Sean Whalen is reason alone to give it a shot. Would you dare stay the night at the Villisca Murder House?