Actress Diane Franklin is well-known to genre fans for her work in such films as TerrorVision, Amityville II: The Possession, and, to the die-hards, an appearance in an episode of Freddy’s Nightmares —- A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series. However, she’s known the world over to fans of ’80s films as Monique Junet from Savage Steve Holland’s 1985 classic, Better Off Dead, to say nothing of being one of the princesses in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Karen in The Last American Virgin. While her output slowed after the early ’90s, Franklin has recently returned to film, and it’s even a return to an early genre picture.
Out today from Skyline Entertainment is The Amityville Murders, a retelling of the story that happened before the Lutzes bought the infamous house at 112 Ocean Avenue. It’s the same tale told in Amityville II, but this time, the family is actually named the DeFeos, rather than Montelli, and Franklin plays the role of the mother, rather than daughter Patricia (in real life, Dawn). It’s a dark story, but one which purports to hew more closely to the events as related by Ronald DeFeo Jr. after being arrested for the murder of his family.
We were lucky enough to speak with Franklin about returning to this story 30+ years later, as well as touching on the highlights of her fantastic career.
What was the experience of revisiting the story of the DeFeos family from another perspective like?
To see those two [films], they’re very similar and, yet, very different. I have to say what a gift it is for me to be able to come from two different perspectives. When I first heard I got the role, that was the first thing I thought: “What a great opportunity, to be able to see this through the mother’s eyes.”
When I did Amityville II, I was 20 years old, and now I have a 22 year-old daughter, so I now even look — as the mother — and think, “I was so young when I did that!” — you know, from being a real mom — and now, to play the mother in the film? I just have so many kinds of emotions about it. When I played it as a young girl, I stayed very innocent. I tried not to get a lot of information about the film, about the true facts, because I didn’t want to scare myself. I wanted to stay innocent and really in the moment, but here, I tried to do more research and be more accurate, because I was playing a real person.
So, when I came from this perspective, I was more vulnerable, but that also made me more connected to maybe some bad energy, so that was scarier, which is interesting. It was scarier to do this film as an actress than it was when I was younger.
You’ve been in genre fare over the years; as well as Amityville II, you were in Deadly Lessons and TerrorVision, but that’s not really your thing. What is your thing that you try to bring to the roles you play?
What I think is so interesting, as an actress, is that some actors, they just do horror, and some just do comedy, and I don’t think that’s necessarily because the actor can’t do other things. I just think that people perceive them in a certain way, and people want to see them like that. I remember Bill Murray being cast in all these comedies, and as a person, he wanted to do more dramatic work. When he did it, the audience was like, “Okay, we’ll see you in that, but we really want to see you as the funny person.”
I think it’s really up to the audience to decide what they want to see me in. I do know that, obviously, I’m [adopts a French accent] Monique Junet and I talk like zees, with a French accent in Better Off Dead and in Bill & Ted, [adopts an English accent], I am the English princess. I think it really has to do with the age of the audience and what they’re into. Which, I think, is what’s great about the media today, in that you can be very boutique in what you like.
I think the very cool thing for me, as an actress, is that I don’t follow a genre to look for, I follow roles. If there’s a juicy role to look for, I am there, and so I think when people see me, I like the fact that they might not recognize me in the films I do. In this film, The Amityville Murders, when I saw my own footage, I did not recognize myself, and I loved that. I loved that!
Like, if you see TerrorVision, and people say, “Wait a minute, The Last American Virgin girl was the same one in Better Off Dead?” To me, that is what is exciting: I’m always surprising the audience, in any role. If I get any roles after this, I like the fact that it will always be surprising. It’s just part of my nature, and what’s cool is, how I will be remembered is the film you choose to see me in, and how you choose to remember me, not how I choose.
The role of Louise DeFeo in The Amitvyille Murders marks your first feature role in a while, although you’ve recently done quite a few short films. What’s the case behind all that?
Okay, so, the thing with me is that I started acting when I was 10 and I kept acting until the end of the ’80s. Maybe a little bit of the ’90s, but basically the end of the ’80s was when I stopped. I got married and I had my kids. They’re old enough now to go to college and all that stuff, but also my daughter started making short films.
She’s a very young filmmaker, and when she started, I hadn’t acted in a while, but she needed like, a mother or a grandmother and I was like, “Okay, fine, I’ll play those roles for you.” And she had no idea I was a real actress; we were just having fun, and I did the roles she needed. She is a brilliant filmmaker, mind you. I was like, “Oh, my god! I have to really get my act together to do these roles.”
From that, people started recognizing me again, and I never expected anyone to recognize me. I never had any publicity when I was acting. If people knew me, it was from the roles in the films you saw. That was it. It was sort of like a word-of-mouth, with people telling each other, “Yeah, watch that film. That was funny. The actress was good,” or whatever.
This is the most publicity I’ve ever done in my whole life, and, honestly, I would never do this, but there’s a combination of things that have made me move forward in this direction.
So, anyway, I would do those [short] films, and slowly, there would be filmmakers coming in to ask me to do things. Like, I had a woman who was a young filmmaker. She came in and said, “I’m doing this short. Would you do this part for me?” and I was like, “Okay, I’ll get my feet wet,” and it was this little horror/drama kind of thing. Then, this gentleman came to me, from Pittsburgh, and he had a film called The Final Interview, and he said, “I really want you in this role.”
It was a three-person film he shot like it was a play, and it’s an art film, and it’s at film festivals right now, and winning like, best film, and it’s out this year, too. I also did a comedy called Wally Got Wasted, which is now on Amazon Prime. If you’re interested in seeing me do a funny cameo, that’s it.
But, all of a sudden, all of these films are coming out, and of all of those, Amityville was the most heartfelt, because it was like going back in time for me. I’m watching Chelsea Ricketts do the scenes that I did when I was a kid, and that was trippy! I mean, I watched it and I was just like, “Oh, god, I was on those stairs. I was crying. I was running.” There were so many things that happened in this film that brought back real, touching memories for me.
The Amityville Murders is out now in select theaters, as well as On Demand and digital.