Review: ‘The Axe Murders of Villisca’ is not the heinous, historic crimes you’re looking for

Robert Adamson and Alex Frnka star in the horror film 'The Axe Murders of Villisca."
Robert Adamson and Alex Frnka star in the horror film ‘The Axe Murders of Villisca.”
(IFC Midnight)

Fair warning to fans of real-life American crimes: The horror movie “The Axe Murders of Villisca” isn’t really about what happened in small-town Iowa in 1912, when eight people were found hacked to death in a respectable family home. That incident is depicted throughout the film, but as the backdrop for an entirely new story.

This “Villisca” follows two misfit high school kids, Caleb (Robert Adamson) and Denny (Jarrett Sleeper), who run a video blog about notorious crime scenes of unspeakable, possibly supernatural, evil. They sneak into the 1912 murder house with their friend Jess (Alex Frnka), and then a pair of bullies tracks them down, turning a fun night of ghost-hunting into something more harrowing.

Writer Owen Egerton and director Tony E. Valenzuela try to pack a lot into their movie’s short running time, dealing with both teen angst and ancient curses. The acting is fine, and it’s refreshing that Egerton and Valenzuela have at least spent some of their 78 minutes beefing up the characters and relationships — even if the end result is still clichéd.

But “The Axe Murders of Villisca” never really comes to much, perhaps because its focus is too diffuse. The scares are low, and the plot under-baked.


Worst of all, “Villisca” doesn’t use its setting well, aside from the occasional re-creation of 1912. This is an opportunity wasted. Was an actual horrible ax murder not scary enough to support its own movie?


‘The Axe Murders of Villisca’

Not rated


Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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