Thursday, 16 August 2012
Don't Go In The House (1979)
There are a number of films from the 'Video Nasty' era that until recently I had stayed away from, reasoning from what I knew of them that they probably weren't the kind of films I would get much out of. Recently I've finally been getting round to watching them and, as perhaps might be expected, some are as boring (Joe D'Amato's ANTHROPOPHAGOUS), unpleasant (Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT which no matter how hard I try I find I can't like at all), sleazy (TOOLBOX MURDERS, NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN) and silly (KILLER NUN) as I expected. A few, though, like Meir Zarchi's I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE have proved unexpectedly rewarding. Joseph Ellison's 1979 DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE is another I'd steered clear of because reviews had caused me to think it wouldn't be my sort of thing. Having watched it I'm pleased to say it falls into the latter category and I certainly think it has enough merit to warrant a write up on here, especially as I feel guilty for having thought so ill of it for so many years without actually seeing it.
A one-line summary of the plot (man burns women to death in his custom-made furnace room after being tortured by his mother when he was little) is pretty much a recipe for Grimsville and while this film is just that, it actually handles its subject matter in a far less exploitative way than I was expecting, with some genuinely scary and terrifying touches along the way.
Donny Kohler lives in a big old house with his overbearing mother who, when he was a little boy, would hold his arms over the flame of the gas stove when he'd been naughty. There's the suggestion in the script that Donny is illegitimate and that this, as well his mother's religious beliefs has contributed to these regular punishments. Donny still bears the scars of these episodes, which does make it a little odd that he works in a furnace used for waste disposal.
At the start of the film Donny comes home to find his mother dead in her favourite armchair and she slowly rots throughout the picture. His traumatised reaction to this is to cover one of the rooms in their rotting mansion (obviously a real - and excellent - location) in sheet steel. Then off he goes to find women to burn in it. I was expecting the murders to be far more unpleasant, gratuitous and leering than they actually are. The only victim we see killed is the first, suspended naked from a hook and subjected to Donny's flamethrower (actually double-exposed flames that look only slightly more convincing than Abel Salazar's fate at the beginning of THE BRAINIAC).
The burned corpses, however, are something else again, and these, together with the makeup for Donny's dead mother, are responsible for providing the most unsettling sequences, especially a bit near the end where they come back to life in a moment which may have inspired the ending of William Lustig's MANIAC the following year.
The film flags a bit in the middle when Donny plans to go to the disco and spends an inordinately long time at an outfitters that for all I know may have had a stake in the production. The movie must also have been made at the height of disco fever as there's a prolonged scene that was probably considered by someone behind the scenes essential to sell the picture.
DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE is a grim, serious slasher film. It's right up there with other properly disturbing pictures like Lustig's MANIAC. Director Joseph Ellison occasionally displays flashes of brilliance in several well put together sequences that scared me silly, especially the climax. It sits a little unevenly between trying to be a serious piece while at the same time occasionally trying to be a little more mainstream. I have no idea if Ellison did anything else but he should have been encouraged to as, while this film is hardly the kind of thing you would recommend to friends, it's much better made than many of its contemporaries and displays an integrity that makes it both satisfying and properly disturbing viewing.