Grim is the only word for Joseph Ellison's psychological terror movie. Perhaps not a slasher flick in the truest sense, DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE ticks enough boxes – and is plenty disturbing enough – to warrant inclusion on this website. If you are after the safe popcorn chills of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) forget it, this tale of madness and the progeny of child abuse is an altogether darker proposition.
Danny Kohler (effectively played by the SOPRANO's Dan Grimaldi) is a seriously fucked up young man. Years of abuse by a domineering mother – including burning his arms over a naked flame when he was a child – have left him only functioning in the most basic way. Even seeing one of his work mates at the waste incineration plant consumed by flames after an accident fails to raise him from his stupor, and he merely watches. One of his other colleagues, Bobby (Robert Osth), tries to befriend him, but the others call him a “sicko” and “crazy”. He escapes their catcalls and returns to his now elderly mother, who he finds has died in her sleep. At first he's distraught, but then begins hearing voices telling him, “We can help you. You're free now. You can do anything you want to do!”. At first his new found freedom is relatively harmless, and he bounces on the furniture and plays his disco records as loud as he wants to.
However, Danny continues to hear his mother's voice telling him he's bad. He skips work and keeps her death a secret. He then begins to build a flame proof room, putting metal sheets on the walls and hanging a hook from the ceiling. Under the false pretension of giving a kindly florist a lift home he tricks her into the house whilst he tends to his 'sick' mother. When she attempts to phone for a taxi he knocks her out. She comes to in his makeshift room, hanging naked from the ceiling. Danny enters wearing one of the flame retardant suits from the incinerator and carrying a flame-thrower. He pours petrol on her, set her alights and watches as she burns to death ...
The effects are horribly convincing in this scene, an unflinching camera shows the naked woman writing in agony as the flames engulf her. This is still strong stuff. Even in this day and age where films such as HOSTEL (2005) and SAW (2004) have supposedly pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable on screen, it is difficult to imagine a scene this graphic being shown in a mainstream horror movie today. Whilst the rest of the film is nowhere near as graphic, it sets the relentlessly misanthropic tone of what is to follow.
It is also certainly this scene which marked the film out for prosecution during the video nasties hysteria of the early 80s. Its chances were probably not helped by the typically lurid British video artwork of the time, which had the tagline: “In a steel room built for revenge they die burning ... in chains.” Coincidentally, the film was filmed under the title THE BURNING, but that had already been nabbed by another future nasty-to-be.
The influences on DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE are pretty clear: PSYCHO (1960), DERANGED (1974) and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974). All of them based on the infamous Ed Gein case. However, whilst those films tempered the horror with varying degrees of comic relief, Joseph Ellison's film remains poker faced throughout. Despite featuring a scene where a dancer is set alight by a table candle at a disco, it is remarkable that it never really crosses the line into cheesiness. Given that the film is so influenced by others, it is interesting to note that it seems to have done some influencing of its own. Donny's state of mind further deteriorates when he hallucinates (or does he?) his mother and his charred victims coming back to life to take their revenge on him – it's a scene that may have been reworked in William Lustig's contemporary slasher MANIAC (1980).
The freezing winter, when the film is set, not only emphasises the emotional wasteland of the Kohler household, but also provides a potent juxtaposition to the fiery deaths of Danny's victims. None of the victims have much of a back story, but are simply attractive pawns in the actions of a madman. The cyclical ending, which once again reaffirms the film's central premise that the abuse of a child by his mother leads to psychotic behaviour might make you think that the film is misogynistic at its (very black) heart. However, the film's producer and co-writer is a woman.
It's easy to forget just how nihilistic much of American genre cinema was as the 70s turned into the 80s (especially with the avalanche of cheese that was just round the corner), but DON'T GO INTO THE HOUSE is a chilly reminder of times when practically anything went.
BODYCOUNT 5 female:4 / male:11) Female found dead