Saturday, 29 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Don't Go In The House (1979)

Director: Joseph Ellison
Screenplay: Ellen Hammill, Joe Masefield and Joseph Ellison
Cast: Dan Grimaldi (as Donald Kohler); Colin Mclnness (as Young Donald Kohler); Robert Osth (as Bobby Tuttle); Ruth Dardick (as Mrs. Kohler); Ralph D. Bowman (as Father Gerritty)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #53

As a perfect example of the golden age of American independent genre movies Don't Go In The House does emphasis that, warts and all, they can be compelling in their attempts to tackle incredibly difficult subjects like abuse and serial killings in the tone of incredibly gritty, low-fi exploitation films. Very much in the lineage of films following Psycho (1960), about men with traumatised histories with their mothers, Donald Kohler (Dan Grimaldi) is one such man visible disconnected from reality, in the opening scene witnessing a co-worker accidentally get set on fire and merely standing in the spot watching them blankly scream in pain burning. Having been constantly burnt on the arms as a child, his punishment according to his mother to get rid of his sins (likely conceived out of wedlock from her obsession with the sin of desire and how the father is never mentioned at all), Donald has developed into an isolated human being with deeply problematic views of women. These views become dangerous the moment his elderly mother dies in a chair in their family home, developing a desire to create a steel plated, fire resistant room in the basement and kidnap women he picks up to touch them within using a flamethrower, collecting their remains afterwards as company to talk to.

While an exceptionally lurid film in premise, synonymous as a Video Nasty especially for its disturbingly realistic first death by fire done with optical trickery, this is however easy to categorise alongside a brand of other low budget, run down and incredibly serious films from this period in the seventies and early eighties usually about damaged individuals and/or grimy urban locals, such as Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer (1979), films which even when they are blackly comedic or even splatstock had a nasty sense of reality to them difficult to shake off from mind. Don't Go In The House has moment so levity, the cheesy music and an extended sequence in a disco club time stamping it, but it's an incredibly dark film in tone. It also shows its rawness as a production as well, particularly in the acting as it was post dubbed and has a strange disconnect to the performances, but it has a deeply unsettling presentation in the midst of this.

Grimaldi in the lead certainly helps give the film a greater sense of thought. Whilst his post-dubbing can lead to moments of odd line pronunciation, his manner as a visibly disturbed man forces you to have to deal with its subtext about cruelty against children, eventually culminating by the end of the film in a final scene of the camera passing its eye onto another young boy who could develop the voices in his head Donald does. When his own mother dies, after the initial grief, said voices in Donald's head encourages him to act like a liberated and mischievous young boy, turning the music on his record player up as loudly as possible and jump up and down on the seat of one of the chairs, moments which suggest a strange levity in the bleakness of the moment until the voices turn and decide he should burn his mother's corpse as revenge. The character and Grimaldi's performance creates a compelling figure, a mix of a grown up man child, gestures suggesting psychotic glee as he has to prepare himself to kill an innocent woman, including ritually dressing up in a fire retardant full body suit, and sympathy especially as his demons take on literal form in the growing number of dead women start to move around in the house tormenting him.

Don't Go In The House is also helped by a common thread amongst independent genre films from this era that they as much compelling dramas, regardless of whether the acting is perfect or not, as they are genre films and the fact that, as low budget productions, the results usually mean an entire world of interesting faces and locations you rarely find in higher budgeted Hollywood movies even in this time period where interesting faces and sights were possible to see in large scale movies, a home grown quality that adds to the grit to the material. Baring one strangely dubbed priest Father Gerritty, this adds a lot of emotional connection alongside Grimaldi's performance. This can be the amusing and thoughtful, from the amusing scene inside a fashion store where the clerk gets Donald the perfect threads for a disco club to his only friend Bobby Tuttle (Robert Osth) who cares for Donald incredibly, but especially helps with generating a horrible discomfort with what Donald commits, with all the actresses who play the women victimised looking and acting like women who would've lived next door to the audience of this film at the time, emphasising a greater sense of agony when it gets to their eventual demises. The music by Richard Einhorn, who'd go on to have a healthy career in genre cinema and acclaim for his tangents into artistically high minded scores and those for cult films alike, injects the film with a further sense of dread with his use of atonal drones, the electronic noises adding to the ill-ease Donald lives through.

Not surprisingly, Don't Go In The House was seen as too grim and disturbing to be immensely popular, a chilling effect felt when witnessing it now with its stark tone and incredibly bleak out view of life. However because of this reason, the film has a greater reputation and I for one can absolutely see why in terms of its virtues.


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