31 Days of Halloween, Day 5 – The kids are NOT alright. It’s KILLER KID WEEK!
Countdown to Halloween:
Killer Kid Week
Devil Times Five (aka People Toys aka The Horrible House on the Hill) (1974)
The preview for The Devil Times Five popped up on the third volume of the 42nd Street Forever grindhouse trailer compilation and immediately became something I knew I’d need to see eventually. (I mean, look at that killer poster art! With less than three months until Christmas, I don’t mind telling loved ones: I would be moved to tears if I had that logo on a t-shirt. Just sayin’.)
When a small bus of psychotic kids being transferred to a new facility (we think — the movie keeps us in the dark for quite awhile without really rewarding our patience) the five survivors escape into the snowy woods where they find refuge in an alpine vacation house where some dark twisted episode of Love American Style seems to be playing out. From then on out it’s The Bad News Bears meets The Shining as our twisted tots begin to off the adults that have taken them in. Why? So they’re not returned to what must be some sort of pre-teen Cuckoo’s Nest — even though the adults, including a decidedly slim Sorrell (Boss Hogg!) Booke (below) couldn’t seem less interested or concerned about the accident that landed the kids there in the first place. (There’s no talk of looking for other survivors. They simply take the belligerent brats at their word.)
There’s a military-obsessed black kid, a solemn-faced pyromaniac girl, a twelve year-old Leif Garrett who inexplicably dons a wig and drag from time to time, Garrett’s cute, freckled real-life kid sister, Dawn Lyn, and a creepy girl (a dead-ringer for a young Tilda Swinson, I might add) who may or may not be a teen and may or may not be a nun. (We never get a full explanation.)
Within the first half hour we’re treated to some bizarre scenes of the adults behaving strangely: A slutty woman cruelly seduces a retarded guy, there’s a cat fight, and lots of senseless bickering that doesn’t establish anything very plot-worthy. Things liven up a little when the DTFs start spilling blood, but even then we’re subjected to murky cinematography and slow-mo padding that does little to contribute to what’s already terrible pacing. The whole production seems rather slap-dash and it’s obvious where first takes are being used despite bungled line readings and awkward staging. But still — it IS Boss Hogg and it IS Leif Garrett in drag (saying things like “Look what you’ve done to my beautiful face!”).
Adults (who don’t really seem to put up much of a fight) are burned alive; attacked with hatchets, spears and hammers; drown in a bathtub full of piranha; hobbled by bear traps; and slain with inexplicably complicated rigged-up death traps. Whether intentionally funny or not, the soundtrack is inappropriately light and comedic considering the events before us.
For the most part the children are portrayed as either precoscious or downright satanic, but never anything in between. One wonders how filmmakers explained to the parents of the stars that their kids would be shown … well, dragging a naked dead woman through the snow. The film’s sick final scene, in which the dead adults are assembled for “play time” (see the alternate title: People Toys), is the best. Fans of sicko 70s schlock won’t be disappointed, but there are absolutely no genuine scares and I can’t help but feel like there are some great opportunities missed here. But STILL — I did mention Boss Hogg and Leif Garrett — right?
Code Red’s DVD includes some great trailers, commentary with two of the child stars and a poster gallery. The DVD is labeled as The Devil Times Five but the print included uses The Horrible House on the Hill title card. (An alternate opening title sequence is also included in the extras.) Some of the marketing materials rip off Last House on the Left‘s oft-cribbed “it’s only a movie” tag line by modifying it to say: “IF YOU GET TOO SCARED, TRY TELLING YOURSELF: IT CAN’T HAPPEN TO ME … IT CAN’T HAPPEN TO ME … ”
**1/2(out of four)