Wednesday, October 2, 2019

#2,504. Don't Go In The House (1979)

Directed By: Joseph Ellison

Starring: Dan Grimaldi, Charles Bonet, Bill Ricci

Tag line: "If you do...then don't say we didn't warn you"

Trivia: The house used in this film is now the museum headquarters of the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society in New Jersey

There was a lot to love about 2007’s Grindhouse, a rollicking homage to ‘70s exploitation cinema co-directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, yet one of my favorite aspects of that movie (or should I say double-feature?) were the fake trailers that appeared throughout, written and directed by a handful of filmmakers. The best was Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving”, an ode to the slasher films of the 1980’s (I’m still hoping Roth will eventually turn this idea into a feature film one day, like Rodriguez did with his fake trailer for Machete), but I also enjoyed Edgar Wright’s “Don’t”, a trailer spoofing the “Don’t” movies of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, like Don’t Answer the Phone, Don’t Go in the Basement, and Don’t Go In the Woods

Don’t Go in the House, a 1979 horror flick directed by Joseph Ellison, is yet another entry in this most unique class of pictures (I hesitate to call it a subgenre, seeing as many of these “Don’t” movies had plenty in common with the slasher films that were also in style at the time). 

Don’t Go in the House starts off by introducing us to its main character, Donny, and showing us, in no uncertain terms, the trauma that took hold of him at a very early age; in a childhood flashback (which occurs within the first 10 minutes on the movie), we watch as Donny’s mother (Ruth Dardick) holds her son’s arms over a lit oven burner, torturing the poor boy for some minor infraction. 

Though he still lives with his mother, a much older Donny (Dan Grimaldi) now works at a New Jersey trash incineration plant. While at work one evening, Donny sits by and does nothing when co-worker Ben (Charles Bonet) has an accident and is badly burned. Donny’s boss Vito (Bill Ricci)) chastises him for his inaction, and Donny’s bad day gets even worse when he arrives home to find his mother has passed away. 

Distraught at first, Donny eventually starts listening to the voices in his head, telling him he’s now free of his domineering mother (“We’ll help you”, the voices say. “You can do anything you want to do now”). As a means of enjoying his new-found freedom, Donny burns his mother’s corpse, then dresses her up and sits her in her favorite chair. In these scenes, we pity Donny, whose life is suddenly and unexpectedly spiraling out of control, and both the filmmakers and Dan Grimaldi do a decent job showing us the lead’s mental breakdown and its immediate aftermath. 

That pity soon turns to fear, however, when Donny lures the unsuspecting Kathy (Johanna Brushay), a local florist, back to his house. Once there, Donny knocks Kathy unconscious, and the next time we see her, the poor girl is naked and hanging by her arms in what appears to be a fireproof room. Her screams for help become even more intense when Donny suddenly appears in the doorway wearing a Hazmat suit and carrying a flamethrower! This scene is easily the most grisly in the entire film, and is one of the reasons Don’t Go in the House was categorized as a Section 2 Video Nasty in the UK (Section 2 means the film was never actually prosecuted as a Video Nasty, but major cuts were required before it could be released to the home market). 

Unfortunately, as we’ll soon discover, Kathy won’t be the last girl to suffer such an awful fate. 

Despite its moments of brutality, Don’t Go In the House ultimately feels more like a psychological horror film than a straight-up stalk-and-slash flick; from its early scenes where Donny’s mind snaps to later on, when he’s “haunted” throughout the house by his mother’s charred corpse, the filmmakers manage to keep us on our toes, never quite sure from which direction the next scare will come. 

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the “Don’t” movies (1981’s Don’t Go in the Woods was particularly inept), and Don’t Go in the House is by no means a perfect horror film. For one, the voices that haunt Donny throughout the picture, telling him to kill, are often indecipherable; due to the combination of soft whispers and a clunky echo effect, there were times when I couldn’t make out a single word these voices were saying (to be fair, though, this could have been an issue with the transfer I watched, and not the movie itself). But thanks to a strong final act (which kicks off when Donny accepts an invitation from his co-worker Bobby, played by Robert Carnegie, to go on a double date) coupled with some effectively creepy moments help make Don’t Go in the House one of the era’s better “Don’t” films.

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