You need a scorecard to keep up with all the different titles for this 1974 horror film. Released as Devil Times Five, it was also called People Toys, The Horrible House on the Hill, and on UK home video it was known as Tantrums. But whichever title you see it under, this is a low budget winner, a slasher movie about a group of murderous kids who lay siege to a vacation chalet in the snowy mountains of California.
A van carrying a bunch of troubled kids to a children’s psychiatric facility crashes in the snow, killing the driver and the adult supervisors. Left on their own, five children: Susan (Tia Thompson), David (Leif Garrett), Brian (Tierre Turner), Moe (Dawn Lyn), and Hannah (Gail Smale), who dresses in a nun’s outfit and poses as a sister, hike through the snow until they come to the vacation home of business tycoon Papa Doc (Gene Evans), who is enjoying a weekend getaway.
With Papa Doc on his brief vacation are his young wife Lovely (Carolyn Stellar); business associate Harvey Beckman (Sorrell Booke) and Harvey’s alcoholic wife Ruth (Shelley Morrison); as well as Papa Doc’s daughter Julie (Joan McCall), whose argumentative boyfriend Rick (Taylor Lacher) has turned down several offers to work for Papa Doc. Feeling sorry for the kids, the adults do what they can to make them feel comfortable until help arrives.
But strange things begin to happen. The phone lines are suddenly dead, meaning the police cannot be called. Also, someone has been messing with the generator. And to top it off, Papa Doc’s dim-witted handyman Ralph (John Durren) meets a gruesome end (which may or may not have been suicide).
Before long, the group realizes these youngsters may not be as innocent, or as harmless, as they seem.
The cast of Devil Times Five does a decent enough job, especially Sorrell Booke as the mild-mannered Harvey, who has a problem standing up to either Papa Doc or his wife; while Gene Evans makes for an unlikable host, a bully who is used to getting his way (those moments when Rick challenges him are pretty satisfying).
Led by Leif Garrett, who at this point in the ‘70s had already appeared in a number of movies, the kids also hold their own. Garrett is especially good as the unpredictable David. A scene where he and Harvey play a game of chess serves as a precursor to one of the film’s more memorable kills.
And it’s the kills where Devil Times Five truly distinguishes itself. The first to fall victim to these psychotic kiddies is Dr. Brown (Henry Beckman), the lone adult to survive the van crash, who woke up and followed the children’s snowy footprints to the house. Playing out in gruesome slow motion, Dr. Brown is beaten with hammers and stabbed with a pitchfork.
Based on what will happen to a few others, though, Dr. Brown got off easy! Everything from axes to rifles, fire to spears are used to dispatch the unsuspecting adults. Though for my money, it’s the piranhas (yes, piranhas) as well as the film’s final scene that stand apart from the rest.
You wouldn’t think a movie about killer kids would be as effective as Devil Times Five, but it works. And in a big way. A gritty, down-and-dirty horror film, it’s become a grindhouse classic!
Rating: 9 out of 10
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