Don't Go in the House (1980)
By: J.R. Gregory on April 17, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD limited (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 82 minutes
The Movie
Director: Joseph Ellison
Starring: Dan Grimaldi, Robert Osth, Ruth Dardick, Charles Bonet
Screenplay: Joseph Masefield, Joseph Ellison, Ellen Hammill
Country: USA
I like my horror films dark and downbeat, to have an atmosphere that leaves you feeling dirty and unsettled. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on Dead End Street, Night of the Living Dead, they all have that atmosphere of gloom, of inevitability of being inescapable. They grind you down with a relentless onslaught of negativity. None of these films rely solely on gory set-pieces or oh-so-knowing humour to get an audience. Each possesses an overall feeling that stays with you long after the movie has finished. I would add Don't Go in the House to this list for its downbeat atmosphere and unflinching depiction of the outcomes of childhood abuse.

Donny (an impressive performance from Dan Grimaldi-modern audiences might recognise him as 'Patsy' Parisi from The Sopranos) is a loser. He lives with his overbearing mother, has no friends, no social life and a nothing job at a waste incinerator plant. When he fails to react when an accident occurs at work, Donny shows his lack of connection to others, and a strange fascination with fire.

Once home, Donny soon discovers that his abusive mother has died. He reacts with the mentality of a child-playing his music loudly, jumping on furniture, and building himself a fire-proof room. He buys himself a beautiful, iconic, fire-proof suit to go with this new renovation, and then sets about finding suitable tenants.

This film could have gone off in the usual serial killer manner at this point, but it doesn't. It is restrained making it more a character study like that other low-budget shocker Deranged. Donny is not some wise-cracking, gimmicky killer. He is someone who is lost, put-down and ignored. He traps his victims more through accident and perseverance rather than cockiness and bravado. In my mind, that makes him much more realistic and all the more disturbing.
While there is little blood on show here, and the body count is low, there is one scene that earns high points for shock value. I cannot understate how powerful a scene this is. It is the only murder scene that is played out in any detail, and sets the tone of the whole picture. This scene rivals any of the Fulci or Deodato set-pieces for its realism and impact. I could tell you how it was done, but I would much rather you watch it first and then I'll let you in on the trick. You are left with a kind of stunned admiration for what you have just witnessed. A feeling that is rare in horror cinema and should be applauded when found.

Throughout this film are hints at what has caused Donny to react the way he does. We get continued flashbacks of his mother and her methods of discipline, we see other mothers admonishing their children, and the final scene reminds me of the ending of The Brood, where the seeds of madness are sown in another young boy. This characterisation may offend those who regard parenting-mothers in particular-as sacred, but the majority of monsters are made not born.

Gore hounds may be disappointed with this, and it would probably be too downbeat for others, but if you want to take an interest in a well-made horror film that doesn't take the easy route, then this could be for you. Personally, I like my horror to be as much about ambience as the grand guignol. Don't Go in the House steers clear of the usual slasher film depictions, such as in Friday the 13th or Halloween, and is all the more powerful for it. A much-maligned and too easily dismissed horror film that made the infamous Video Nasties list in the UK that, even without excessive blood-letting, its overall tone means it is one film from that list that genuinely earns the term 'nasty.' Unlike a lot of exploitation cinema, it is well-acted, directed and written. This is a bleak depiction of unintended consequences, and contains one of the great set-pieces of horror cinema that will burn its way into your mind.
The 4:3 transfer is clear for the most part, but would benefit from a restoration. Some lighting issues, but that is standard for this type of film. Overall print is certainly watchable.
Sound is in stereo, clear and is adequate.
Extra Features
Zilch. Not even a menu, and only two chapter selections.
The Verdict
Don't Go in the House is a small movie that may have passed you by, lost amongst the lurid offerings of Freddy, Jason, et al. Give this one a chance, and you will be rewarded with a carefully thought out film with at least one scene that will get you going. The DVD itself is hugely lacking, and a recent interview with the director suggests that a complete print of this film maybe released in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, there is this release, bare-bones it may be, but still burns brightly in the gloom.
Movie Score
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