Film Review – Devil Times Five/ aka People Toys / aka The Horrible House on the Hill / aka Tantrums (1974)
88 Minutes, R for piranha baths and swingers
Fair Value of Devil Times Five: .10, and that’s being generous. This is a film begging for RiffTrax.
TL DR: If you want to see the 70s in all of it’s mediocrity, this incoherent slasher film is worth a few laughs. For everybody else, stay away.
Release Date and Context of Release: This film came out of the wave of early 1970s Romero-inspired cabin horror, a contemporary of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Straw Dogs. This film was the first and last production of that famed studio, Barrister Productions. After this magnum opus, they felt no need to make another film. They had achieved their vision. By which I mean their vision of exploding in a cloud of lawsuits and counterclaims. Technically, this film was never finished, as director Sean MacGregor was fired before the editing process.
Curiously, this wasn’t career kryptonite for every actor involved. Leif Garrett would go on to do The Outsiders, and Sorrell Brooke would later become famous as Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard. So if you want to see Boss Hogg doing his best David Cross impression, this would be the film to see.
Tagline: Who Survives? Who would want to survive?
Tangent: That tagline really says it all about this confused film. Who watched this movie? Who would want to?
Entire Movie in One Sentence: Like Home Alone, but with more kids, more homicide, and less comedy.
Corpse Count: Eight, mostly through a series of creative traps and ambushes. The first homicide deserves note for how ineptly it’s filmed. The five children are being chased by the one surviving doctor from the van. They ambush him in a barn, and proceed to beat him to death with common farm implements….for Five. Minutes. In Slow Motion. With a Red Filter, and stupendously awful music. It was during this ordeal that I realized that I wasn’t watching a bad film, but one of those Solid Gold Turkeys, a fiasco of the highest order.
T&A Count: Two women get nude, one in the process of one of the most hilariously inept seductions ever. For some reason, Lovely (Carolyn Stellar) the wife of the cabin owner Papa Doc (Gene Evans) decides to put the moves on the Faulknerian idiot man-child housekeeper, but midway through, she gets interrupted by the newlywed Julie (Joan McCall). Of course, the natural reaction to somebody stumbling on your seducing a retarded teenager is to get into a very inept cat-fight.
Later on, when the main protagonist couple of Julie and Rick (Taylor Lacher) are making out, it is one of the most dispassionate, faked grinds I’ve ever seen. If you have a fetish of watching extremely bored people faking sex, this might just be a scene to watch.
The Monster/Killers: Not one, but five, that’s right, five psychotic children. There’s Brian (Tierre Turner), the African-American kid who wears a miliatry uniform and behaves like a soldier; Hannah, who dresses like a nun; Susan, the firebug; David (Leif Garrett), the cross-dressing sociopath; and Moe, the doll-cuddling baby of the bunch.
No real motive or background is given to your psychopathic tykes. Van crashes from a hospital for psychotic children, they escape, they get taken in, they bide their time to dispatch the victims one by one. I understand that these kids are psychotic, but it’s kind of choose and pick; they are incredibly organized with a game plan that includes first cutting the telephone lines, then sabotaging the cars….and then they just murder on a temper tantrum? I’m trying to find logic in a 1970s horror film, which is a study in futility. Anyways, these psychotic kids are more adorable than scary, and even the goriest of deaths never stops this from being more black comedy than horror.
How Terrible Is It, After All?
The version I got had a mis-cued vocal track which got more out of sync the longer I viewed the film. By the end, there was a 30 second lapse between the actions on the screen and the dialogue. It may have enhanced the coherency of the film.
The film has two modes: banal adults talking about the intrigues of their lives (revolving around hospital administration of a new clinic), and the actions of the children as they pilfer and prepare for their killing spree.
Moralizing/ Strafelust: It’s too scatter-shot to really moralize. Sure, the drunk woman dies because she is a drunk, but the murders are more opportunistic than they are really judging the victims. Bands of psychotic children on killing sprees just happen sometimes, you know?
Shrill Political Message: It’s very much a Moral Majority film, like a gore-soaked caricature of the themes of The Graduate. The adults in this film are too busy with their affairs, their alcoholism, and their disputes about salaries and who’s going to be the head surgeon to catch on to the fact that, well, these are five insane children who’ve come seeking shelter. It’s a metaphor for how we treat the baby boomers!
Best Novelty Death: Slattern is held down in a bathtub while they dump in an aquarium full of piranhas. WHY THE FUCK WOULD ANYBODY KEEP AN AQUARIUM OF PIRANHAS AT A SKI LODGE IN THE SIERRAS? WHO FEEDS THE PIRANHAS?
Lessons on How Not to Die:
- It’s not rude to ask if someone is too young to be a nun if you suspect them to be a psychotic child dressed as a nun
- If it’s not Halloween, assume children in costume to be homicidal maniacs
- Child-proof gun locks are to protect you from the children
- Check for trip-lines, bear traps, and murder-swings. Use a stick to sweep the ground in front of you, and never stand directly in front of a door way when you open the door.
- WHY THE FUCK DO YOU KEEP PIRANHAS AT A SKI LODGE?