A little while ago, I looked at a recent (and very strong) example of the Evil Kids movie. I mentioned some of the big names in the field (The Omen, the original Village of the Damned, The Bad Seed), but today, for your consideration, a half-forgotten effort from 1974 (smack in the midst of the golden era of grindhouse and drive-in sleaze): Devil Times Five.
Also known as People Toys and The Horrible House on the Hill, this cheap but satisfyingly unpleasant little movie sees a bus overturn, unleashing five homicidally demented children. They make their way through the snow to an isolated resort, whose only residents are the tycoon Papa Doc (Gene Evans, sporting a character name that is oh-so-tasteful), and his assorted squabbling relatives and associates. The children are taken in, and waste no time in bumping off the adults one by one by means mundane (hatchet to the head), creative (bizarre death swing contraption), and just plain wrong (one woman is drowned in the bathtub while pirana are dumped in with her).
There is nothing hugely exceptional about the film. It isn’t a lost classic, by any means. Much of the production values and performances wouldn’t be out of place in a TV movie of the same vintage, with only the gore and occasional nudity identifying the film as a theatrical release. Still and all, there are plenty of things to like here, even elements that aren’t entirely successful.
Let’s start with an example of the former. When the driver of the bus staggers into the basement of the lodge, he is ambushed by the kids. The picture goes black-and-white, the action switches to slow-motion, and the murder goes on and on and on, lasting several minutes of screen time. It’s too much. The scene ceases to be horrifying (if, in fact, it ever was), and turns into a curiosity. How long, one wonders is this going to go on? Why is this violence strangely soothing? Why am I falling asleep? But this very oddity gives the film a bit of character.
Other elements, speaking of character, work better. Consider a little scene fairly late in the film. Our sympathetic couple in the film are Rick (Taylor Lacher) and Julie (Joan McCall, who would later star in Grizzly and subsequently co-write another bear movie: Predator: The Concert). Julie and Papa Doc’s sluttish wife Lovely (Carolyn Stellar) engage in a cat-fight after Lovely claims not only to have slept with Rick before he and Julie were an item, but that she could have him again should she wish it. (This after she puts the moves on the mentally handicapped handyman – classy!) So we’re not all surprised when, later in the film, a drunk Lovely horns in on Rick as he emerges from the shower. Now, were the film to play out according to expectations, Rick would … how shall I put this… suffer a momentary lapse of reason, thus allowing the film to get an extra bit of exploitable flesh on screen at the expense of audience sympathy. Instead, rather refreshingly, Rick shows no sign of temptation whatsoever, and disposes of the attempted seduction with long-suffering good humour.
And there is a fair bit of humour going on, particularly around the ineffectual Harvey (Sorrell Brooke). Even the non-homicidal eccentricities of the kinds have some wit to them: one is disguised as a nun, one totes a toy gun and speaks in military slang, and yet another (Leif Garrett) is narcissistically consumed with his looks. All of this fun comes to a crashing halt, of course, as the slaughter mounts, culminating in an ending that is very much of its decade, if you know what I mean.
So exploitation fans could do far worse than to track this down. It’s available from a couple of sources. Code Red has released a cleaned-up letterboxed version. The one seen for this column is one of the fifty films included in the Tales of Terror pack. It’s a full-screen edition, from a print that is watchable but whose flaws rather add to the grindhouse experience.