Devil Times Five
Not since "Village of the Damned" has death become so savage... or survival so hopeless!
Year of Release: 1974
Also Known As: The Horrible House on the Hill, Tantrums
Running Time: 88 minutes (1:28)
Director: Sean MacGregor, David Sheldon
Taylor Lacher ... Rick
Joan McCall ... Julie
Gene Evans ... Papa Doc
Sorrell Booke ... Harvey Beckman
Shelley Morrison ... Ruth
Carolyn Stellar ... Lovely
Leif Garrett ... David
Tierre Turner ... Brian
Gail Smale ... Sister Hannah
Dawn Lyn ... Moe
Tia Thompson ... Susan
John Durren ... Ralph
Five children in a freak bus accident are taken in by a caretaker and three vacationing couples. Soon strange occurrences begin and each adult meets a horrible death. Will the surviving adults realize who the murderers are before it's too late?
Devil Times Five, remindin' all the "you'll change your mind someday" people out there that we will, in fact, not change our minds. Friggin' lunatics. I'm tellin' ya - spend five minutes with one and you'll discover the broken condom has spawned more "sagely wisdom" than the European backpacking expedition and the fortune cookie combined.
An speakin' of people you never want between yourself an the exit - how come all these old church ladies with flower dresses an 75lb purses fulla unwrapped peppermints that've been stuck to the bottom since 1991 always say things like "she's with the Lord now," or "it was his time to go" unless the person died doin' somethin' embarrassing? For example - somebody passes away after a long battle with cancer - that's His Godness endin' the poor person's suffering - but if you were to die of a coronary infarction on the crapper eatin' a box of Ritz Bits they'll say somethin' like: "well, Doctor Stein told him not to overexert himself," like there's *no way* God'd do somethin' that tasteless. Basically, just cause you were found with your face in the cat box, you weren't "called home" by His Bigcheeseness, an you've only got *yourself* to blame for what happened to ya, cause evidently when your demise is humiliatin' it couldn't possibly be part of God's plan, an must therefore be someone's fault.
Guess you all know why I'm bringin' this up after last weekend's little accident at the Grime Time, but I wanna say somethin' to all the members of the Polident Posse who're out there howlin' for my blood - Skunky Hernandez is the one you want, an I'd appreciate it if you'd stop parkin' your Buick LeSabres across the street while you case my pad with binoculars; people're startin' to get the wrong idea. I got 60-year-old men beatin' on my door an demandin' to know what my "intentions" are with their mothers for cripes sake. Like I was sayin' though, it's all Skunky's fault anyway, cause if he hadn't been eavesdroppin' on Tetnis tellin' me about this new dance routine Chastity Dollarhide worked up at Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop none of this woulda happened; apparently Chastity climbs the pole with 'er hands tied behind 'er back, an nothin' but the soles of 'er feet an 'er melons actin' as a stabilizer til she makes it to the top an rings a bell with 'er teeth like she's back in high school Gym class. Normally I wouldn't hafta get second-hand accounts of this kinda thing, but I been barred from Walleye's ever since that little Light Socket Darts game got outta control an... look, just nevermind about that, that's not the point.
Anyway, it sounded pretty impressive to me, but all Skunky hadda say was: "girl bring shame to hare familia; she ees notheen but soulless pair ove heretical teets."
"Yeah? Well, your rack's almost as big as hers, let's see *you* do it if it's so easy," I snarked.
"Thees not about me - girl ees deesgrace to hare padre's church!" Skunky insisted.
"Oh bullstuff Skunky, that girl spends every Sunday volunteerin' at Mom & Poop's Senility Acres Hospice Care visitin' all the cracked, neglected old farts whose kids're too hung over to do it. We're talkin' about people whose daily highlight'd otherwise be a squirrel stealin' sunflower seeds outta the bird feeder, an besides that, what great Christian deeds've YOU done for anyone? You're just P.O.'d that a 'fallen woman' has more Christ cred than you," I told 'im.
Course after I said that Skunky went into Ricky Ricardo mode an I couldn't make out anything he was sayin', but apparently that little speech got his back hair up so high he decided to prove me wrong an invite the entire staff an clientele from Mom & Poop's out to the drive-in this weekend, admission free.
I'm startin' to think the guy managin' that place might be dippin' into the prescription bottles too, cause you gotta be plum stupid to let civil war veterans go on a field trip after dark in the dead of winter, but about 10 of 'em made the trip, along with the nursin' staff; just happier'n a dog in a pile of roadkill. A few of 'em could still kinda identify their surroundins, an so they insisted on sittin' up on the hood of the hospital's Ford Fairlane like they used to do back in the 1890s or whenever it was they were kids, an that's where things started gettin' messy, literally. Now I'm not one to make cheap jokes about people's medical problems, cause let's face it, we've all been there; you put away a few too many pitchers of Pole Cat an pass out next to the Galaga cabinet an sooner or later your bladder gives out, it's a simple fact of biology. Well, unfortunately, when some of these folks found themselves On Golden Pond so to speak, they ended up frozen to the Fairlane by the time the credits rolled on W.B. Blue and the Bean (no, I did not put that on the schedule, an I'd rather not talk about it). Now, the night nurse had no intention of lettin' anybody stick around for the second feature since that'd require a lotta expensive therapy after the fact, but long story short - nobody told me what was goin' on, an so I ran Devil Times Five accordin' to plan an by the time the 4-minute slow motion beating'd ended one of the old bats'd stroked out right there on the hood while the orderlies worked to warm the engine enough to thaw 'er out of 'er predicament.
My personal attorney, Cletus Rubenstein, assures me the attempted murder charge'll never stick, but I want everyone to understand, I feel just as bad about this as you do, an it was never my intention to turn this poor woman into a wrinkly garden vegetable when by all accounts she had several good months of railin' against the younger generation left in 'er. I have volunteered to take over her number calling duties at bingo until a suitable replacement can be found, an I have personally lobbied Skunky for the funds necessary to erect the Mildred Beasley memorial fountain near the drive-in's catfish pond. I'm doin' my damnedest to make this right folks, so please, let's stop usin' the Topaz for a tic-tac-toe board while I'm workin' my shift at the Videodome, okay?
For cripes sake, ya try bringin' a little joy into people's lives an next thing you know everybody wants to shoot the projectionist. Thankfully Drive-In Jesus was with us that night, an He commanded everybody to quit callin' for my head long enough to restart the flick, which is about this pre-teen Wild Bunch who survive the crash of their insane asylum transport vehicle an invade the cabin of a buncha unhappy upper-middle-class suburbanites to make sure they never have the "let's have a baby" conversation at the dinner table. I'll get into the details here in just a minute, but this's such a weird one that you really oughta be briefed in advance about its misunderstood mise-en-scene (which roughly translated means "crap that happens on screen"), so lemme just share a few of the flick's finer points to getcher brain situated an we'll get to the action. First, inserting four consecutive minutes of slow motion footage into your movie doesn't make you an "arteest," but it can make you eligible for disability payments on the basis that hands that heavy constitute a serious barrier to future employment. Second, if you're gonna bathe with piranhas, never trust a generic tampon. An third, it's nearly impossible to seduce a man whose intellectual balls haven't dropped.
The movie begins up in the mountains where a van-load of midget Mansonites is bein' transported between Institutes de Lunetique, when all the sudden the tires slip on a patch of frozen bear pee an the van goes rollin' down the hillside an ends up on its roof lookin' like a Borg ship starter kit. The rig's five preteen terrorists'll be damned if they're gonna pad the death statistics for a tyrannical seatbelt mandatin' government, so they crawl outta the wreckage an hoof it through the snow in search of shelter an somebody to cut the crust offa their PB&Js. Meanwhile, in a nearby cabin, a cranky old tycoon (Papa Doc) is hostin' one of those weekend team-building exercises that makes everybody hate each other, an he tells his peons an their wives to get settled in so he can get started on dividin' the workforce into a buncha cutthroats who'll never be able to unionize on 'im. Instead, his Secretary of Extramarital Affairs (Lovely) orders the retarded bellboy (Ralph) to bring 'er luggage up to 'er room an starts tryin' to get 'im to fluff 'er pillows until Papa Doc's daughter (Julie) walks in an tells 'er to get 'er nappy ole flower away from Algernon an the two of 'em hafta settle their differences the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling way. Elsewhere, the kids' doctor/chauffeur regains consciousness an starts trailin' 'em through the drifts, cept when he follows the tracks leadin' into an old outbuildin' they spend the next four minutes beatin' 'im to death in super slow motion til they accidentally violate several laws of thermodynamics an tear a hole in the space-time continuum that spawns a black hole an sucks the plot into the fifth dimension. After that, the kids (Leif Garrett, Brian, Sister Hannah, Susan, an Moe) go upstairs an hide out until Sophia Loren's wicked boozy stepsister (Ruth) finds 'em an Papa Doc decides to give 'em a room for the night so he'll have a backup staff in case he goes apeshit an fires everybody for havin' a life outside his company. Then Papa Doc orders everybody to come together, right now, over peas, an threatens to fire Julie's husband (Rick) at the dinner table if he even thinks about havin' fun the next day.
Meantime though, Sister helps Ralph do the dishes to distract 'im while the rest of the kids rig a garrote wire up to the drive belt on the cabin's generator an end up stranglin' Ralph to death a few hours later in a classic decapitation strike on the facility's power structure. Then Julie starts questionin' every little "weird" thing about the kids - like the way they dress as nuns, act like renegade drill sergeants, an have an unhealthy fascination with fire, until pretty quick Boss Hogg (Ruth's impotent wuss of a husband) beats Leif at chess an makes 'im so mad that he threatens to cover every #1 hit from 1959 - 1964 in order. Needless to say, relations between the two camps are becomin' a tad strained, an this only intensifies when Rick finds Wreck-ed Ralph danglin' like a baby Jackson over a balcony an discovers the car's rotor missin'. Rick tells The Mamas and the Papa what's goin' on, but unfortunately Leif overhears the conversation while he's dressin' up like a Venezuelan prostitute in the next room an by this point he's pretty much had it with these mooks an decides to renegotiate the living situation. First he needs a little fresh air to get his head straight, but when he goes out for a walk he runs into Boss Hogg splittin' wood with a hatchet an tries one last time to be civil, only Boss criticizes his choppin' technique an leaves 'im no choice but to carve the ham. Then Lovely goes upstairs to take a bath, cept while she's bobbin' 'er bubble bath buoys in the suds Twisted Sister comes in an holds 'er head under water while Moe dumps Papa Doc's piranhas in with 'er an makes 'er seep with the fishes. This's where the adults finally start to catch on when they spot the kids draggin' Lovely's jumblies through the snow, but I spoze I prolly oughta can it, shame as it may be to clam up when somethin's finally on the verge of happenin'. Fortunately this flick's in the public domain, so if you wanna check it out for yourself there's a link below.
Alright, so you're prolly thinkin' to yourself - that's it? That's all that goes on in an 88 minute movie? And the answer is - yeah, pretty much, at least where it concerns scenes that move the story along. I wasn't kiddin' when I said a black hole opened up and sucked the plot into the 5th Dimension, cause I can't remember the last time I saw a flick where so much of the running time was completely gratuitous. Don't get me wrong - the gratuitousness is a big part of what makes the movie a minor cult hit, but as far as actually advancing the plot? Forget it. Seriously, let's count the sequences that could be cut and cause absolutely no damage to the flick's coherence: Lovely tries seducing Ralph, Ralph talks to his rabbits, Julie confronts Rick about his past relationship with Lovely and then does the horizontal bop with him, Boss Hogg tries romancing Sister Sixto from The Flying Nun and comes up short, Rick and Julie go sledding, and finally, Lovely trying to seduce Rick, at which point we're treated to a balding middle-aged man's short shorts tan line. Admittedly, some of these scenes are intended to add a little backstory and/or character depth, and I'm certainly not complaining about the nekkid jugs that accompany certain shots, but the backstory, once revealed, never becomes relevant again - Rick doesn't go for Lovely's groceries when given the chance, Ralph's rabbits are never ritually sacrificed by the terror-tots, and Julie makes no effort to escape with the aid of her trusty inner-tube, in short - none of this matters, and yet, it's bizarrely entertaining *because* it doesn't matter. There's just no doubt about it, the crew was flying by the seat of their pants, with absolutely no experience or plan, nor anyone on hand capable of producing a script that congeals around a theme and builds toward a conclusion. Sometimes these problems butt up against one another and snowball into pure hilarity - like the scene where Julie's P.O.'d at Rick for having boffed Lovely at some point in the past and chases him around the room before the pair end up in bed together 20 seconds later, or the catfight sequence where they obviously hadn't considered the necessity of stunt people beforehand and find themselves with two women trying desperately not to hurt themselves or each other. But in general they're just throwing random sleaze at the wall to see what sticks, with varying degrees of success. Still, troubled as the production may have been, the flick definitely has superb grindhouse atmosphere and features some stuff that was fairly controversial at the time (the whole murderous children plot that takes a much more hands-on approach than predecessors like Village of the Damned, and the 13-year-old Leif Garrett dressing up in drag), as well as things that just wouldn't fly today (children carrying real guns, and being involved in murder sequences with nekkid women), so it's an interesting case study in independent film, even if said lesson came about through sheer incompetence.
There's really no need to mince words here - this sucker's got an uphill climb ahead of it in the technical department, but it's never wise to underestimate that gritty, visceral reaction one can only experience with a '70s drive-in flick, so let's can the knee-jerk reactions and take a serious look at the sleaze on display. The plot is essentially non-existent, in that we're basically jumping from one slimy sequence to the next for the first hour or so and very little of it has any bearing on the movie's climax. It's disjointed, sloppy, incoherent, and anyone who actually tried to *sell* this script as is would be laughed out of every executive's office from here to Kamchatka. The *premise* on the other hand, is grim, unsettling, and very intriguing; unfortunately it was devised by a crew that lacked the skill and resources to execute it properly, and because the idea has since been used time and again, I'm afraid the ship has sailed where it concerns the story's shock value. It's really too bad, because I feel like this *idea*, properly handled in 1974 could have yielded an all-time classic Horror flick. The acting talent on display is plain to see, but it's largely wasted due to the shallow character development and insipid script. Strangely, the one bright spot is the children's dialogue, because you'd think those lines would be the hardest to write. After all, the kids in the flick are all simultaneously cracked, frighteningly intelligent, and... children, meaning they've got to be insane, smart, and completely immature, and somehow they managed to get that part right. One of the funniest things about the movie is listening to Leif Garrett and Tierre Turner bicker about who's in charge and how the other is dumber'n a bag fulla hammers, when in actuality they're both really sharp and just disagree on how best to get things done. As for the adults, the pre-Boss Hogg Sorrell Booke is suitably pitiful as the spineless Harvey, Gene Evans proves himself a worthy heel as the workaholic hardass Papa Doc, and Shelley Morrison comes across well as the boozy, emasculating Ruth, but at the end of the day there's just not much to work with on the grown-up side of things when you've got lines like: "look, murder isn't a joking matter."
Here's who matters and why: Sorrell Booke (Slaughterhouse-Five), Gene Evans (Donovan's Brain, The Giant Behemoth), Joan McCall (Grizzly), Shelley Morrison (The Night that Panicked America, Castle of Evil), Carolyn Stellar (The Other), John Durren (The Manipulator), Leif Garrett (Cheerleader Camp), Tierre Turner (The Crow, M.A.N.T.I.S.), Henry Beckman (The Brood). I'm sad to report that mosta these folks prolly considered Devil Times Five the low point in their careers considerin' how many of them went on to ditch us for the big... err... well, slightly less obscure time, and those infractions are as follows: Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard), Gene Evans (Chief Malumphry in Operation Peticoat, Tom Danby in Support Your Local Sheriff), Shelley Morrison (Rosaria Salazar on Will & Grace, Sister Sixto on The Flying Nun), Leif Garrett (Bob Sheldon in The Outsiders), Dawn Lyn (Dodie Harper Douglas on My Three Sons), Henry Beckman (George Anderson on Peyton Place).
There's not much in the way of special effects here, which is likely attributable to the number of child actors on set, but that seems a little strange when you consider the director had these kids pummeling a guy with clubs for half an hour. I'm honestly curious as to whether they used slow motion to try making the scene more or less shocking, because given the way they sped up and slowed down other parts of the film, I could see that going either way. Take the sped-up shot of the van sliding down the road for instance, you can't help but see that and hear Yakety Sax in your head - it looks like a goddamned Benny Hill sketch, and it's made all the stupider because there was absolutely no need for it. Then, only moments later, they roll the van down the hill, this time in slow motion. The crash is pretty spectacular, but I'll bet it would've looked better at regular speed, and likewise, when the kids are beatin' the tar outta their chauffeur in slow motion for four agonizing minutes, I really think that would have been more horrifying at regular speed as well, because slowing down the film really sucked the shock value right outta both scenes. Basically what I'm saying here is that, because they got it wrong the first two times they messed with the speeds, it may well have been their intention to make the beating sequence *more* horrifying, but they succeeded only in screwing the pooch for a third time. Beyond that we've got some fake piranhas, orange blood in the tub, and a guy in a fire suit who's pretty obviously not the woman he's portraying, but who stays lit quite awhile and does a nice job of selling it.
The shooting locations are unquestionably the film's greatest asset, having been filmed in the snowy reaches of Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino National Forest. We're talkin' bleak, frigid, isolated, and simultaneously gorgeous; basically, when the stuff hits the fan you know dang well these people aren't goin' anywhere, and the snowbound cabin adds a little claustrophobic atmosphere. The snow levels do tend to change from scene to scene because the film was shot over a series of months, but it's really not all that distracting. The soundtrack is a mess, and the reason I say that is that they've sacrificed what should be a grim tone for the inclusion of silly little tracks that incorporate the melody from nursery rhymes like "I'm a Little Teapot" and "Ring Around the Rosie." That concept actually could have worked if they'd made the pieces sinister and brooding, but that's not the path they chose, and much of the music detracts from what should be a dark and foreboding atmosphere. The score also has its share of stock melodrama music, with the usual "concerned" woodwind instruments beseeching you to get worried about what's about to go down, but in general the soundtrack is a missed opportunity. Overall, despite a very intriguing premise, the flick's complete lack of focus and botched execution in most areas make for a disappointing flick. Couple that with its extraordinarily slow pacing and you've got a recipe for mediocrity, and unfortunately that's exactly what we're left with when the credits roll. Still, it has its moments, and I'm fully aware that the lure of its premise is too strong to ignore, so I'm not going to suggest you skip it if you're already interested - just don't go in with high hopes.