I first heard of this film during an intermission at one of Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema’s ‘All Night Horror Madness’ event, in the gap between Society and Flesh for Frankenstein. The trailer was played to much laughter from an audience dosed on caffeine and the sight of someone being pulled inside out via his own mouth. Don’t Go In The House looked simultaneously awful and brilliant. Arrowdrome have re-released the DVD, uncut, so I had a chance to find out if the film lived up to the trailer’s potential.
The trailer makes Don’t Go In The House seem to be nothing more than dated schlock horror. It was part of the video masty cull of the early eighties, but rather than a rapid-fire of gore, nudity and swearing, the film goes for a slow build-up of the main character’s personality and problems, with an obvious debt to Psycho. Once Donny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi, Patsy Parisi in The Sopranos) brings his first victim home we move towards the film’s most contentious scene, as we witness a long, uneasy wait for the inevitable.
Kohler has constructed a special steel room in his house, bought a fire-proof suit and a flame thrower, and has set about finding vulnerable women to kill. This is because his mother used to punish him as a boy by burning him on the stove in a fit of religious fervour (Kohler, as a surname, stems from a German word meaning ‘Charcoal Burner’, which is hopefully entirely deliberate, maybe even a reference to the Middle Ages’ witchcraft hysteria and burnings in that part of the world). Donny is a man-child, a sociopath, and a pyromaniac. He’s deeply troubled, and the film focuses on this rather than the murders.
Even before he embarks on his killing spree, Donny is hearing voices. Some of these require a fair bit of concentration to hear properly, which is quite annoying. From the background hiss during the quieter moments it seems like the soundtrack could either be cleaned up more and made too quiet to hear, or left as it is (The picture quality is good though, barring the occasional blemish). There is quite a lot of near silence as this is a slow-paced film, focussing on one man rather than his acts. It does, however, feature incredibly jarring disco music which actually helps generate an unsettling quality.
There’s a lot of ominous high-pitched atmosphere music, but for a horror film, the disco stuff is more memorable. Donny goes to a discotheque later on, in a scene that would make you feel sorry for him if he wasn’t a murderer. The discotheque is not a Saturday Night Fever style venue, with flashing lights on the dancefloor. It’s a fairly drab, miserable place, with people in dark clothes barely moving to the music. From here events spiral into a somewhat predictable conclusion, which has a few creepy moments, but largely unfolds as expected. This could be seen as angling for a sequel, but really it seems more to be a depressing confirmation that the cause of Donny’s problems is a real-life issue that isn’t going away.
On its own merits, Don’t Go Into the House is solid but unexceptional. If you go in expecting gore and violence, you’ll be disappointed. When it tries to go for sensationalism, the cause of its video nasty categorisation, it doesn’t really pull it off. At the time, this was enough to earn it notoriety, but really it is most impressive for trying to unnerve through character rather than repeating its set piece. Donny Kohler is, however, not an original enough character for this to be novel. The film’s obvious debt to Psycho is really, really obvious. It’s about as subtle as an eclipse. He wanders around a big, isolated house saying “Mother? Mother?” a lot and looks withdrawn. Dan Grimaldi is good in the role, but he hasn’t got much to work with that hasn’t been seen before. The film’s depiction of child abuse is another plus though. It is unflinchingly displayed, and in a film whose fantastical flourishes are the product of mental illness rather than actual demonic entities, it is grubby, sordid, and brutal.
The title doesn’t suggest a psychological drama, though. It suggests more of a knifey-knifey-stabby-stabby film. The trailer makes it look even weirder. It’s worthy trying to give a serial killer depth, but without originality it isn’t going to be enough to sustain our interest. Maybe a different angle on the idea would have worked better, combining the shock with the slow-build, but as it stands Don’t Go Into The House isn’t distinct enough from its influences to rise above the level of mediocrity aside from the slow burning implications of its final scene. However, if you are looking for an ambitious but flawed character piece, a slasher film without much slash, then this is worth a look.
We have the teaser trailer, and the trailer that initially grabbed my attention at the horror all-nighter. Both come with improved picture quality. I’m not sure if this actually helps, though. Then we have a selection of trailers from other films distributed by Arrowdrome, including The Funhouse and Dawn of the Dead. After the misleading trailer for Don’t Go Into The House, I’m increasingly wary of how good these films look as a result.