Don’t Go in the House
aka The Burning
Director: Joseph Ellison
Starring: Dan Grimaldi, Robert Osth, Ruth Dardick, Charles Bonet, Bill Ricci
Running time: 82 minutes
Genre: Horror, Don’t-movie, Video Nasty
I’ll Burn the Sin(opsis) Out of You: Donny Kohler (Grimaldi) is a nice enough, if socially awkward mama’s boy, who incinerates trash for a living and occasionally hears creepy whispers, like we all do. Also, just like the rest of us, Donny is completely obsessed with fire. Unlike most of us, with Donny, it’s because his crazy-ass mother would hold his arms over a lit stove to punish him when he was being “evil.” When Donny sees an accident that sets one of his co-workers ablaze, he’s transfixed, watching him burn, rather than helping. This doesn’t sit well with the boss and nasty words are spoken, blame is assigned and men are accused of homosexual activities. Good ol’ Bobby (Osth), being a nice guy and feeling sorry for Donny, decides to make friends and try to help the poor misfit out. When Donny goes home, that night, he discovers that his abusive, overbearing mother has died. Without her to control him, Donny is free to do whatever he wants. He starts to listen more closely to the whispers telling him that he’s “The master of the flame” and, while he struggles against his deteriorating sanity, eventually his mind, as well as a few local ladies (A)…go up in flames. (B)…are lost to an inferno of madness. (C)…are toast. Personally, I like C.
Hott Stuff: Don’t Go in the House is a low budget, nasty, Psycho wannabe with a cool house, a (very slightly) sympathetic madman, a room lined with sheet metal, a sitting room full of charred corpses, some creepy goings on, laughable disco goodness, and one hell of an unforgettable murder that got the movie included on the UK’s list of notorious Video Nasties.
Bill: I am on a quest! In fact, I am on two quests. Quest #1: I want to see every horror movie with a title that begins with the word don’t. Quest #2: I want to see every movie to have made the British Director of Public Prosecutions’ list of Video Nasties. Since Don’t Go in the House is on both lists, I had to see it.
It’s a better movie than I was expecting it to be. Having watched a bunch of the movies on my quest lists, many, if not most of them, are complete trash. That’s not to say that they aren’t entertaining trash. Night of the Demon, another Video Nasty, may be one of the most entertaining movies I have ever seen, but it’s also, in every possible way, a very, very bad movie. Driller Killer… Hell, that one isn’t even that entertaining and it’s also a bad, bad movie. DGitH, by contrast, could be The Silence of the Lambs. It isn’t really bad in any major ways, with a few clunky line deliveries being the biggest problem. All of the actors do a decent enough job for the movie they’re in. The lack of budget does show in some of the effects scenes towards the end of the film, but those scenes still manage to be effective and creepy anyway.
The movie takes awhile to get moving. If someone is easily bored, this might not be the flick for him. The pace does quicken later on, but it takes, I believe, 27 minutes just to get to the first kill. It’s not like nothing had happened by that point. There was plenty of set up going on, but it was mostly dull set up. I guess you could call DGitH a slow burn. The loud disco, chair jumping, though, was awesome. That shit looked fun.
Fisty: Yeah, DGitH moves along at a leisurely pace compared to say, a slasher, and it takes its time setting up Donny’s story. It’s a way more psychological flick than you’d expect from a Video Nasty, being very character driven. Despite its limitations, DGitH isn’t too ham-fisted about hammering the point home: Donny had a crappy life with an abusive mother, and now he’s screwy. Ellison actually kindles pity for Donny in the audience–something too rarely achieved in other grindhouse flicks–though by the end of the film, after watching his terrible metamorphosis, our pity is extinguished by Donny’s terrible actions. Especially touching for me is the way Bobby keeps trying to reach out to Donny. Though the acting is amateurish, the incidences heighten the contrast between the life Donny chooses to lead and the one he could have had. Even though we know what’s going to happen, we can still hope Donny will be okay. But he isn’t. And he does some terrible shit.
Bill: Oh, yes, he does. His first kill really sticks with you. It’s a superbly crafted grindhouse murder.
After selling Donny some flowers for his sick, dead mother, Kathy the flower girl misses her bus home. There’s a few questionable characters on the street making her nervous, so, even though she may not trust him either, when our man Donny sees his chance and offers her a ride home, she accepts. With a little insistence and a string of white lies, Donny gets her in his house. She should not have went in. I’m not even sure whether he always intended to kill her or if he was just lonely.
Fisty: He was totally going to kill her. He has this nervous energy about him; it’s almost sexual.
Bill: You think? I thought, when he was running around his house and freaking out, that he had no idea what to say or do now that she was there, that, maybe he was just wondering how to get out of the lies he told to get her inside. But maybe you’re right and he was just giddy with excitement.
Regardless, when she gets fed up and demands he let her call a cab to take her home, our boy gets a little upset (because he totally just wanted her to hang out and keep him company) and decides she needs to be punished. After a quick thump on the head, Kathy the flower girl ends up stripped nude and chained to the ceiling in the sheet metal-lined room that Donny decided to put together after getting a little encouragement from the whispers. She cries and screams and writhes and shakes them titties as Don, now clad in his flame-retardant killer suit, douses her with gasoline and proceeds to set her on fire with a flamethrower, and, oh, the camera lingers! This is the highlight of the film, right here. It titillates, then terrorizes, then totally horrifies. None of the other murders are shown in such detail, but they really don’t need to be. Once you see Donny’s MO, you’re not going to forget it and you know exactly what his other victims go through. It is not pleasant.
Fisty: The effects on that death were pretty amazing. You can see some superimposed flames, but overall, it’s very impressive–and quite striking. The later deaths are nothing so impressive, as Ellison’s major concern is to detail Donny’s tempering in his crucible that takes him from a sad schlemiel to an inhuman monster. Unfortunately, he’s a bit heavy on the moments of “terrible psychological torment” as indicated by hallucinations. I’m also leery of explaining everything away with abuse, which was quite the fad for a while. Some people are just evil. However, due to Ellison’s fairly light hand on the reins, it mostly works in DGitH.
Bill: The argument could be made that it doesn’t totally blame his abuse, that maybe there was real evil at work. I don’t want to spoil the ending too much, but those whispers really made me wonder if his mother was really as crazy as she seemed. Maybe there was evil to be burnt out of him. Perhaps his hallucinations weren’t entirely imaginary and there were some supernatural forces coming into play in this movie. It seemed more ambiguous to me.
And didn’t I say that exact same thing to you before about Session 9?
Fisty: I don’t listen when you talk, Bill. But yeah, I had almost forgotten that bit at the end, but I’m going to relegate it to the cheap twist pile, an attempt by someone (Montoro?!) to cash in on the demonic fad of the Seventies a la The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, Abby, Lisa and the Devil, The Devil within Her, et alia. Or it’s just a product of your fevered imagination. Throughout the film, there is no indication of there being anything else afoot, and the bit at the end includes child abuse. I’ll quote RATT when I say, “What goes around comes around.” The cycle of abuse continues, and that’s what I am sticking with.
In the end, it’s kind of a weird movie, far more a Seventies flick than an Eighties one (it was filmed in ’79), but overall an effective one, using psychological horror instead of cheap scares, lurid sexuality, and gory effects (sad face!). Though the disco elements may date it for some, I think they also ground DGitH as representing a particular attitude toward horror, especially in that relentless need to explain away our fears with psychobabble.
Bill: It was EVIL! Evil whispers!
And evil disco! Man, that club scene was the shit. I want to go to there. Does that date me, too? If so, I don’t care. I dug Don’t Go in the House and I totally want to get struck by boogie lightning, baby.
Fisty: Yeah, I was down with the soundtrack of this one. It would definitely go at the dark end of the disco movie spectrum.
One last thing, though. Accusations of misogyny get thrown around willy-nilly, especially about this movie. And god knows I like to suck the fun out of things with extra close readings that discover misogyny in virtually any text. But! Just because a movie depicts violence against women does not make it misogynistic. None of Donny’s victims are depicted as being particularly awful, rather, they seem like ordinary young women. The evil Donny sees in them is strictly a product of his fevered imagination, his psychosis. And with the exception of the first death, there is no gleeful lingering over the sufferings of the victims. Only that first one, to shock viewers into realizing just what Donny is capable of, is so terrible. The movie’s end, which features a male abuser, treats the case as one of power, not gender.