A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.
A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.
The Toolbox Murders
aka Der Bohrmaschinenkiller
aka La masacre de toolbox
aka Lo squartatore di Los Angeles
Director: Dennis Donnelly
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure, Tim Donnelly, Aneta Corsaut, Kelly Nichols (as Marianne Walter)
Running time: 93 minutes
Genre: exploitation, slasher, thriller, psychodrama, video nasty
“If I had a hammer…”: Toolbox Murders shows its giallo roots in an extended opening credit sequence of a black-gloved killer driving though darkened city streets. Only, instead of a pimptastic score by the likes of Riz Ortolani, we hear a more generic thriller/psychodrama piano score, overlaid with the sounds of a hellfire n’ brimstone preacher on the car radio. The vehicle cruises smoothly along, but then FREEZEFRAME! The sound of screeching tires! Illuminated by arc-sodium lights, a car has crashed on the side of the road. A young girl tumbles out of the passenger side door. A crowd gathers as paramedics place her on a stretcher. She’s young, blonde, with a bloodied face and staring eyes. Her hand falls limply off the stretcher as they cover her face. Something Significant has happened. Cruising resumes, and the Mercedes pulls up outside El Patio del Sequoia apartments, and a man with a toolbox gets out and enters the complex. Once inside, he cuts a gruesome swath through the apartment’s female residents, beginning with faded beauty and lush Mrs Andrews. Though surprised by the killer’s appearance, she clearly knows him … . Finishing her off with his powerdrill, our skimasked killer hums a little tune and contemplates his work.
Meanwhile young divorcée Debbie arrives home and–in one of the least logical sequences in movie history–prepares to take a shower fully dressed, for the sole reason of creating a wet shirt effect and leading to a lengthy change of clothes. Fortunately, boobage redeems the scene. Debbie evidences poor decision-making skills when she pops into the apartment hallway in her underclothes to pick up some … debris left outside the door? Fortunately, our killer happens upon her and, popping her on the chin in a singularly goony moment, renders her unconscious and bears her off to the firestairs, where she is summarily dispatched with the claw end of a hammer. He then removes her corpse from the stairwell and carries it BACK to her apartment (and we thought only Debbie was crazy!), where he lays her out on the floor only to be interrupted by roommate Maria. Pissed at Debbie for leaving trash in the hallway, Maria is both shocked and saddened by her grisly discovery, then surprised by our killer. The shock renders the poor sap apparently speechless, and when the slayer slaughters her with a screwdriver, it’s all Maria can do to sum up a sorry little scream. (That was excessive, and I am sincerely sorry!) The killer then takes a moment to spy upon the neighboring Camelot Apartments, where a temptress gyrates in her underwear before a wide open window, while one floor below an innocent schoolgirl chats on the phone. His bloodlust not yet sated, the killer ventures back into the hallway, where he opens a door and glimpses a couple discussing the merits of drugstore wine. Discouraged by the presence of a man, the killer leaves and the killing stops … for the evening.
The next morning briefly introduces us to the Ballard family: Matriarch and alcoholic B-girl Joanne, perky teenager Laurie (Pamela Ferdin, also the voice of Charlotte’s Web‘s Fern Arable and Charles Schultz’s Lucy van Pelt!), and older brother Joe.
Evening falls again, and we meet Dee Ann (played by Penthouse Pet and future porn star Kelly Nichols!), the window siren from the previous night. As she all unknowing draws herself a bath, the Toolbox Murderer approaches the Camelot Apartments, eponymous toolbox in tow. What follows is surely one of the most gratuitous nude/masturbation scenes in all slasherdom as Dee Ann soaps up an lets Calgon take her away to her special place to the dulcet tones of George Deaton & Terry Stubbs’ “Pretty Lady.” After she achieves orgasm, Dee Ann comes out of her stupor to the sound of the killer’s humming. As suits her more sexually forthright character, when faced with his nailgun Dee Ann not only actively tries to evade him, but also fights back, scrambling around her apartment naked and wet as a frog and tossing vases. She feigns submission, offering him “anything,” but tries to run again, finally catching a nail to the abdomen. The killer props her up beneath a nude poster of herself, then nails her right through the head. End “Pretty Lady.”
Finished with the whores of the world–for now–the killer sneaks downstairs to the Ballard apartment, where Laurie is again demonstrating her virtue by refusing to sneak out (presumably with a boy). After all, she doesn’t want to end up like her mother said, “either divorced or with a bunch of kids and a crappy job like [hers].” Who knows how she’ll end up, however, since the killer kidnaps her. At least she isn’t dead yet! When Joe gets home late that night, he finds the security chain cut and Laurie missing. Jo Ann stumbles in moments later, and orders Joe to go looking for his sister–and that’s when we hear the shrieks from the discovery of Dee Ann.
Convinced that Laurie’s disappearance is related to the murders, Joe pleads for help from the police, who are content to dismiss her as a typical runaway teen. Total Dick in Charge of the case Sergeant Cameron scoffs at Joe’s concerns, mocking the poor guy, who departs in a huff, vowing to find his sister himself. Sgt Cameron is no Lt Fuller. Armed with earnestness, Joe goes to El Patio del Sequoia looking for clues, and meets up with the super’s nephew Kent. Kent enlists Joe’s help to clean up the bloodied apartments, and Joe in turn enlists Kent in the search for Laurie. With the murders largely over at thirty minutes in, and the murderer revealed to the audience at fifty minutes (for any halfwits who haven’t yet figured it out), The Toolbox Murders takes a sharp turn into psychodrama as the young men investigate Laurie’s disappearance, and scenes of their search alternate with Laurie’s plight as a captive, leading up to a truly bizarre dénouement.
Banned in the UK as a Video Nasty, The Toolbox Murders is preceded by a reputation for unmitigated sleaze–a reputation that’s not entirely undeserved. But the low budget, competing storylines, and pedestrian direction give it the feel of a made-for-TV movie.
Fisty: Holy shit. TTM exceeded my expectations in so many ways. It’s so very, very sleazy, and so very, very nasty, and so very, very bad. It’s a home run of fucking trashy-ass, exploitative cinema. It’s easy to see how it earned its spot on the Video Nasties list; the first thirty minutes is almost nothing but violent murder and nudity. But then after that bang up start the movie settles into a curious police procedural thriller format that, for all its smuttiness–and yes, it is still very sordid if you’ve got the eyes to see it–it very draggy and uninteresting but for the scenes of Cameron Mitchell’s (Blood and Back Lace) lunacy and Ferdin’s terror. Only in the final fifteen minutes does violence appear once more, and it’s of an entirely different breed. By then, many of even the most dedicated horror fans and gorehounds may have passed out from sheer boredom. It takes a certain amount of patience–and attention span–to appreciate TTM’s tacky charms.
Speaking of tacky charms, I did love the look of the movie. I know it’s ugly in that special 70s Saturday Night Special Movie way, but it had a certain nostalgic charm for me. It looked like shitty movies I grew up watching in school (though I grew up in the 80s, it was in Hawai’i, where the 70s had a long reach–especially in the school system). The California setting was probably a big part of it: so sunny, so squalid, so semi-suburban. There are still tacky apartment open-air buildings like the Camelot and El Patio del Sequoia all over the West, and I’ve lived in a few of them.
Bill: It took me three tries to get through the whole movie. Though, admittedly, I made the first two attempts when it was late and I was tired, so it probably had more to do with my condition than the drag in the middle of the flick. I was even dozing a bit during the first thirty minutes and there is nothing sleep inducing in that bit of film. Boner inducing, sure, but sleep? I think, maybe, I could’ve been lulled further into a restful state by that made-for-TV movie quality it has. Kind of like what happens when I watch Matlock, except Matlock is usually less bewildering. There are whole segments in TTM that make no sense, like the coffee scene. The cop offers Laurie’s brother some coffee, the kid declines, then the cop goes to get some for himself, but the pot is empty, so he puts the glass down and that’s it. What the hell was the purpose of that? Then there’s the odd fruit-throwing bit that I suppose was meant to show the siblings as playfully close, but just seems awkward. And just why do the cops let all the neighbors stand around looking at all the naked corpses?
Other parts are just painfully obvious and unnecessary. Like trying to establish the innocence of Laurie by having her do the exact opposite of gyrating DeeAnn? But I do appreciate the seminude dancing.
Fisty: Yeah, the director, Dennis Donnelly pretty much just did TV; this was his sole feature film–and it shows. Too much exposition, weird experimental editing, problems with pacing …
Bill: Who the fuck was in the car that wrecked?
Fisty: Oh my god, Bill. It was Cathy. Dude’s daughter/other dude’s lover.
Bill: But it seemed like she died way before then. Didn’t it seem like he started killing the women right after the girl in the car died? Like, the same night?
Fisty: How could there be flashback shots from her funeral interposed with shots of him entering the building to START the killing spree if she died that night?
Bill: I know the funeral shots were flashbacks, but there’s no break between driving and killing, it all looks the same. Donnelly could have made that a lot clearer. But my framerate was stuttering a bit at the start, so …
Fisty: And you’re abominably literal sometimes … but I suppose if one were drunk, it could be confusing. The editing is mostly shit.
Bill: Debbie’s shower scene is the most bizarre that I have ever seen. She puts on a shower cap while fully dressed, turns on the water, sees her dress hanging in the shower, steps in still fully dressed, presumably to get her little black dress before it’s soaked, but then doesn’t even touch the dress, steps out and takes her shower cap off! I am fully convinced that this was originally meant to be a normal, typical shower scene, but they rewrote it into absurdity, just for that wet shirt yumminess, after seeing how hott Debbie the braless wonder looked in her sheer white top.
Fisty: That’s one of my favorite parts–teeth-gnashingly aggravating (as I shriek, “Why? Why are you getting in the shower fully dressed? Why aren’t you even bathing and just putting on a succession of shirts and then removing your pants? WHY?!?” at the television screen) and unintentionally hilarious as it is. I also love the way she goes down like a ton of bricks from the most ineffectual right hook I’ve ever seen. Pretty much all the victims except Dee Ann are ineffective wimps.
Purists will declare that TTM isn’t a slasher, and I’m with them on that. Like Don’t Go in the House, it’s a curious blend of genres, teetering as it does on the edge of sleazy 70s psycho-thrillers and gleefully self-aware by-the-numbers 80s slashers, and coming down straight in the exploitation zone. After the gialli-inspired opening and kills that seem to promise an endless parade of titties and blood, TTM downshifts into an amateur detective psychodrama, a confusing change for many viewers. Though one might argue that amateurs investigating crimes in the face of an inept police force is a clear marker of a giallo, it seems just as likely that Joey and Kent’s sleuthing owes as much to Donnelly’s directing credits in TV–including an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. (And many episodes of Adam-12, Emergency!, Hart to Hart, Charlie’s Angels, The A-Team, Simon & Simon … is a pattern developing? To be fair, most of those were post-TTM, but I think it shows a decided slant.) Knocking any confusion about the killer’s identity out of the way lets the film settle in on the bewilderment of the bereaved on one side, and the suffering of the victim and the lunatic on the other.
Bill: I think the movie may’ve benefited from being more slasher-like. As much as I’d hate to see a dilution of the concentrated sleaze at the start of the flick, it would’ve been nice to have some tits & murder interludes tossed in somewhere during the Hardy Boys episode in the middle. That really is the weakest part of the movie. I mean, you can only get so much entertainment from watching skeevy cops hit on the mother of a missing girl. He really was kind of sleazy. “Look, your daughter is missing and maybe we’ll find her but, in the meantime, can I give you another?”
Fisty: Damn it, I LOVE that singles bar scene! That fucking cop is a real piece of work. And the way Joanne shuts him down? Masterful!
Speaking of which, Aneta Corsaut (The Blob) is magnificent as Joanne. The rest of the casting is pretty spot-on, too: Ferdin evokes pathos as the victimized Laurie, Mitchell–though no longer the hottie of the How to Marry a Millionaire days–chews up the scenery like it’s Red Man.
Its greatest strength is its greatest weakness: The Toolbox Murders makes for a primo exploitation experience because that’s all it was ever meant to be. Tony DiDio reportedly saw a reissue of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre four years after its initial release and said to himself (and his team), “I want to cash in on that.” (My paraphrase.) Don’t go into it looking for subtext on the alienation of the American family in the juxtaposition of an affectionate but struggling family with a highly dysfunctional yet loving one. Don’t look beneath the sleaze for something less sleazy, because it’s sleaze all the way down.
Bill: I think there is one area where it under-sleazes: The climax of the film. There’s some real frying pan/fire jumping at the end, but, while you know Laurie goes through a wicked nasty ordeal, they don’t show any of it. It’s a big change from the beginning of the movie, where everything was very in-your-face. I guess Donnelly felt he had to be respectful when it comes to letting us know what happened to this sweet, virginal character, but the other victims were just dirty sluts, so their pain doesn’t matter. Damn it, I want to see the nice girl’s pain and degradation, too! Eh, it was a true story, according to the bit of text that flashes on the screen at the end, so maybe he was just trying to protect the real Laurie, in case she ever watched the movie. (My eyes are rolling so hard that I just got dizzy.)
Fisty: Can we recommend The Toolbox Murders? Though it at times reminded me of bad 70s afterschool specials in which someone ruined their life by sniffing goofballs in a ditch, I’m going to go ahead and say yes. Though it doesn’t live up to its reputation of relentless blood n’ smut, it has some solid splatter moments, oodles of titties n’ bush, and pure insanity–and all in the first half hour. (Bill: And you really don’t want to be the only one of your friends to have missed seeing that beginning.) Plus, there are tons of familiar TV faces from shows like Emergency!, Land of the Lost, and The Andy Griffith Show–and fucking FERN from CHARLOTTE’S WEB!!! Even the dreck is worth sitting through for Mitchell’s scenery-gnawing performance and Ferdin’s understated terror, a few genuinely chilling moments, as well as an ending that will not only surprise the hell out of most viewers, but will also have them running for the shower. Just remember to take your clothes off before getting in the tub.
Did anyone else notice that the victims in the trailer in no way match up with those in the movie?
PROTIP: Order a pizza just before pressing play. Your pie will arrive just as the movie slows down, giving you something extra to chew on while you sit through the downtime in the middle of the flick.
The Toolbox Murders is available to Watch Instantly on Netflix!
Director: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter
Running time: 91 minutes
Genre: horror, slasher, Video Nasty
What’s Happening, Hot Stuff? Late one night, some campers play a prank on an unliked caretaker, Cropsy. The prank goes awry, however, and Cropsy ends up doused in gasoline and in flames (because normal people sleep next to cans of gas). Rather than like, help the poor human torch, the guilty campers run away, and Cropsy is hospitalized for five years. Unfortunately, even with 1981’s technology, skin grafts could only take him so far, and Cropsy is left a hideously scarred shell of a man. When he is released from care at the hospital, Cropsy immediately heads for Times Square (in the fun old days–who wouldn’t?) and murders a harlot. Seems like that revolting cicatrice may conceal a burning lust for revenge. Against hookers. Or whomever.
Meanwhile, at Camp Stonewater, summer proceeds as usual. Boys chasing girls, girls chasing boys, lots of wholesome outdoor activities, and lots of short shorts, tubesocks, and unfettered boobies. You’ve got your full complement of characters who manage to nearly transcend their roles as loathesome Lothario, hopeless dweeb, wiseacre, virginal Final Girl, and so on. Everything about the camp seems alternately idyllic and ordinary, until someone spots a hideous face in a window. Of course, no one believes him, the poor dweeb, and so a group of campers sets out on a canoe trip.
The first night downriver, the campers gather round a campfire, and the Ken Doll–I mean, Todd–tells a spooky story about a caretaker named Cropsy who lurks in the woods in the area … after the story, Demure Karen and Sleazy Eddy take a walk and a skinny dip, and well, one of them doesn’t come back. In the morning, all the canoes are missing, so our intrepid campers utilize their woodcraft and build a raft to get help … but Cropsy’s already there, and he’s got his shears. Let the stabbings and the slashings and the cuttings commence!
Tastes Like Burning! Tastes like AWESOME. Though often dismissed as merely a Friday the 13th wannabe, The Burning is a delightful and brutal addition to the slasher pantheon. Featuring a surprisingly solid cast (though not in light of their future endeavors), gory kills fashioned by Maestro Tom Savini, a classic story, and soundtrack by Rick “Eat Your Heart Out” Wakeman (I can’t help but think of DK whenever I hear his name), The Burning remains fresh long after other summer camp slaying clones went stale.
Fisty: OH. MY. GOD. The Burning is the ne plus ultra of summer camp slashers. Forget F13! For reals. At risk of being iconoclastic, I will state officially that I think The Burning is the superior of the two. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, but it is surprisingly well-crafted and everything a slasher ought to be.
Bill: Well, I don’t want to start a full-on debate here, but I have to disagree. The Burning is damn fine fun and an excellent slasher, but Friday the 13th is still better. But, please, go on and explain why The Burning is so fantastic. Aside from the softball playin’, panty-clad, booty wiggle, I mean. That was totally my favorite part. It reminds me of my favorite part from Night of The Demons: Linnea’s bent over, pink panty, shopliftin’ ass shake. When I was going through my early pubescent, manic jackin’ period, I would watch that scene, rewind it, rewatch it and repeat (the real three Rs, fuck recycling) until I was satisfied. I really wish I’d have had a copy of The Burningon VHS back then. It would’ve gotten a lot of use. Probably for the tan line scenes, too. Sadly, I didn’t see it for the first time until a few years ago.
Fisty: What the hell is up with that panty shot? Those are so clearly NOT bikini bottoms. I actually had a circa ’81 bikini I inherited from my older sister, and back then they were all about the crocheted, itty-bitty, low-rise, string bikini (not the thing to wear swimming with a bunch of evil-minded high school boys, let me tell you). But it was pretty hott, as these things go.
What I love about The Burning: What’s left unsaid. That’s right. There’s a lot of ambiguity in it, comparatively speaking. Cropsy, for instance. The only indicators we have that we was in fact a sadistic asshole is that the kids–and the legend–say so. Kids always say that about authority figures. (And they also say he’s dead and haunting the woods, when he was hospitalized. UNRELIABLE NARRATORS!) Oh, and that he goes on a murderous rampage, but after what he went through, who wouldn’t? Some might complain that the plot’s nonsensical–why does Cropsy go after this apparently random camper group? Or the hooker for that matter? (For reals, the hooker? Super authentic. She looked like someone who would have worked the lol-iday inn.) But it all makes perfect sense in Adolescent Logic, and it’s adolescents, both in the movie and in the audience, who tell the tale.
Then there’s the acting, which is head and shoulders above F13 (thanks in part to some fledgling actors who went on to make big[ish] names for themselves on both the big and small screens). Notice that the characters are better developed and more realistic; they don’t just wander off alone to become murder fodder, but instead try to stick together and act sensible.
Bill: It does have an awesome cast. I mean, Fisher “The Plague” Fucking Stevens is in it. (Hack the planet!) And Brian Backer, an early prototype of David Krumholtz, is both believably creepy and sad, as the bullied weirdo. Overall, all the characters and their portrayals are better than most of what you see in Friday the 13th, but Friday has a couple of standouts, like Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees and Walt Gorney as Crazy Ralph, who, individually, are far more memorable and as well acted or better than anyone in The Burning.
Fisty: I also appreciate the way the characters defy the genre conventions. I can’t just up and TELL you–at least, Bill won’t let me–but there are surprises in the bodycount. I honestly was not expecting the hero/ine scenario to play out the way it did; years of watching slashers had taught me particular rules, shall we say, about who lives and who dies and why and how. And The Burning disregards those cherished fundamentals, to excellent effect.
Bill: NO SPOILERS! (Dumbledore dies.)
Fisty: And he’s gay. But like I said, it isn’t a perfect film, and I think the two are very close. I happen to think The Burning has a slight edge in most areas, but F13 does other things well. Tension and suspense are somewhat lacking in The Burning, since you know who the ostensible killer is from the outset. Notable exceptions include Tiger searching for the ball and Rhoda’s shower. It does make a nod to twisting the possibilities, but it’s poorly executed (though I will admit, I wondered till the end whether they might play it through). It’s nice that it doesn’t take literally the slasher rule of “A death every ten minutes!,” instead starting with a bang and then going into plot and character development for a long stretch before the kills begin in earnest. And when it comes to the kills, though Savini worked his usual magic, the ones in F13 (though often ludicrous) were much better directed. The deaths in The Burning had great potential–especially the much-vaunted and ban-worthy raft scene–but were so sloppily directed that they were often obscured, pulling the punches.
Bill: I think Friday the 13th is a little better than The Burning, but I am a pretty hardcore F13 fanboy (even watched the fan-made Friday the 13th: Mothers Day). Regardless of which flick either of us put first, they’re probably the two best Twitch of the Death Nerve imitators we’ll ever see.
Fisty: I think we can both agree that–regardless of your thoughts on F13—The Burning is not just a worthwhile slasher for any fan to see, but a crowning moment in the genre.
SPOILER MOMENT—-LOOK AWAY!!! LOOK AWAY!!!
The ending is especially nifty, with a nice nod to meta fiction, in that it clearly acknowledges the power of storytelling and urban myth among teenagers by making Cropsy’s existence–and the entire movie–ambiguous. Was the whole thing a campfire story? Or was it a truth that became a legend? Who knows? The kids themselves are our storytellers, and as we have seen, they are highly unreliable narrators.
And since this is marked SPOILERS, how about how those characters generally contravene the laws of slasher folk as generally set down in 1980? Karen, who we assume is at least quasi-virginal and therefore a Final Girl contender, is the first camper to die! After denying Eddy the sex! And Rhoda and Glazer, who only engage in extremely unsatisfying sex, are lambs to the slaughter. While the insipid Michelle and Todd live to the see the end. And how about that weirdly buddy climax? Whoda thunk it?
END SPOILERS—YOU MAY LOOK NOW!!! LOOK NOW!!!
And I swear to god, this was filmed where my dad’s family is from. If he had succeeded in persuading my mom to stay on the Mainland, this could have been my fate!
The Burning is available on Netflix Watch Instantly right now!
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.