The notorious 1979 exploitation/horror hybrid Don't Go In The House stars Dan Grimaldi as Donny, a strange man who makes his living working at an incinerator plant. When we first meet him, he's at work and one of the men he works with has the unfortunate luck of finding his clothes catching on fire. Rather than help him, Danny stands there. Because of his inaction, the guys that Danny works with begin to scorn him. Why didn't he help the guy? He was standing right there and he certainly could have made things much easier on the poor guy had he done something about his plight. As such, Danny is more or less alone at work, save for Bobby (Robert Osth), the only one at the plant who seems to understand Danny a bit. At the end of the day, Bobby tries to talk Danny into going out for a beer after work but Danny declines, he doesn't go out much and besides, he needs to go home and look after his mother, who is quite ill.
Danny heads home and back to his familiar routine. He arrives, gets his mother a cup of tea like he does every day and brings it upstairs to her room only to find that she's died in her sleep while he was at the plant. At first conflicted by his feelings, it doesn't take Danny long to realize that he's now free to live his life the way he wants to, without having to worry about tending to his mother's every need. He cranks up the stereo, and dances around the house like a kid. After his initial glee is over done with, however, Danny starts to flashback to his childhood memories, recollections of the punishment that his mother would dole out to him should he do something to displease her – she'd hold his small hands over the open flame of the stove and burn him!
With Danny's feeble mind flip flopping all over the place, it doesn't take long before he basically snaps. He heads into the basement and builds a room with metal walls, and sets out into his sad New Jersey town to take out his pent up aggression towards his dearly departed and completely overbearing abusive mother on the women of the area. Danny prowls around picking up women and bringing them back to his house where he attacks them with a flame thrower to, as his mother would put it, 'burn out the evil.' He acquires quite the collection of corpses in a pretty short amount of time, but while all of this is going on his friend Bobby is still trying to get him out of the house once in a while.
Bobby is finally able to convince Danny to head out with him one night. When they agree to meet up with a couple of girls that Bobby knows at a local disco, Danny drives on over to the local tailor to get himself a fancy suit for the evening. It looks like Danny just might be starting to come out of his shell, get a social life, and maybe leave his psychotic tendencies behind him until he finally arrives and one thing leads to another, provoking Danny to once again burn out the evil... this time for good!
Don't Go In The House is one of those rare films that works really well despite the fact that rips off better known movies and really isn't all that graphic in its portrayal of Danny's attacks. A lot of what he does is inferred rather than shown in full on graphic detail (the first attack not withstanding), but we see just enough of the after effects to know full well what it is that Danny is doing. The whole 'mother complex' is obviously borrowed from Hitchcock's Psycho but director Joseph Ellison pushes the abuse that the central character suffers a few steps further so that the viewer has no question in his or her mind as to just why Danny is as nutty as he is – it even serves to explain the rationale behind why he acted the way that he did that day at the incinerator plant. Danny's character also shares more than a few similarities to Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle from Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver what with the anti-social behavior and tendency to more often than not hide from the outside world before deciding to clean things up in the most horrible way possible.
Performance wise, Dan Grimaldi (who has recently popped up in a few episodes of The Soprano's) does do a very good job in the lead. The movie is low budget and the film was Grimaldi's first feature role so it's understandable that a couple of times he goes pretty far over the top but he brings an understated sense of menace to his performance that makes the movie really work, even if it probably shouldn't when you consider just how degrading parts of it are and how heavily it borrows from the aforementioned films. The rest of the performers don't fare so well, and many of them are quite amateurish, but seeing as the bulk of the movie is Danny, it doesn't hurt things all that much.
As much a star of the movie as Grimaldi himself is the actual house where Danny's carnage is carried out. It's a massive old run down abode that looks as creepy as the man who lives and kills within its walls. It's a completely eerie location and the perfect setting for a horror movie of this type. Also worth noting are the special effects, particularly the dried out and burnt up corpses that Danny is so keen on. For a low budget movie, they certainly look realistic enough, adding to the weird, dingy, sleazy atmosphere that makes the movie as effective as it is.
Shriek Show presents the film matted at 1.85.1 widescreen and enhanced the presentation for anamorphic sets but once again, sadly, the transfer is not properly flagged for progressive scan. Aside from that issue, the movie does look pretty good. There is some mild print damage and some moderate grain present throughout but the black levels are nice and strong and color reproduction is pretty decent. There's a lot more fine detail present on this release than there was on the previous fullframe budget DVD that came out a few years ago from DVD Inc., which was a pretty ugly affair overall.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack has some mild hiss present in a few scenes but again, it's a big improvement over the distortion-ridden soundtrack that adorned the previous DVD release. Richard Einhorn's bizarre film score comes through nice and clear and the dialogue is pretty crisp. The disco scene is a little muddy here and there as the levels on the music are a bit high but the film has always sounded like this and it's likely a problem with the original elements and not with the DVD itself. There are no closed captioning, subtitle or alternate language options present on this release.
First up is a commentary track with lead actor Don Grimaldi. He speaks quite candidly about his work on the movie, how it happened so early in his career and how many of the people involved in the production didn't really have a lot of prior movie making experience. He fills us in as best he can on some of the other performers seen in the movie and details quite a bit of the behind the scenes action that happened on set. He doesn't shy away about some of the nastier tones that the movie carries and acknowledges how sleazy parts of it are, but also manages to keep the entire track informative and interesting.
Grimaldi also shows up for a brief ten minute on camera interview in which he speaks quite honestly about his film premiere in this picture. He provides a few amusing anecdotes about the movie and the people who made it and while he covers some of the same ground here that he does in the commentary, it's always neat to see a performer on camera and compare him in real life to the role he or she plays in the feature. Grimadli also openly admits that he doesn't much like horror movies.
An interesting two-scene comparison (the first murder scene and the infamous disco scene) is provided to show the difference that the matting makes in the compositions. The disc states that the director of photography prefers the film at 1.85.1 but a glance at the comparisons provided demonstrates that more information is available in the open matter version including some bonus nudity in the first murder scene!
Rounding out the extra features are a pair of trailers for Don't Go In The House and trailers for other Shriek Show DVD releases including Anthropophagous, Devil Dog: Hound Of Hell, One Dark Night, and The Being. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.
Don't Go In The House isn't for everyone – it's a bitter, ugly, and nasty little horror movie that doesn't pull any punches and is just as seedy today as it was when it was made. It's effective in that it gets under your skin despite its low budget origins and obvious flaws. Shriek Show has given the film a pretty decent release with an acceptable transfer and a few really nice extra features. Recommended to genre fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.