The extremes of film horror never seemed more unpleasant than in the middle 1970s, when low-budget fright shows were outdoing themselves to be the next Last House on the Left or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The independent production Peopletoys was yet another attempt at a slaughter-chiller in a remote setting, with the novelty of five small children as the mad killer perpetrators. Competently made in some aspects, the film is still a thoroughly exploitative exercise in pointless slayings with some highly objectionable content - the child actors play two murder scenes with a naked adult. The film was released as The Horrible House on the Hill before settling into a final title, Devil Times Five.
Devil Times Five is described by its makers as a cross between Ten Little Indians and Village of the Damned. Fairly elaborately filmed in the San Bernardino Mountains, and played by a competent adult cast, the picture simply fails to cohere. As if predicting the puritanical kill-off sagas of a few years later (Friday the 13th, etc.) the movie keeps our attention by having its six adults make love, get drunk and play sick sex games while waiting to be murdered in 'creative' ways.
The troublesome Lovely (Carolyn Stellar) tries to seduce Rick. She also engages in a peek-a-boo catfight with the 'good wife' Julie (Joan McCall) and plays a cruel sex-tease game with Ralph, who would
rather take care of the rabbits. Writer John Durren plays Ralph, a lazy copy of Lenny from Of Mice and Men, or perhaps the Tex Avery dog character that likes to 'pet' Screwy Squirrel but becomes despondent when, "He don't move no more."
That constitutes the film's credible content. The underaged murderers haven't the slightest motivation or logic beyond the notion that they're 'crazy': They aren't possessed by The Devil, as the (third) re-titling would suggest, and they don't behave anything like real disturbed children. These kids put up a good front of normality and band together against the adults in a flawlessly coordinated conspiracy. The movie is too naturalistic to float the notion of a nightmare logic at work, despite a desperate effort to goose up a couple of murder scenes by means of step printing and tinting. It's just four kids and a pint-sized nun pounding away at a man with garden tools ... for six minutes.
The adults naturally underestimate the kids' malice, ignore their highly suspicious behavior and never ask simple questions like, "Where do you live?" Papa Doc's guns and knives disappear, but everyone ignores the problem or assumes that a mysterious stranger is responsible. When a gruesome suicide is discovered, the lady of the house decides that it's an ideal time to take a luxurious bubble bath.
The kids may not be supernatural, but they're certainly special. They are impervious to the freezing snow, and can also steal undetected about the house with deadly weapons. The children chop the adults to bits and leave no clues, not even a bloody footprint. The victims are caught in unlikely snares and traps, and share a bad habit of standing still when attacked. And none of them seem to have heard of the unwritten Hollywood law: See a piranha in the second reel, and it'll be biting someone in the sixth.
Three of the killer tots are played by children of the actors and director. Using real children in horror situations can be disturbing, but barring the unlikely event that look-alike midgets were substituted, Devil Times Five steps way over the line of acceptability. The kids dump the piranhas into Ms. Stellar's bubble bath and then try to drown her. She's splashing around naked the entire time; when we next see the woman, the killer kids are dragging her naked body through the snow.
Devil Times Five moves on to gorier deaths and a bleak ending that fails to lend meaning to what's gone before. The only time we're really surprised is when an unfamiliar little girl is shown applying makeup. She pulls off her wig, and we realize that it's young star-to-be Leif Garrett.
Gene Evans (The Steel Helmet, Park Row) growls and barks and Shelley Morrison (Blume in Love) is marginally interesting as a drunken wife. Top-billed Sorrell Booke does his best, but the pointless script defeats most everyone else.
Media Blaster's Code Red disc of Devil Times Five presents an excellent enhanced copy of this picture with good color and clear audio. The Horrible House on the Hill main title card is an obvious hard-spliced replacement for the original Peopletoys title.
Code Red has made Devil Times Five twice as interesting by including interviews and a commentary with several of its producers and actors, moderated by notable film researcher Darren Gross. 'Young' Tierre Turner has worked for many years as a stuntman. He and fellow actors Joan McCall and Dawn Lyn join producer Michael Blowitz and co-director David Sheldon to tell an odd production story.
Not unlike the old Sci-Fi film The Day of the Triffids, Devil Times Five's first editorial assembly ended up being only about forty minutes long. The disc doesn't offer the original director Sean MacGregor's side of the story, but commentator David Sheldon explains that he and Sandra Lee Blowitz wrote and directed another forty minutes of material, including many scenes with the adult characters in the mountain home. Original-shoot rooms are plain while the re-shoot scenes have colorful peach-hued walls. New POV connective material appears to have been filmed, including a number of angles on doorknobs that don't seem to match the style of the house. Since over half of the movie's scenes do not advance the plot, Devil Times Five is curiously slow, even with the steady diet of sex and gore. The suspicious use of children with adult nudity is understandably not discussed.
Code Red includes an alternate title sequence (one title card, really), a poster gallery, a trailer and a selection of exploitative trailers for extreme fare like Love Me Deadly.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Devil Times Five rates:
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