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Devil Times Five
Borrowing heavily from classic ‘killer kid' movies that were released in the years prior (think The Bad Seed, to name only one), 1974's The Devil Times Five (or The Horrible House On The Hill, if you want to go by the title card used on the elements that this transfer was taken from, reportedly the original 35mm negative), opens with a scene where a van transporting five kids from a mental hospital crashes in the woods. The driver doesn't survive but the kids do, and wannabe star David (Leif Garrett), wannabe soldier Brian (Tierre Turner), fire-loving Susan (Tia Thompson), pale skinned nun "Sister" Hannah (Gail Smale) and the smallest of the bunch, Moe (Dawn Lyn) make their way through the brush and take shelter from the winter weather in a very fancy vacation home. This home happens to belong to a wealthy @$$hole named Papa Doc (Gene Evans) who just so happens to be enjoying a weekend there with his wife Lovely (Carolyn Stellar), his daughter Julie (Joan McCall) and her boyfriend Rick (Taylor Lacher), a nebbish doctor friend named Harvey (Sorrell Booke, who some might recognize as Boss Hogg from The Dukes Of Hazzard) and his constantly drunk wife Ruth (Shelley Morrison). Looking after them all is a 'simple' caretaker named Ralph (John Durren).
The adults are, quite understandably, surprised to find the kids holed up in the house but realize that, like or not, they can't just send them on their way. Hannah somehow convinces the lot that she is, in fact, a real nun and the other kids wind up getting too comfortable too quickly in their new digs. After a bit of time, bad things start to happen. The first to die is poor Ralph, found handed in the home after freaking out Hannah and promising to keep secrets with her. But if Ralph is the first, he won't be the last, and it soon becomes obvious to anyone with half a brain that these kids, while diminutive in size, are quite dangerous after all…
The Devil Times Five is a pretty predictable movie and it suffers from some pretty obvious pacing problems but it isn't without its odd seventies charms. Even if it's obvious where everything is heading in the film, it's a fun ride to get there. Some of the murder set pieces get some bonus points for legitimate creativity and the actors that play the different psycho kids all do a very good job of creating characters that, if not necessarily always believable, are at least always interesting to watch. Tierre Turner is quite amusing as Brian, barking orders at everyone and treating everything that he's involved with as a military mission, while Leif Garrett is equally fun to watch as the somewhat flamboyant kid who just knows that he's destined for bigger and better things no matter who he has to get out of his way to make it happen. Gail Smale has a seriously weird screen presence here, spending most of the film with heavy pancake makeup on and sporting glasses to try and make herself look older than she really is. Tia Thompson is fun as the pyromaniacal Susan and while Dawn Lyn has less to do than the other ‘kids' in the movie, she too does fine work here.
As to the adults? Gene Evans plays the surely jerk of the group quite well. He knows what he wants and he wants it when he wants it. He's used to being in charge and doesn't like to take ‘no' for an answer. Carolyn Steller is fun to watch as Lovely, a perpetually horny woman who can't be bothered to wear a bra and who once had a relationship with Rick, which leads to some tension between she, he and his new wife Julie. Sorrell Booke plays the wimpy doctor role well enough and Shelley Morrison is pretty fun to watch as the J&B swiggin' drunk of the bunch. John Durren, who wrote the script, is basically playing Lenny from Of Mice And Men but he doesn't do a half bad job of it.
The middle stretch of the film drags a bit, the pacing could definitely have been tighter here, and again, the movie doesn't really even try to hide the truth behind who and what these kids really are. The movie also overuses some slow motion throughout the film, which can be kind of distracting at times. Overall though, if you've got a thing for low budget seventies horror oddities, The Devil Times Five ought to scratch that itch for you and then some. It's a pretty fun watch.
Code Red brings The Devil Times Five to Blu-ray on a 25GB disc framed at 1.78.1 taken from a ‘2k scan of the original negative.' and it generally looks very good. Taking up 21GBs of space on the 25GB disc, the transfer shows only mild damage in the form of specks and the life, nothing too distracting here at all. Black levels are pretty good and detail looks quite nice here. The picture quality always looks properly film-like, there are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement problems and compression artifacts are never a problem. Overall, this looks very good.Sound:
Audio is handled by way of an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono option. The audio is usually pretty clean and nicely balanced, with the score having a bit more range than you might expect it to. Dialogue can occasionally sound a little muffled but thankfully those moments are infrequent, with the vast majority of the film sounding clean and clear. There are a couple of spots where you'll notice some crackle on the track but it never lasts for more than a couple of seconds at a time and only happens a few times during playback. Not perfect, but more than acceptable. There are no alternate language or subtitle options included on this disc.
The main extra feature on this release comes in the form of a commentary track with actors Joan McCall and Dawn Lynn and producers Mickey Blowitz and David Sheldon moderated by Darren Gross. This is an interesting track that details how the original cut of the film was way too short to work as a feature length release, resulting in the cast being brought back to shoot more footage. They also cover what it was like on set, who directed what during the production, the locations, how everyone got along, thoughts on the finished product and more. It's a good track, packed with information, the moves at a nice pace.
The disc also includes a twenty-two-minute featurette with actors Tierre Turner, Joan McCall, Dawn Lynn and producer David Sheldon that, again, goes over the whole history of the movie, the reshoots required, the film's original title, who did what behind the camera and more. The same four show up in a seven-minute bonus interviews segment offering a few more details on their respective careers and experiences on the film.
Finishing up the extras on the disc are the film's original trailer, menus and chapter selection.
The Devil Times Five isn't the most original horror film ever made and the middle section drags a bit but it's got enough seventies weirdness and charm working in its favor to make it an easy recommendation to anyone with an appreciation for such things. Code Red's Blu-ray release looks very nice and it features some decent extras as well. Recommended.
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.