The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: ‘Don’t Go in the House’ (1980)

Posted by Damon Swindall - July 30th 2012 @ 7:48 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

VHS cover for Don't Go in the House

A creepy house is not an uncommon thing in our beloved genre. Countless films have centered around a horrible building of some sort. Look at the horrors that awaited people in films like Psycho, or the possession which took place in Poltergeist, even all the way back to the silent days and the terrors that awaited the couple knocking on the door to Orlock’s castle in Nosferatu. If there is one thing that all of the victims in these films should have done, it was stay the hell away from those houses! I guess Joseph Ellison decided to take that message to heart when he created his first film (of only two): Don’t Go in the House. You might think it’s your average slasher, but it’s quite a bit different than all that, and definitely much slower.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is an adult male who still lives with his mother, but he didn’t really have a choice to leave. This domineering, sadistic woman spent his childhood punishing the boy by severely burning him from the flame on the gas stove. Years later he lives with the old woman afraid to leave or do anything. But when he comes home from work to find her dead, that all changes. Now he has his chance to let it all out. He builds a steel lined room and begins to lure women home to chain them up and burn them alive with the aid of his trusty flamethrower. His work friend begins to see him unraveling and Donny’s own mind begins to work even more against him, sending his life up in flames. Ha!

Flame On!

From the synopsis and the way everything started I expected this to be a by-the-numbers slasher, a little on the blasé side of things. I was wrong. Yes, the deaths were all very similar, but this played out more like a slow burning fuse than your average slice-em-up flick. The focus wasn’t put on nubile young women in peril – of which there were a few – but instead on the psychological breakdown of our lead. Grimaldi does a wonderful job of taking the reins of this man whose last straw just broke as he enacts his revenge on society for what happened to him. He completely goes off the edge not only in private, but also attacks a woman amidst the lighted floors of a disco. Absolute insanity.

This is not to say it’s the most perfect movie, or even all that deep, it’s just not the normal light, fun HMN fare that we’re used to seeing. That’s a good thing now and then. Where this film fails at times is when things slow down too much. I love a good slow movie more than most, but times in this get a little too slow even for my tastes. Luckily those moments are broken up by some snicker-worthy moments.

What would you expect Donny to do after discovering his mother’s body? If you inexplicably guessed rocking out, you’d be right! After a very short grieving moment the repressed boy heads to his room to play his records as loud as he wants. The horror escalates when you find out that his brand of jams is disco. EEK! The mental images that conjures up are scary as shit, and those fears are realized when he’s at the disco club later, and the fashions of the culture are filling your screen and mind with fright. That’s always the gamble when you hit play on a film released in late 70s/early 80s.

Shopping excitement

Another absurd moment is when Donny goes to a department store to shop for club duds. Something that should be nothing but B-Roll is expanded into a few minutes where our killer and the salesman discuss the current hot trends. There is no good reason for this scene. It plays no important role and no one dies…but I’ll be damned if it isn’t entertaining.

Not only does this film teach us to “not go in the house” (as the title warns), but there’s also a moment that all young women need to take to heart. Two young partying chicks walking down the street are approached by Don in his truck offering them a ride. One glance and you can clearly see that his clothes are disheveled, the blood and bruises on his face indicate that he’s been beaten, and his side-view mirror is held on by duct tape. Do they accept the ride? Yes. Do they end up almost being burned alive in a creepy steel room? Yes. What’s the moral of this story? Girls, don’t get in the fucking car!

Donny's Mind is Breaking

Above all this film is not just in the horror genre but more akin to some of the 70s exploitation cinema. There’s a reason why Quentin Tarantino picked it to show at one of his QT Fest shows. In the end it’s not even just that, but kind of feels like a feature length PSA about child abuse. Don’t do weird shit to your kids or they will grow up to burn women alive. Sound advice.

Until next week – When you are lured outside the ominous home of some vaguely creepy guy at least think twice before going inside. This goes for any of my possible dates as well.

Body Count: 5
First Death: 8:56
Best Death: First Girl Burned Alive
Time Spent on the Shopping Scene: 3:28

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-7/25/12: Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) Christmas in July!
-8/1/12: Dr. Giggles (1992)
-8/8/12: Berserker: The Nordic Curse (1987)
-8/15/12: The Sender (1982)


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