Devil Times Five (1974)

Devil Times Five (1974)

a.k.a. Peopletoys

a.k.a. The Horrible House on the Hill

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Devil Times Five

“Devil Times Five,” directed by Sean MacGregor and David Sheldon, is a delightfully wicked little obscurity. It has some nice kills, some good performances, a stultifyingly easy setup, some gloriously over-the-top cinematic gestures, and, since it was made in America in the 1970s, an incongruously bleak and nihilistic ending, which I thought to be daring and fun. Killer child films are usually fun in how morally irresponsible they are. Sure, the follows the old horror trope of putting danger and fear into the hands of something seemingly innocent and harmless, but when it comes to filming films of the genre, a filmmaker has to put knives in the hands of child actors. The sight of the child may be scary, but the thought of filming the child, and necessarily putting them in peril… well, call me sick, but that amuses me. Maybe that’s why I liked this year’s “Orphan” so much.

About that setup: A J.R.-type named Papa Doc (Gene Evans) is taking a vacation in his isolated cabin with some relatives, suckups and brownnosers. I may have missed some vital lines of dialogue, but I think they were there to make some sort of business deal. For a lot of the film’s first act, a henpecked nebbish (Sorrell Brooke) talks about waiting for “just the right moment” to approach Papa Doc about some money issue. There is a pretty young blonde, a vampish brunette (yes, they do wrestle in one scene), a Lenny-like retard (who actually does talk about rabbits), and an ABBA reject (John Durren) who is supposed to serve as the film’s strapping stud-cum-hero. With the exception of the painfully offensive retard character, these people all give serviceable performances.

Into this nest of adult iniquity, a quintet of children appears. Led by the strangely military minded Brian (Tierre Turner), and backed up by a doe-eyed little girl (Tia Thompson), an impetuous teen (Dawn Lyn), a creepy pre-teen nun (Gale Smale), and, of all people, Leif Garret, this quintet ask to be put up for the night, and could you please look after us? The adults are too selfish, horny, or greedy to allow it outright, but they reluctantly agree.

We soon learn, though, that these five children have escaped from a local mental prison, and each of them has a homicidal edge. Pretty soon, they are luring adults into dark rooms to knock them out, stab them, hang them, etc., all in punishment for imagined transgressions. One kill is accomplished by rigging up a noose to a gas-powered generator. Another person is fed to piranhas. Yes, there is a tank of piranhas in this movie. Some of the kills are filmed in an unnecessarily arty slow-motion that only serves to distract from the details, rather than being frightening.

Throughout “Devil Times Five,” almost each of the adults tries to reach out to the children in some way, and comfort them and try to be parental figures. They get set of fire for their troubles. Even when you think everything might turn out well, a bear trap shows up and ruins everything.

While wicked and over-the-top, “Devil Times Five” is an aggressively bleak film. It’s dark ending (which explains what “Peopletoys” means), can be seen as a blazing condemnation of hope, or, more likely, as pop 1970s nihilism.

At any rate, it is entertaining. I did like the kills, and, like I said, I have an odd fascination with children in danger. You won’t regret seeing it.

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Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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