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- Published on Amazon.com
Despite the fact Devil Times Five (1974) aka The Horrible House on the Hill aka People Toys is an extremely inexpensive, independent feature comprised of footage shot during two, obviously separate shoots, and one that suffers from core issues, I still found it an ookie and entertaining nugget of exploitive horror that depicts what happens when five, young, homicidal sociopaths are accidentally released upon an unsuspecting public. Directed by Sean MacGregor (Gentle Savage), with additional scenes supplied by David Sheldon (Grizzly), the film features Taylor Lacher (Mr. Majestyk), Joan McCall (Grizzly), Carolyn Stellar (Cry Blood, Apache), and Gene Evans (Donovan's Brain). Also appearing is Sorrell `Boss Hogg' Booke ("The Dukes of Hazzard"), Shelley Morrison ("Will & Grace"), John Durren (The Gumball Rally), Gail Smale, Dawn `Dodie' Lyn ("My Three Sons"), Tierre Turner (Cornbread, Earl and Me), Tia Thompson, and 1970s child star Leif Garrett (Walking Tall Part II).
As the film opens we witness a number of things, the most substantial involving a boogie van with some children and a couple of adults careening off a snowy, California mountain road (the five children survive, while the adults, seemingly, aren't so lucky). After the accident the children wander through the snow and come upon a very large, isolated house owned by a self-made blowhard named Papa Doc (Evans), who happens to be vacationing with some family and business acquaintances. In attendance is Papa Doc's daughter Julie (McCall), her hair impaired boyfriend Rick (Lacher), Papa Doc's sleazy trophy wife Lovely (Stellar), who's actually Julie's stepmother, Papa Doc's sycophant Harvey Beckman (Booke), Harvey's boozy wife Ruth (Morrison), and a mentally defective man-child caretaker named Ralph (Durren), who comes off exactly like the character of Lennie from John Steinbeck's novel "Of Mice and Men", even to the point where he takes care of some rabbits (I wouldn't have been surprised if he named one of them George). As far as the children go, there's creepy eyed Sister Hannah (Smale), who's the oldest, claims to be a novice nun, and acts somewhat as the leader, a black kid named Brian (Turner) who's apparently obsessed with the military (he even wears fatigues), Susan (Thompson), the resident pyromaniac, David (Garrett), a habitual liar with cross-dressing tendencies, and the youngest a little girl named Moe (Lyn), who's apparently a non-descript sort of nutty. Anyway, shortly after the seemingly harmless children are taken in various things start to happen like the phone going dead, the generator supplying the electricity going kaput, the rifles and kitchen cutlery going missing, along with an `accidental' death. The adults, being incredibly slow on the uptake, don't suspect the children at first, but soon realize the error of their ways once the homicide rate begins to rise...
One should probably know going into this film the first hour or so moves along very slowly, mostly because there's a lot of material involving the adults that doesn't really add anything to the actual plot. The last twenty minutes or so things do pick up, once the little weirdoes start seriously offing the adults. There was one painfully tedious sequence upfront and that involved an adult who actually survived the van accident following the children in an effort to keep them from committing harming others, as he obviously knew the danger should they come into contact with `normal' people. The children realize he's following them and set up a murderous ambush. The vicious attack scene, which was shot in slow motion and sepia tones, lasts a staggering six minutes (this may not seem like a lot but in movie time it's a huge chunk). As far as the story the main problem I had was with the children, specifically how they were able to easily deceive the adults for as long as they did. The children weren't a highly organized collective, especially given their willingness to argue amongst themselves, but they continually managed to outmaneuver the clueless adults at every turn. I would think some major red flags would have gone up once the phone went dead, the power was killed, the car disabled, and all the rifles and knives disappeared, but whatever...if you can get past this element, the film is actually pretty creepy, especially given the means in which the children dispatched some of their elders (hammers, sickles, axes, spears, guns, piranha, immolation, etc.). The funniest bit for me in the film, besides seeing a young Leif Garrett donning a wig, makeup, and a dress (his character was one of the creepiest of the little weirdoes), was when Harvey Beckman tries to score with his souse of a wife Ruth, who obviously lost interest in that kind of thing long ago, resulting in the following exchange...
Ruth: Harvey, I have a headache, a toothache, a backache, and I'm expecting the gout.
Harvey: (frustrated) Would an aspirin help?
As I said the story does tend to move along slowly, but I thought the characters were fairly interesting so it wasn't a huge deal for me. Along with some violence (none of it terribly gory), there's also a small bit of skin from both Joan McCall and Carolyn Stellar. All in all the film did have some problems, but the performances were fairly solid (for an independently made, exploitative horror film) and the nastiness, once in full swing, was pretty entertaining making it worthy of a look for anyone interested in creepy, somewhat forgotten horror features from the 1970s.
The picture on the DVD, released by Code Red and distributed by Media Blasters, is presented in widescreen anamorphic (1.78:1), and looks decent considering the age of the film and the independent nature of the production. There is the occasional flaw, but nothing too obtrusive, usually limited to a small scratch or some other, minor marking. The audio, available in Dolby Digital 2.0, is definitely on the soft side, but otherwise decent enough. There are a slew of complimentary extras including a short, alternate main sequence, a poster gallery, an original theatrical trailer, interviews with the cast and crew, and an audio commentary track featuring actors Joan McCall, Dawn Lyn, producer Mickey Blowitz, and co-director David Sheldon, moderated by film historian Darren Gross (the original director, Sean MacGregor, is noticeably absent). Also included are previews for Don't Go in the Woods (1982), Love Me Deadly (1973), School Girls in Chains (1973), Sweet Sixteen (1983), Beyond the Door (1974), and The Secrets of Sweet Sixteen (1973).