Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Devil Times Five (1974): or, Our Gang Goes to Hell

Or, It’s Like the Little Rascals, If Buckwheat Thought He Was Rambo, Spanky Was a Transvestite, Darla Was a Nun, and Her Two Sisters Were a Pyro and a Psycho Tot, Respectively.

Boy, this movie was not what I was expecting it to be at all! Looking at the (wonderfully creepy) poster, you might well expect that the film unspooling before you was destined to be some kind of creepy, Village of the Damned or Omen-type thing. Killer kids, expressionless, strangely innocent and menacing, with the well-meaning adults drawn into their cold web of childish, reasonless death. What you get instead is a relentlessly bizarre flick where everyone in it is acting like they’re in a comedy, even though the subject matter isn’t funny and people keep getting killed in gory ways. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but if you saw it, you’d understand.

A van transporting five dangerously insane juveniles from one place to another crashes on an icy road, knocking the driver unconscious and releasing the little devils out onto an unsuspecting populace. Meanwhile, a buff-but-balding boyo is headed up to the mountains with his hawt little blonde wife to spend some time with her rich, domineering father--wonderfully named “Papa Doc”--in hopes of making the young man’s future brighter. Also coming up to the lodge is Papa Doc’s sycophant Harvey and his lush of a wife, and Papa Doc’s verrry loose trophy wife, who goes by the name “Lovely” and has apparently got some history with Buff-but-Balding Rick.

Of course the kids end up at the lodge too, there’s a lot of padding (including an amazing black-and-white kill sequence in the basement that goes on for five-minutes in SUPER SLOW MOTION), and then in the last 15 minutes all holy hell breaks loose as the kids go on a killing rampage that boggles the mind in its inventiveness and what-the-fuckery.

Let me repeat--this is one bizarre, inept movie. According to what I’ve read, the first cut the director submitted came in at 48 mins. Therefore reshoots were done much, MUCH later to pad it out to feature length. This explains why many of the actors sometimes seem to be in scenes by themselves, why the walls in some rooms change colors, and why one of the child actors (future pop star and Tiger Beat cover-boy Leif Garret!) is sometimes inexplicably wearing a huge, BAD wig--he’d had his hair cut between shoots for another role. Wild.

Go ahead, call me Sean Cassidy again.
I fucking DARE YOU!

Still, there’s a lot to love here--the different “psychoses” of the kids are hilarious. One kid thinks he’s a Rambo-type soldier, Leif fancies himself a movie star and in certain scenes dresses up in women’s clothes, the eldest girl wants to be called “sister” and dresses as a nun, one girl has a flamethrower for a lighter, and the littlest tyke seems normal, but turns out alarmingly psycho. Far from being silent and menacing, these kids are literally like Hal Roach's Our Gang from Hell, cracking jokes, bickering, and playing around while they plan the deaths of their elders. And who is the mysterious "George" that the kids all refer to with respect and fear, but who never shows up in the flick? It's a mystery, and one that keeps me awake at night.

The kids are not the only weird thing in this movie, though, not by a long shot. The adults are just as wicked goofy. For instance: an Of Mice and Men–style “Lenny” character (who looks strangely familiar…omg, he's the spitting image of the Duke of DVD!) who is the caretaker and has some...strange moments with the nun kid; Lovely tries to seduce the 'tard, part of a Mill Creek Theme (see also Funeral Home); there's an out-of-nowhere catfight with some fantastic editing (occasioning many literal LOLs); we're treated to one of the most amazing bathtub kills EVAR; and near the end, when the last lone survivor is trying to sneak past the kids to freedom, we get an amazing, totally unexpected “Dude, YOU’RE F*CKED!” moment that made me shake my head in disbelief.

There's something special here going on here, no mistake. Cheesy 70s score, boom mic shadows, alcoholism played for comedy--this flick has it all. I was grinning like an idiot whenever I wasn’t gasping in shock.

Now I don't want to give the impression this is a bloodfest--there’s actually very little gore, and what is there is pretty badly realized--but man, it’s just such a WEIRD movie. The actors play all their lines like they’re in a sit-com, even when it’s wildly inappropriate to do so, lending a surreal, slightly disturbing dissonance, like the sit-com episodes from Natural Born Killers, but not as nasty. Also upping the surreal score is the fact that some fairly big-name stars of the time were in this--there’s Leif, of course, and his real life sister and mother also have roles (mom plays “Lovely,” who is frequently nude; wonder if they used to screen this at family dinners?); Papa Doc is played by country/western singer Gene Evans with broad, hard-edged assholery; pert blond Joan MacCall was apparently a soap star (therefore I call her "TV's Joan"); and the wimpy henchman Harvey who comes into his own too late is played by a nearly unrecognizable Sorrell “Boss Hogg” Booke!

Dagnabbit! How'd them Dukes find me in gol'durn VERMONT?

Inventive kills, LOL dialogue and acting, and some serious WTF moments make this one a one-stop entertainment shop. 2.65 thumbs, and highly recommended to lovers of the cheesy and the strange. Thank you once again, 50 Chilling Classics!

1 comment:

Emily said...

2.65 thumbs you say? I would chop down the other eight digits on these little hands jsut so I can officially give it 10 BLOODY THUMBS!


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