Monday, August 19, 2013

Census Bloodbath: This Girl Is On Fire

If you're new to Census Bloodbath, click here.
Year: 1980
Director: Joseph Ellison
Cast: Dan Grimaldi, Robert Osth, Ralph D. Bowman
Run Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Ah, Don't Go in the House, the last proto-slasher to be released before Friday the 13th burst onto the scene and changed the game forever. As such, it deviates a lot from the genre norms by having a low body count, no clear-cut final girl, and roots still sucking the final droplets of water from the arid soil of the grindhouse genre.

The second film in what is informally known as the "Don't" Series (having come out a month after Don't Answer the Phone and being followed by Don't Go in the Woods... Alone!, among others), the title is definitely more relevant to the plot than its predecessor, in which zero people were in any danger from telephones.

Donny Kohler (Grimaldi) works at a Fire Factory (at least, that's what I called it in my notes until later dialogue revealed that it was an Incinerator, which I'm still not entirely convinced is a thing), where the little pyro happily burns stuff up and bashes homos until the serene balance of his life is thrown out of whack by the death of his overbearing mother (Ruth Dardick).

This is no great loss, apparently. He is free to play his music as loud as he wants, jump on the furniture, listen to the voices in his head as they hiss for revenge (At least, as far as I can tell. The sound dubbing is notoriously sub-par.), and build a little steel torture chamber in the guest room in his spare time.

You know. For... beekeeping.

Evidently, when he was a child and did something bad, his mother would punish him by burning holding his arms over a lit stove. Turns out, this is not an Oprah-approved child rearing practice and as such, it has left him a little scarred (figuratively and literally) and keen to punish random women he picks up off the street.

First on the roster is Kathy (Johanna Brushay), a kind florist who lets him into her shop after closing. When she misses her bus, he offers her a ride home, although he needs to stop by his house on the way. Once inside, Kathy becomes alarmed (possibly because her host sounds like he's reading his lines off of cue cards), but a swift knock to the head renders her unconscious, and when she wakes up naked, chained to the ceiling, it comes as a bit of a shock.

What's the matter? This would be a regular Tuesday night for some people.

He burns her to a crisp with a flamethrower in the most convincing effects shot of the entire film and repeats this recipe twice on a woman with car trouble and a fellow customer at a convenience store. Neither of these deaths are shown (in fact one of them I wasn't aware had happened until about ten minutes later), which is actually kind of a relief for this kind of movie, especially after the unrelenting misogyny of Don't Answer the Phone. Not that this film is free from that, as it certainly has some heaping helpings of anti-woman sentiment, but it's overall much more palatable than the thoroughly depraved acts from DAtP. Basically it only escapes harsher judgment because I watched the other film first.

With a lot of mumbo jumbo about voices in his head, his childhood punishments, arrested development, and a intense mother fixation, this is just another psychological thriller that is a lot closer to, say, Stephen King than Sigmund Freud but at least the supremely unscientific depiction of mental illness is fairly straightforward this time. It is easy to understand within the confines of its own universe, and that is something we should all be grateful for.

On top of that, the scenes where Donny's dead mother and his three victims seem to speak to him and haunt him around town actually have some crumbs of tension and there are a couple shots that are quite frightening. The makeup could use a little work, but the scenes themselves show some glimmer of competence on the part of the filmmakers and I wouldn't be against seeing another one of the director's films, maybe one where he has a budget higher than a gumball.

Man, that outfit really clashes with her skin tone.

When Donny picks up two hitchhikers on the way to a bar, he is interrupted mid-kidnap by his friend (Osth) and a priest (Bowman), who went looking for him after he caused a scene at a discotheque. The girls get away, providing me with something to write about in my Final Girl section. Hey, the slasher rules haven't been written yet. They didn't know what they were doing. Next time though, guys. Final Girl.

As I mentioned before, in opposition to the slasher template, the film has a surprisingly low body count. This is because it elects to concern itself more with the inner workings of its schizophrenic protagonist than show a slew of teens being bumped off. This is a mistake, but certainly a forgivable one. In a better made movie, a thorough exploration of his mental state would be welcome, but the filmmakers mostly just continue riffing on their Cliff's Notes interpretation of Psycho.

Despite its many lackluster qualities and generally poor production values, the movie doesn't necessarily lack entertainment value. The time passes quite quickly and it has a thankfully short run time, so it's never boring. Don't Go in the House really isn't good enough to be worth the time of anyone with anything less than an obsessive interest in the genre like Yours Truly, but it didn't make me regret donating the last 80 minutes of my life.

That's really the best thing I can say about it, though.

Stay tuned for Prom Night, when we can get into the real slicin' and dicin' with Jamie Lee Curtis of all people!

Killer: Donny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi)
Final Girl: Suzanne (O'Mara Leary) and Patty (Gail Turner), but their survival is only incidental.
Best Kill: N/A - only one kill is shown and the rest follow the exact same M. O.
Sign of the Times: There is a lengthy scene where Donny shops for disco clothes.
Scariest Moment: Dan is pulled into a pit by the burnt corpses of his victims in a nightmare.
Weirdest Moment: When a woman in a disco attempts to coerce him to dance, Donny ignites his fist with pure fury and punches her in the head, setting her hair on fire. Apparently he hits her with a candle but I'll be darned if I could see one.
Champion Dialogue: "You mean I haven't canned the garbage jokes?"
Body Count: 3; 4 if you count his mother.
  1. Mrs. Kohler dies of illness offscreen.
  2. Kathy is burned to death with a flamethrower.
  3. Linda is burned to death with a flamethrower.
  4. Girl In Market is burned to death with a flamethrower.
TL;DR: Don't Go in the House is a poorly made and forgettable psychological thriller, but it isn't an offense to cinema.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1199

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