I wasn’t sure I wanted to catch DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE. When I was around 13, my best friend was taken to see it by his father and the tale he returned with rattled me. I was immersed in horror films at the time but DON’T, at least as my friend described it, sounded like it was on the deeper end of the pool than I was familiar with. It was about a guy who lived in a house (that you’d better not go into), who captured women, tied them up in a metal room and then burned them alive with a flamethrower. What?! Why would anyone want to do that?! Listening to my pal’s war story was thrilling but worrisome. He talked as if he was lucky to make it out of the theater alive himself. The movie he made in my head was close enough. DON’T didn’t sound like much fun and being tied up and burned alive sounded way crueler than a nice quick axe to the head. I wasn’t ready to go into this particular house. I wasn’t even all that tempted…yet.
A bunch of years passed and I (wrongly) believed I had exhausted every 1980s horror flick I could. Obviously it was high time I took the plunge and went inside that darned house my friend had told me about. Even if the film did not live up to my nervous expectations, I’d have a decent time visiting the dark shadow it once cast in my head. I ended up appreciating the movie a lot more than I expected. I found the depravity I bargained for and the lead actor was sympathetic enough to carry me through. I suppose there is a misogynistic element skulking about but such is the price you pay for free range horror. I missed DON’T in its heyday and I missed it in its awkward years too. By this point it captured a specific valued bubble of time. Friendly disco music and a weirdly effective undercurrent of melancholy balanced out whatever sleazy behavior it indulged in. The house itself is my favorite type of authentic location you only seem to find in low budget films. The awesome icing on the cake is DGITH’s awkward dubbing. The original soundtrack was unusable so everything had to be re-dubbed later which adds something as off-putting as it is endearing. Background characters jabber hilariously and incidental dialogue jumps to the forefront. It’s wrong but I love it.
Watching the film a second time I find myself even more taken. The psycho killer with mommy issues routine is nothing rare but the unscalable wall of alienation maniac Donny Kohler bangs up against is not limited to his history or home. He’s harangued at work, his competency is perpetually up for debate and every time he tries to connect with a lone ally, some snide comment questioning his sexuality is made. Donny’s abusive past (his mother tried to burn the sin out of him) would be enough to unhinge anyone but the consistent debasement he receives in the ugly universe he inhabits is just as destructive. (Okay maybe he shouldn’t have thrown that lit candle holder at that pushy girl’s head at the disco but it’s not as if he wasn’t perfectly clear about not wanting to dance.) In the end Donny’s last victim is not a woman but a priest who has failed him and there’s an epilogue that suggests that the evil we’ve witnessed is not limited to Donny’s twisted mind. In the messed up world of DGOTH it seems every kid we encounter from extras on the street to the children of Donny’s friend are victims of hostility and the voices that haunted Donny are ready to “help” them (“the weak and the wounded” to borrow from SESSION 9) too. Sure, the “evil finds a new host” epilogue may be cliché but it strikes a truth about the fallout of abuse.
DON’T ends up being my favorite type of movie. It can be seen as crude and humorous on one level but on the other hand there’s something hard to shake creepy about it too. The old house, with its bizarre angles and funky furniture and the sudden flashes of Donny’s white-haired, blue-skinned, scarecrow of a dead mother give it some timeless gothic flavor while the music, fashion and unrepentant violence speak specifically of its own era. I also really like the performance of the main actor DAN GRIMALDI. I think he’s really interesting in this and I’m not surprised he went on to other things including playing twins on THE SOPRANOS. I can’t really say this movie ends up being as scary and as effective as the movie that my pal constructed in my head long ago but it does have a better soundtrack and I have a feeling it’s only just begun to speak to me.