DGTS is a 1982 telefilm about a girl named Mary (Robin Ignico of the same yearâ€™s ANNIE) who is seemingly persuaded by the ghost of her dead sister Jennifer (Kristin Cumming) to murder the rest of their family. This â€œis it a ghost or are you insane?â€ flick is drowning in eighties-era eccentricities and is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining killer kid movies this side of THE BAD SEED. (It may also be the most accurate depiction of middle child syndrome created excluding the trials and tribulations of Jan Brady).
1: The Opening Credits
DGTS flies out of the gate with an uncommonly low-tech opening sequence that gives it the air of a cobbled-together home movie. Stranger still, it switches back and forth between a noisy driving sequence and title cards accompanied by creepy music box melodies. Its rough, flatfooted manor feels way out of step for a prime time television presentation of its time and it lets you know from the get-go that youâ€™re in for something peculiar.
2: The Drama.
TV legends Dennis Weaver and Valerie Harper portray increasingly troubled parents Phillip and Laura and do so to the extreme hilt. The events that occur would put anyone on edge but this couple does the deep dive into self-pity, resentment, and oppressive grief like theyâ€™re trapped in an eternal production of â€œWhoâ€™s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?â€. The two chew scenery like competing dogs fighting over a bone and the only one who can claim victory over the histrionic skirmish is the audience. That said, amidst the theatrics, the two-slam dunk more than a few pure notes.
DGTS also deserves some extra points for presenting multidimensional child characters that are written as more than your average precocious moppet. Mary, Jennifer and their brother Kevin (POLTERGEISTâ€™s Oliver Robins) deal with a stew of complex feelings involving rivalry, regret, and the lingering ramifications of death (plus how may movies feature a child in a rubber room wearing a straight jacket?).
3: Ruth Gordon.
Any movie with Ruth Gordon in it is likely to hold me spellbound. Itâ€™s so fun to try and decipher what parts of what sheâ€™s saying were actually in the script and what parts sheâ€™s just ad-libbing to amuse herself.
4: The Pizza Cutter
DGTSâ€™s pizza cutter scene is rightfully infamous to all who have witnessed its illogical glory. How can you not love a ghost movie that canâ€™t resist indulging in the â€œcreative killâ€ element of the then booming slasher craze? Each of the horrific demises the movie presents (the frisbee watermelon fall! the bathtub electrocution! the heart attack by way of lizard!) has a charm of its own but nothing can compare with the extreme close up of a pizza cutter rolling down a bannister or slicing through a phone cord. My pizza cutter can barely cut pizza.
5: The Final Scare
The most impressive thing about DGTS is that no matter how many times your brain may tell you that much of what you are seeing is ridiculous, thereâ€™s still a good chance youâ€™re going to be left feeling genuinely unnerved. By either happy accident or sheer technical brilliance, DGTS leaves its audience with a visual corker that burns hot enough to sear. Thereâ€™s something so uncanny, unnatural and unforgettable about Jenniferâ€™s last Cheshire-cat grin before the curtain closes. Â Itâ€™s a wink from death that reeks of true unworldly madness and its one of the greatest kindertrauma moments that has ever appeared on the small screen.
Wow…I’ve never seen this one. Sounds great! Now I have to wait until the weekend to watch it. Grrrr!!
Is it me or was Ruth Gordon in damn near everything in the 70’s to early 80’s? I just watched Harold and Maud for the first time last weekend, and the weekend before that I watched My Bodyguard for the first time since the 80’s. Without knowing it, I’ve been having a Ruth Gordon marathon!
True, Ruth Gordon was the Michael Caine of her time. You’ll probably want to round out that marathon with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Every Which Way but Loose (1978), and Any Which Way You Can (1980).
Oh man, MY BODYGUARD is the best. I feel like my entire childhood is in that movie.
Now I want to do a Michael Cain marathon. I love that he won an Oscar for HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and then played “Hoagie” in JAWS 4.
What you said about Ruth Gordon ad-libbing was hilarious…because I was thinking the same thing while watching Harold and Maud. It seemed like she just kind of babbled through half the movie.
Oops. I forgot to mention how much I HATED Matt Dillon for YEARS after watching My Bodyguard back when I was 10. I hated the name Matt for years! He played that role almost TOO well!
I’ve been wishing for Arrow, 88 Films or Scream Factory to release it on Blu-ray for YEARS – one of the best TV horrors ever
I love this movie so much! As a kid, I remember how weird it was seeing Valerie Harper as anyone other than Rhoda! She was in some great TV movies (remember “Night Drive”?) but Don’t Go to Sleep is the best. I think I’ll watch it this very day!
I caught this a few years ago. Really thought the argument scene was well done, but overall, it’s no Poltergeist.
One thing I noticed: the family was surnamed Hogan. Valerie Harper in a movie about the Hogan family. Has no one else noticed this?
Darkman, I did catch that when I watched the film yesterday! Weird!
This sounds like a super fun watch! I will definitely be checking it out in the near future.
I watched this over the weekend….and thought it was great! It’s right up there with The Night Stalker and Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Robin Ignico was a great little actress. Most child actors are kind of “eh”, but she was totally believable. The last half hour or so was so intense! I wish I could’ve seen it when it was broadcast.
And…I never noticed before (I was 12 when this came out), but….Valerie Harper was kind of a babe.
Years ago when imdb still had message boards, the screenwriter’s son (or someone claiming to be him) commented that a remake was in the works. Sadly nothing ever materialized. It would be great if Kino or Scream Factory could rescue this one from bootleg obscurity.
Geoff: That would be great. Someone coughcough Lancifer cough should start a petition.