DGTS is a 1982 telefilm about a girl named Mary (Robin Ignico of the same year’s ANNIE) who is seemingly persuaded by the ghost of her dead sister Jennifer (Kristin Cumming) to murder the rest of their family. This “is it a ghost or are you insane?” 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 you’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 they’re trapped in an eternal production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”. 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 (POLTERGEIST’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. It’s so fun to try and decipher what parts of what she’s saying were actually in the script and what parts she’s just ad-libbing to amuse herself.
4: The Pizza Cutter
DGTS’s pizza cutter scene is rightfully infamous to all who have witnessed its illogical glory. How can you not love a ghost movie that can’t resist indulging in the “creative kill” 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, there’s still a good chance you’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. There’s something so uncanny, unnatural and unforgettable about Jennifer’s last Cheshire-cat grin before the curtain closes. It’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.