Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Not Exactly Village Of The Damned

DEVIL TIMES FIVE is a very odd film. It's not a particularly good film, but that may be asking too much of a film with a troubled production history like this one. According to the filmmakers, the original director, Sean MacGregor, struggled for four weeks to shoot on location at Lake Arrowhead, California, and only managed to complete 38 minutes of usable footage. The producers fired MacGregor, two more directors were hired to shoot another 50 minutes or so in just one week in a rented house in Los Feliz. Continuity was a nightmare--sets, hairstyles, props, even film stock doesn't match. Each shoot had its own director of photography, and despite the filmmakers' protestations to the contrary, it's very easy to take a look at each scene and within a few seconds determine whether it was filmed at Arrowhead or Los Feliz. Shooting was so sloppy that one small role is (quite obviously) portrayed by three different actors!

DEVIL TIMES FIVE, released in 1974 as PEOPLE TOYS and later as THE HORRIBLE HOUSE ON THE HILL, is a low-budget horror movie about three bickering couples stranded for the weekend at a snowy mountain lodge. Their fighting is broken up by the appearance of some children, who claim their bus crashed and their driver is dead. They're really from a nearby mental hospital. They killed their driver, and they spend the rest of the movie knocking off the cast members in a number of imaginative ways (impaling, hanging, hatchet...).

Whatever his problems on-set were, MacGregor can take credit for assembling a pro cast. Top-billed Sorrell Booke, later to strike it rich as Boss Hogg on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, is very good as a timid man pushed around by his wife, his boss, and even strange children. Big Gene Evans played lots of blustering loudmouths in his day, but he was good at it. Taylor Lacher, just off a regular gig as Glenn Ford's deputy on the CADE'S COUNTY TV series, is very likable in what is basically the hero's role, and it's too bad he got stuck playing heavies in episodic TV. The kid actors are genuinely creepy, and you might recognize real-life brother and sister Leif Garrett and Dawn Lyn, as well as Tierre Turner, who's now a busy Hollywood stunt coordinator.

DEVIL TIMES FIVE would never be made in today's post-Columbine atmosphere, not just because of its central conceit of children committing violent murders, but in particular for one scene in which two of them drop killer piranha into a woman's bathtub and then drag her naked corpse across a snowy yard. Although the film is not very good, it does contain an occasional scene, like this one, that makes it memorable.

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