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Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Don't Go In The House (1980)

Don’t Go In The House is the first of only two features from director Joseph Ellison and his only Horror film, unfortunately for us.  The 1980 creepfest chronicles a young man’s descent into madness after the death of his abusive mother.  Ellison borrows elements from the case of everyone’s favorite mama’s boy, Ed Gein, and gives them his own fiery spin.  It’s a morose, unforgettable film that kindles with a macabre sensibility and smolders with real dread.

In the preface we see young Donny victimized by his domineering mother, whose favorite form of discipline is holding the boy’s arms over an open oven flame. Needless to say, years later, the young man can’t look sideways at even a candle without getting the willies.  One day Donny witnesses a coworker erupt in flames on the job and the troubled man can only stare on in morbid fascination.  After getting reprimanded by his boss, he returns home to find that his maternal oppressor has finally kicked the bucket. Realizing the freedom this affords him to pursue his own interests, he commences to playing loud music and jumping up and down on the furniture before moving on to far more nefarious activities.  Let's just say the disturbed man’s idea of “warming up” to people soon takes an all too literal turn.

Once director Ellison ropes us in with the first shocking sequence, he backs off and the focus commendably shifts to the psychological horror of it all.  He effectively portrays the protagonist’s deepening psychosis brought upon by his abuse. Despite the heinous acts being committed, the viewer will likely find himself sympathetic to Donny’s weakening grasp on reality.  Dan Grimaldi’s sincere performance upstages the derivative nature of the story and packs more emotional depth than the average slash-and-hack.  Sure, some hearty suspension of disbelief is required at times, but nothing too loopy to really fume over.

Watch as Donny hears mother's imposing voice in his head; dons an asbestos suit and grills his dates; awkwardly attempts to socialize and pick up women; suffers feverish flashbacks; goes disco dancing and lights up the dance floor; and later, completely loses his mind.

The effects in Don't Go In The House are sparse, but pretty well done. The first fatal flambeau particularly grabs your attention and the charred corpses Donny later surrounds himself with are suitably creepy. As mentioned, the set pieces are relatively few, however, this helps to keep the perspective on our subject's increasing dementia, which is honestly the most intriguing aspect of the film. The cinematography also lends itself well to the proceedings and there's some inventive camerawork to keep things visually interesting. Joseph Ellison’s firm reign never lets things drag and the film deftly builds in suspense. There are a few noticeable hiccups production wise, but in the realm of low budget 80's Horror it's all par for the course.

Some dark humor works into the narrative to occasionally lighten the somber mood, always at the killer’s expense, which thankfully keeps things from ever feeling camp.  The bleak ending is chilling and memorable, and some of the more shocking images stay with you after the final reel.  There's a tacked on coda that does feel somewhat out of place, even if it does reinforce the recurring cycles of violence this film makes comment on.

Somewhere between films like Deranged, The Driller Killer and Maniac (all recommended) lies this quirky, well conceived piece of celluloid that rarely gets the credit it deserves.  If you’ll allow one more pun - it is a spark of genius.

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