OCTOBER 31, 2012
While you can get nitpicky with the exact order, the OVERALL scheduling of the Video Nasties midnight series at the Cinefamily this month was intended to be a gradual decline into true depravity. Thus, the first week would be the tamer efforts, while the final selections would be the ones that truly deserved the scorn of censors, which is why I Spit On Your Grave was given the next to last slot (with Cannibal Holocaust taking the coveted "Nastiest" title). However, some unknown issue (print availability, I assume) forced them to swap out Grave with Don't Go In The House, and I pity the person who sat down assuming it was equally depraved.
Really, if you take out the infamous blowtorch scene (the movie's original title was The Burning; thanks Cropsey!), it's hard to imagine a censor batting an eye at the rest of the movie even back in 1979, let alone today (whereas Cannibal Holocaust largely remains a "How did this even get MADE?" affair). Indeed, this scene is pretty hard to watch - the FX are solid, and even if it was clearly a Barbie doll in closeup or something, there's no way that a chained up and naked woman being immolated with a blowtorch doesn't make you feel a bit dirty for watching it.
But that's only a half hour or so into the movie, and it's also the only, er, "nasty" bit. The rest is a pretty tame Psycho wannabe (making this big/only shock's placement, roughly at the end of the first act, just another influence from Hitchcock's film), with our "hero" Donny going about his day and occasionally trying to pick up women to bring home to kill. He fails as often as he succeeds, and at least one other kill isn't even on-screen. Please note - I'm not pointing this out to complain, merely to stress, again, that the British censors were insane to outright ban some of these movies.
Thus, because of this one 30 second scene, British audiences were robbed of an imperfect but peculiar psycho killer movie in the vein of (fellow Nasties) Maniac or Driller Killer. Dan Grimaldi gives a solid performance as Donny; he's got a bit of a Dustin Hoffman demeanor to him, and is on-screen for pretty much every second of the movie, so if he was a shit actor the movie would be unbearable (or hilarious). He doesn't talk much though. Unlike Norman Bates, who would get pretty chatty at times, Donny keeps pretty quiet; he offers quick responses to those who talk to him and you can practically see him wince whenever he has to talk first, like in the scene where he goes to buy a new outfit in order to go to a disco with his pal. Having no idea how to clothes shop, he waits until someone leaves and then asks the clerk to look at the same thing they were! It's pretty awesome.
Speaking of his pal, this guy is somehow scarier than the murderous Donny. Despite the fact that Donny is a standoffish weirdo (we meet him as he watches/doesn't help a coworker that is burning alive due to an incinerator mishap), the guy forces himself into Donny's life, calling him all the time, encouraging him to go have beers with him or maybe just come over to talk. At first I thought perhaps the guy was gay and interested in him, but the whole disco thing comes about because he wants to meet up with some girls (without his wife knowing). And after something ugly happens there, he tracks down Father Gerritty, Donny's priest, and begs him to help him find Donny before it's too late. All of this for a guy he saw at work sometimes? Whenever I see someone from work out in public, it takes me a few moments to even recognize them. I sure as hell wouldn't look for their priests.
Another interesting thing about the movie is the New Jersey setting. You'd think there would be a lot of horror movies filmed there, given its proximity to (presumably more expensive) New York and variety of locations (woods, beaches, small towns, cities) in a relatively small area, but then and now it's actually pretty rare to see one. Donny's house in particular looks like a great horror movie house - it's almost a shame that they don't set most/all of the movie there, as it sort of resembled the Spider Baby mansion.
I also wish the movie wasn't so repetitive. We get a number of flashbacks to the mother abusing him (with fire, of course); they're all pretty much the same and don't tell us anything new. And the girls all blend together, which I'm sure is part of the point, but doesn't help make the movie any more exciting when the climax revolves around whether or not he'll kill a girl who we just met five minutes ago. Psycho's switch of focus worked because Norman was sympathetic (and we didn't know he was also the killer, just covering it up), but here only a sociopath would root for Donny to get away. It gives the movie a sort of matter-of-fact feel, and the goofy epilogue does it no favors as it practically suggests that there's a supernatural element at play. I'd say cut it, but if you took that and the repeated flashbacks out, the movie would only be like 60 minutes long.
If you're a fan of Psycho ripoffs, you can certainly do worse. The title makes no sense and it can be a bit too slow for its own good, but a solid performance and above average filmmaking are enough to make it worth your while. AND it has some awesome disco tunes, so there's something.
What say you?