Don’t Go in The House (1979)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #259

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Number of Views: Two
Release Date: March 28, 1980
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $250,000
Running Time: 82 minutes
Director: Joseph Ellison
Producer: Ellen Hammill
Screenplay: Joseph Ellison, Joe Masefield, Ellen Hammill
Special Effects: Peter Kunz, Matt Vogel
Cinematography: Oliver Wood
Score: Richard Einhorn
Editing: Jane Kurson
Studio: Turbine Films Inc.
Distributor: Media Home Entertainment, Media Blasters
Stars: Dan Grimaldi, Charles Bonet, Bill Ricci, Robert Osth, Ruth Dardick, Johanna Brushay, Darcy Shean, Ralph D Bowman, Tom Brumberger, Nikki Collins, Kim Roberts, Louise Grimaldi, Colin McInness, O’Mara Leary, Gloria Szymkovicz, Gail Turner

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Suggested Audio Candy

L’Ectrique “Struck By Boogie Lightning”

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If Quentin Tarantino informed you that a festering pile of freshly dropped nearby dog excrement tasted like top sirloin, would you give it a lick? I would give it at least a cursory sniff just based on the fact that this man can do absolutely no wrong in my eyes. You see, not only has he been responsible for giving us some of the finest moments in modern cinema, but he’s a self-confessed film junkie like myself and his opinion happens to carry some pretty hefty weight. The dude needs that strong chin of his to fit that wonderful elongated brain into his face and seldom speaks anything other than sense; so a recommendation from him is deemed very much worthy of my close consideration.

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Not only is Don’t Go in The House one of Tarantino’s all-time favorite movies but also, in his humble opinion, one of the most disturbing films ever committed to celluloid. This endorsement alone was enough to prompt me to take another look at Joseph Ellison’s reviled nasty, originally titled The Burning but not to be confused with Tony Maylam’s equally notorious slasher from a year later. Just like its namesake, it swiftly ran into problems with the censors, mainly due to its violence against women, However, misogyny is actually nowhere to be discerned and instead Ellison’s film offers a rather unsettling insight into the increasingly frail psyche of a man who suffered as a child at the hands of his abusive mother.

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There are plentiful parallels to be drawn between Ellison’s film and a number of films which have trodden the same boards previously. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one and William Lustig’s Maniac another. However, where the latter reveled in the atrocities of its lead, Don’t Go in The House focuses more attention on the visions plaguing his mental state and only occasionally subjects the viewer to his inhospitable antics. In that respect, this is far more accessible to those of a weaker disposition, albeit still a somewhat calamitous choice of date movie.

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It centers around mommy’s boy Donny, a repressed and socially awkward construction worker who lives with dear old mom in her antiquated home and still tends to her every whim. Our first introduction to his mother reveals her to be in less-than-well health, in fact she is as stiff as a board and has had her last cup of chamomile tea. Upon discovering mommy dearest in her comfy chair without a pulse, Donny breaks down before hilariously realizing that he can now play his music loud and turning all Kevin McAllister. He smokes cigarettes, bounces on the furniture and lights a disco inferno in his lounge, before the voices start creeping in to spoil his fun.

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The nagging narrative inside his head is ominous to say the least and it isn’t long before his fascination with naked flames is taken to the next level. Clad in hazmat suit and brandishing a ferocious looking flamethrower, Donny begins luring back members of the opposite sex and chargrilling their bony asses. All the while he is suffering vile hallucinations which suggest the walls of his mind steadily closing in.

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Dan Grimaldi does remarkably well as the increasingly detached protagonist, particularly in light of the fact that most of the other characters are fairly one-dimensional. With a tagline like “In a steel room built for revenge, they die burning… in chains” you know Donny isn’t going to be the most sympathetic character and his actions are clearly far from admirable but, in a scene in a nightclub where he desperately attempts to fit in but fails miserably, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him. Then he goes and ruins it all by burning people alive for his own sick amusement. Tut.

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Contrary to a reputation which precedes it, Ellison’s film isn’t necessarily graphic. There is no real grue to speak of and the violence is only ever fleetingly observed and sparingly situated within its 82 minute duration. What really digs away under your pelt is the psychological decline of its main protagonist as it charts his slip into outright madness. It achieves much with its imagery and dream sequences and leaves you feeling vulnerable, so in that respect at least, it’s job done.

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Like so many similar features it is a hard film to adulate. Sorry Quentin, while I understand your subjective standpoint, it isn’t nearly as memorable a movie as you have led many to believe. That’s not to say Don’t Go in The House is without merit, on the contrary, it’s a well-played and paced chiller with much to commend; none least for its depiction of a tormented soul and message about how child abuse can manifest again in later life. But John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer nailed it better six years later, rendering this little more than a curate’s piece.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Those searching for grue will be found wanting come the end but that’s not to say that that shit doesn’t get intense. One scene in particular, featuring a naked belle dangling in Donny’s reinforced basement awaiting the heat, really leaves a scald and Don’t Go In The House likely earned its bad reputation on account of this kill alone. As for any titillation, well it’s not really applicable when the Filet Mignon is served well done.

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Read Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Appraisal

Read Maniac (1980) Appraisal

Read The Driller Killer Appraisal

Read Nightmares in a Damaged Brain Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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