Don't Go in the House

Don't Go in the House has the makings of a threadbare slasher. Going in, all I knew about the plot was that it concerned a psychopath who torched women alive with a flamethrower. Couple that with the year of release (1980), and I figured that this would be a picnic. Well, a picnic where bubbly, ebullient teenagers were indiscriminately roasted by a combustible schizoid. I certainly wasn't expecting a grim character study a la Maniac, but that's what I got. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Bill Lustig's rhapsody in sleaze was employed as a point of reference. However, the two grindhouse darlings were unleashed around the same time. In fact, House may have beaten Maniac to the punch.

The script circumvents the typical, yet tried-and-true standard operating procedure established by Halloween and Friday the 13th. Instead of focusing on a cartel of future victims, this film follows the killer. In this case, the killer is Donny Kohler, a Norman Bates-esque mama's boy who slogs away at an incinerator. We know he's skittish right off the bat. In the opening scene, he stands and stares as a co-worker is enkindled near a furnace grate. After enduring a tongue lashing from his boss, he goes home to discover that his mother's body is cold and lifeless. His first instinct is to dial 911, but a flurry of bated voices in his head encourages him to act out. Literally. I mean, he lights a cigarette and listens to loud rock music.

It would be hysterical if the rest of House saw Donny "rebel" against his dead mother in docile, milquetoast ways. In a sense, he does defy the old hag, but there is nothing docile or milquetoast about blowtorch slaughter (he doesn't use a blowtorch; I just had to take the opportunity to squeeze in a Cannibal Corpse songtitle). The plot runs parallel with that of Maniac, the only differences being the nutcase's occupation and the nature of his crimes. Also, House isn't quite as graphic. Don't get the wrong impression; this is a grisly, harrowing fright flick. The sequence in which Donny scalds the naked flesh of a helpless girl suspended from the ceiling is - for lack of a better term - rough.

Overall, I liked House considerably more than I disliked it, hence the benign rating. Rookie writer/director Joseph Ellison builds tension with the professionalism of a neophyte raised on late-night screenings of Hitchcock classics. Moreover, I dug the outlandish finale. The final product suffers from discernible flaws, though. Simply put, Don Grimaldi's performance as our rattled lead is affected, theatrical even. It doesn't gel with the gritty realism of the film. I was equally put off by the lapses in logic that crept into the narrative as soon as Donny set his first casualty ablaze. Where the hell were the cops? Where the hell was Batman?

In summation, Don't Go in the House is an engaging entry in the "don't" sub-subgenre. It's not oozing with gore, but it serves as a swell companion piece to Maniac. I'm currently writing a sequel entitled No, Seriously...Don't Go in the Fucking House.

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