"Burning naked, young women alive with a flamethrower." Judge David Johnson wonders if you could still get a movie made with that pitch.
You have been warned.
Dan Grimaldi (The Sopranos) plays a psychologically fragile loner, dependent on his mother, and harboring the after-effects of years of child abuse. This can't end well.
Facts of the Case
And indeed it doesn't. Don't Go in the House is one of the most $%&#-ed up movies I have ever seen.
The premise is simple: Donald Kohler (Grimaldi) is this pathetic guy with zero social skills who had been brutally abused by his oppressive mother growing up is suddenly turned loose on the world after he finds his mother dead. Unable to cope with this momentous loss, Kohler's mind quickly goes bye-bye and he starts hearing voices. And the voices are telling him to do bad, bad stuff.
So Donald hits the road, succumbing to his psychosis, and begins carrying out the unthinkable: he lures young women to his house, where he renders them unconscious, chains them naked in a dungeon, covers them with gasoline, and turns a flamethrower on them, burning them alive (!!!)
Yeah, it's crazy. Kohler's fascination with fire stems from his abusive upbringing, when his mother would hold his arms over an open burner on the stove as means of discipline. Now, Kohler is out of control, unable to satiate the voices in his head and the murder in his heart, and continues to prey on vulnerable women, until his friend and priest finally realize he needs help, building to a fiery climax.
Yikes, is this movie a mental and visual screw job. Writer/director Joseph Ellison has put together a brutal little "psycho" flick—part excursion into the tortured mind of an abuse victim, and part shock horror.
The plot really is minimal. It's about this one guy who's nuts, realizes he's nuts, but is powerless to prevent his further descent into murderous insanity. This aspect of the film is probably the most engaging, Kohler's attempts to reconcile the pervasive psychosis that's eating away at his brain with the smidgens of rational thought that remains. He goes to all ends to escape the voices—social outings with his friends, a desperate appeal to a priest (who utters theological hooey), even a plea to the voices themselves—but his efforts are in vain. He cannot escape.
And while these elements are engrossing, what gives this movie its juice is that whole "torching girls alive" thing. Seriously, this stuff is insane. Ellison takes a different approach with his horror strategy. Instead of saving the most shocking parts for the end, he kicks of Kohler's dark deeds with the most explicit rendering, then ceases to show anything nearly as graphic from then on. It's an interesting filming tactic, and a choice I think works exceptionally well. The audience is hit with this jarring, repugnant scene (and that camera lingers by the way), and though subsequent torch sessions aren't shown, well, they don't need to be. That first image is seared—if you will—into the mind.
The scene in question? Kohler offers a ride to a florist, and convinces her to come into his house and say hello to his mother. The florist eventually suspects there's something off about this guy, but before she can call a cab, Kohler knocks her out, chains her up, dumps gasoline on her while she wails, and opens fire with the flamethrower. Through the use of some passable overlaying special effects, we see the woman writhing, screaming, and burning. Kohler watches, his chest heaving, obviously aroused. Then we cut to a smoking, charred corpse and there's your money scene. Needless to say, it's intense and it colors the rest of the film. Even the creepy assemblage of burn victims that Kohler keeps in his mother's bedroom as trophies isn't as disturbing as this sequence.
So give it up to Ellison. He's made a horror-thriller with some true horror. I've seen some crazy-ass $#%& during my stint with this site, but Don't Go in the House is easily one of the most gut-wrenching.
Though somewhat overshadowed by the flame-throwing mayhem, the rest of the film is more than serviceable. Dan Grimaldi does a great job in the whack job role, and especially shines during his various attempts to get help. Much of the film's success in playing with the idea of murderous obsession should be thrown Grimaldi's way.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of moments that hurt Don't Go in the House. One was an outlandish ending, which, admittedly makes sense in the context of the film, but is too "zombie-like" and features some transparently low-budget make-up work. Then there's a POV shot Ellison uses when Kohler is flipping out. The only problem is that it's the POV of a burned corpse!
Media Blasters presents this film in a clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, bolstered by a decent, though shallow Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. Grimaldi offers a commentary track as well as a ten-minute interview, both of which are interesting. Lastly, there's an extended cut of the burning sequence, heavy on the nudity.
Don't Go in the House is a well-acted, disturbing film, featuring one of the few horror scenes to really get to me. If you're into the whole psycho thing, I'd give this disc a spin.
Not guilty. Flame on.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Commentary with Dan Grimaldi
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