DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE. 1980. DIRECTED BY JOSEPH ELLISON. STARRING DAN GRIMALDI AND RUTH DARDICK.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
Now, if there’s one thing that really gives me the heebie-jeebies when it comes to horror films, it’s men who don’t have the manners and good taste to bury their mothers when they die. I always get the urge to say to them: ‘YO, M*****F*****, BURY YOUR MOMMA…!’ Norman Bates from PSYCHO (1960) was one such head-the-ball, as we say here in Ireland. (Pssst. It means nut-job.) Donald ‘Donny’ Kohler from DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980) is another.
Donny’s story makes for spectacularly grisly viewing. I wasn’t expecting much from the film before I watched it, to tell you the truth, probably because of the corny name, but things got real ugly real quick. By the time the film was less than halfway through, my mouth was hanging open with shock. (Not a pretty sight, I can tell you.)
Donny lives with his ma in a house that is the identical twin of the Bates Motel. I love it, love it, love it. It’s big and creepy and old-fashioned and I wouldn’t set foot in it if my life depended on it. Donny, a man whom it is obvious from the outset is a socially-inept outsider, comes home from work one day to find his dear old mumsie dead in the armchair in her bedroom.
At first, he’s inclined to freak out about it. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? But then the voices in his head- I did mention that he’s a big weirdo, didn’t I?- tell Donny that he’s free now. Free from his wicked old meanie of a mother and the abuse which she inflicted upon him when he was a nipper. In a series of disturbing flashbacks, we find out that Donny’s mother had a nasty habit of holding his arms over a gas flame when he was younger in order to burn the ‘evil’ out of him.
Okaaaay, well, I think we’ve discovered the reason why poor old Donny is cuckoo-bananas. Donny, however, sees the sense in what the voices in his head are telling him. He decides there and then to go forth and do all the things he was never able to do when Mumsie was alive, badgering and bullying the bejeesus out of him all the livelong day. While his mother sits literally rotting in her armchair, Donny turns his music up nice and high and goes down to the basement to build a nice, steel-panelled crematorium.
Excuse me, a whaaaat…? Baby, you don’t know the half of it. Bear with me a sec and all will be revealed. He brings a pretty young florist home to the Bates Motel, I mean, his gaff, under false pretences. He knocks her unconscious when her back is turned. When she regains consciousness… Well, this is where the nightmare really starts, and also, incidentally, where my jaw started to hit the floor. I kid you not, this is probably the most extreme scene I’ve come across in a horror film to date. Here’s the deal…
Little Miss Florist- without being too salacious about it- is stark naked and suspended from the ceiling of the flameproof room by steel chains. There is no escape. The door to the flameproof room opens slowly. A figure enters. A figure garbed from head to foot in a flame-retardant suit. He has a flamethrower. Do I need to spell it out for you…? Well, I will spell it out, but only because I’m a reviewer and it’s my job. I’ll do it quickly, though, to get it over with. Hesetsheronfireandputshercharredcorpseinanupstairsbedroom.
There, that wasn’t so bad, was it…? Well, okay. I know it’s gross. And icky. Gross and icky and sick. Sick, sick, sick. Donny commits this same atrocity with two more unsuspecting females who would have been a darn sight better off if they hadn’t gone in the house. Geddit…?The film’s called DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE and I said that they’d have been better off if… Oh, forget it.
Anyway, all three of these girlies bear a distinct resemblance to the late, not-so-great Ma Kohler, so I think we’re safe in assuming that when Donny kills them, he’s really killing dear old Mumsie and revenging himself upon her for all the years of abuse she inflicted on him when he was a child. He even gives Mumsie her turn on the receiving end of the flamethrower and afterwards makes her corpse bunk in with the other three for company. Aw, how sweet. They can have sleepovers and pillow-fights.
It is the four smokin’ corpses who ultimately bring about the downfall of the ‘Master of The Flame.’ That’s what the voices in his head call him, by the way. Yep. Cuckoo…! Donny’s plan to burn two young women together falls apart when the women are rescued by the local priest and Donny’s work colleague Bobby, who have reason to believe that Donny is in trouble. No s**t, Sherlock. Donny tries to hide in his mother’s bedroom but the corpses he is storing there come to life- in his diseased mind only, one imagines- and berate him for his uselessness. Well, if you will store corpses in your mother’s bedroom, what do you expect?
He turns the flamethrower on the cadavers but only succeeds in burning down his whole house and incinerating himself into the bargain. Tsk, tsk. Isn’t it always the way? The film ends with a different young boy being treated harshly by his mother. The whispering voices in the boy’s head tell him that they are here to ‘help’ him. I smell a sequel…
This film, banned in some places on its release for being a ‘video nasty,’ is as grim and gruesome as all-get-out, but it’s a cinematic gem as well. The parallels withPSYCHO had me hooked- albeit terrified as well- from the start, and in the scenes in the flameproof room I was shown something I had never seen before. Call me a sheltered little princess, but the whole ‘fire’ business was a new one on me. The concept, to me at least, was original and shocking and made me lose sleep, and I love my sleep. It’s true. Ask anyone who knows me.
Watch the film first chance you get, horror fans, but for the love of puppies, keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE proves to be a mite too hot to handle. And when you’re told DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE, don’t go in the damn house. okay? Just don’t. The warning is there for a reason.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival. Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issue magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. She is addicted to buying books and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia, and would be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at: