Don't Go in the House Review

Between July 1983 and March 1984, Don’t Go in the House was classed as a ‘video nasty’. Three years previous it had been submitted to the BBFC who granted an X-certificate for theatrical distribution once they’d applied their scissors. It was this cut version which had emerged onto VHS and attracted the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who seemingly had a problem with titles beginning with Don’t. (See also Don’t Go Near the Park, Don’t Go in the Woods and Don’t Look in the Basement.) Once it became clear, however, that the BBFC had given their approval, its name was taken off the list so long as only the trimmed version was available to the general public. And so it was that Don’t Go in the House was forever missing just over three minutes’ worth of material until this year. When the new ArrowDrome DVD hits the shops on March 26th, finally British audiences will be able to enjoy Joseph Ellison’s twisted little thriller in fully uncut form.

Thanks to its short-lived status as a ‘nasty’, Don’t Go in the House isn’t quite so well-known as those titles which did meet with prosecution, the so-called DPP 39. If it’s recognised at all then that may very well be down to its prominence on the cover of Stephen Thrower’s 2007 book on American exploitation cinema of the seventies and eighties, Nightmare USA. That fella wielding the flame-thrower and donning the protective clothing - he’s the lead. In the opening scene he watches with complete impartiality as a co-worker at the local incinerator catches fire before his eyes. This is nothing, however. Upon returning home he discovers his mother has passed away in her armchair, thus kick-starting a descent into serial-killing insanity…

As soon as mother has departed the living, the voices begin in our lead’s head. The first thing he asks them is “Can I play my music loud?”, a sure sign if ever there was one of a stunted development. Soon enough he’s playing his disco records at full volume and window shopping for weaponry as mom slowly rots in the living room. Meanwhile, flashbacks fill us in on a childhood trauma that help to explain his psychosis a little: once daddy left the scene, our future serial killer was subject to the demented beliefs of his mother. He needed to be purified and what better way of doing so that subjecting his bare arms to the flames of their oven. No wonder that fellow employee at the incinerator was so beguiling when he caught light.

Thanks to the Nightmare USA cover - and indeed the cover of this new disc - it’s fairly obvious that the flamethrower is our psycho’s weapon of choice. With that said, perhaps we’re not quite so prepared for him using it on chained-up naked women in a fireproof room. Needless to say it was these sequences in particular that caused the BBFC so much worry back in the eighties, though now they’re perfectly happy to grant an 18. In their uncut form such scenes are undeniably nasty and have a pronounced effect - a sure sign that Ellison knows what he’s doing. He’s particularly good when it comes to the sound design, whether it be underpinning certain moments with the roar of intense heat or the sparing use of Richard Einhorn’s score. He’s keen on atmosphere and also rather good at shock moments or realising the lead character’s hallucinations and nightmares. Indeed, there’s a talented horror director behind Don’t Go in the House which makes it a shame that Ellison went onto make only one more feature, Joey in 1986, by all accounts a somewhat clichéd rock ‘n’ roll tale.

It’s also a shame that this particular film is a little too derivative for its own good. The nods to Psycho are abundant and it’s easy to detect elements of Carrie and Taxi Driver at work too. Unfortunately it’s from these sources where all of the big ideas come meaning there’s little that’s fresh when it comes to the storytelling. Indeed, after a point Don’t Go in the House is happy to simply fall back on repetitive slasher norms as our psycho moves from victim to victim in episodic fashion. In the hands of a lesser director things would quickly become tiresome so it’s fortunate that Ellison’s qualities shine through. Admittedly they can’t quite raise the bar above that of an entertaining enough 80-minute slice of exploitation, though that’s not to say we don’t get a handful of genuinely effective moments. I’d say that’s more than enough to make Don’t Go in the House worth a look, especially at Arrow’s budget price.

THE DISC

Don’t Go in the House is the latest entry into the ArrowDrome, Arrow Video’s budget-priced range of discs with an RRP of just £5.99. (See the links at the top right for potentially cheaper prices.) Pleasingly the excellent price is accompanied by a mostly excellent presentation. The film comes in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and with its original mono soundtrack. The latter is particularly good and makes fine use of Ellison’s emphasis on the sound design. The occasional crackle does put in an appearance, but such instances are rare. The picture quality is much the same with occasional blemishes and other signs of age cropping up from time to time, though never to any distraction. For the most part the image is clean and clear and hampered only by the film’s production values. As a low-budget exploitation it comes with that expectedly drab look that’s unflattering to everyone. Consequently some scenes can be a little lacking in detail though I think most will be pleasantly surprised at how good this disc looks. Note that there are no accompanying subtitles and the only extras are trailers. We find a teaser and original theatrical ad for the main feature, plus a selection of promos for some of Arrow’s horror titles: three Fulcis, one Romero and a Craven.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
2 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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