Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair #5: Don't Go in the House (1979)
So far on the Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween countdown, we've been told to don't go in the woods (twice), don't scream, don't sleep, don't look in the basement or open the door, and now, worst of all, we can't even go in the house. At this time of year, when the nights get chilly, I know the place I want to be most is ensconced in my house with a warm mug of cider and a roaring fire in the fireplace. I never seem to have any cider and the Lair didn't come with a fire place, but it still sounds like a good idea to be inside curled up with a good movie. Coming in at number five on the countdown, Don't Go in the House, about a young man with aspirations to be the next H.H. Holmes crossed with Norman Bates and the bad guy from Backdraft, has the kind of horror heat to keep you toasty on these nippy nights.
Donny Kohler (Don Grimaldi) has issues. Specifically, and strangely for a guy who works in a garbage incinerator, he has problems stemming from his domineering mother burning him as punishment for his "evil" and "sins" when he was a child. When he arrives home one night to find that she has passed away, the voices in his head tell him that now he's allowed to do whatever he wants, play the music loud, stay out late, and, you guessed it, kill. Donny wants revenge on his mother for years of torture, but as he was never brave enough to do anything when she was alive, now he's stalking girls, taking them back to a steel plated room in his house, chaining them up, and purifying them via a flamethrower. Donny tries to break free from the pattern a couple of times, talking to a priest and trying to hang out with friends, but it never seems to work out. Everything seems to lead Donny back to the fire until, like the brightest ember, he himself faces being extinguished.
Don't Go in the House is easily dismissed as misogynist garbage made only for exploitative value for the grindhouse circuits because that's exactly what it was, but it also is a well made piece of misogynist garbage intended for the grind house circuit. To be sure, the film has a mean spirit even more so than William Lustig's Maniac, the film I would most likely compare it to. At least in that film the titular character seems to have some human qualities, but it is hard to see many in the performance that Don "Grim" Grimaldi shows on the screen. He portrays Donny as so emotionally damaged he is beyond the audience being able to find him sympathetic or relatable. It's the reason that Norman Bates isn't the lead character of Psycho. It's incredibly hard to make the killer the main story arc of the film and expect that viewers to take that rode without question. Few movies, the aforementioned Maniac and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer being exceptions, where it does work, but Don't Go in the House mostly works because overcoming the one track nature of the film are side notes like Donny's date at the disco. When she accidentally holds his hands over a candle, you get a glimpse of Donny's mother torturing him the same way, and then he busts the candle right into her head leaving her a flaming mess. I mean I know "Disco Inferno" was a popular song, but that is just taking it way too far.
As there was precious few characters in this film who are given time to make anything of themselves outside of Don Grimaldi, I will dispense with my usual breakdown of the actors in the film save for saying that Dom Grimaldi made once excellent psycho. He had a kind of distance in his eyes and actions that sold the character. Apparently, he sold it too well. On IMDB, Director Joseph Ellison recalls seeing Don't Go in the House on a double bill with Friday the 13th. While the audience cheered and had a great time with the first Friday outing, they sat in stone, stunned silence through his feature. It' spelling that it took eight years before Ellison made another film, and, even then, it was a drama far removed from his first film's themes. Perhaps the original blame (or praise depending on how well you like the film) should be placed at the feet of one time screenwriter Joe Maysfield. While he never penned another film, he made another important contribution to horror as the sound editor on the 1981 film The Evil Dead.