|Available at Amazon.com|
In a remote and snowy mountain range, a bus loses control and crashes down the hillside. The survivors, four kids and a nun, collect their belongings and head into the woods to try and survive. Their expedition leads them to an isolated mansion, where a dysfunctional collection of family and work associates have gathered for an awkward mixture of business and relaxation. At the head of this group is a gruff man whom everyone calls Papa Doc, and these hanger-on’s are at the mercy of his short-temper and entrepreneurial wealth.
The children play innocent, even though by this time they already have blood on their hands, and quickly integrate themselves with the adults. While at first showing only childlike behavior, they quickly escalate to a series of twisted mind games and begin exhibiting some very strange characteristics. One of the adults, Rick, begins to suspect the kids are up to no good, and when the groundskeeper is found dead his only conclusion is their unexpected visitors. But Rick is too late in putting the pieces together, and along with the rest of the adults, is soon caught up in the terrible tykes’ vicious game where there are absolutely no morals and the only rule is that the kids will do whatever they need to in order to “have fun.”
Ever since The Bad Seed in 1956, children in cinema that just seem too perfect or too well organized are not to be trusted. This theme has repeated itself through the ages, including the classic Village Of The Damned in 1960, Alice Sweet Alice in 1976 and later on with The Good Son in 1993. But back in 1974, this little film reared its ugly head in an attempt to become the undisputed greatest “killer kiddie” movie ever, a quite ambitious task when considering the lack of experience by the director and writers that arguably came to fruition and still holds that title today.
Surprisingly, the band of callous children are relegated to the subplot for most of the movie, which instead focuses on the antics of the grown-ups in the house. This group, which includes the sniveling Harvey (played by Sorrell Booke, who would later go on to become Boss Hogg in “The Dukes Of Hazzard”) and alcoholic Ruth (Shelley Morrison, who would go on to become Rosario in “Will & Grace”), are only looking out for number one, and provide nothing to make them decent humans. While in most horror films character development merely serves as padding to the running time, here the development makes you truly glad when the characters are killed off.
On the other hand, the children themselves, among which is soon-to-be seventies teen idol Leif Garrett as a short-tempered pretty boy, are kept pretty much in the dark. This cloud of mystery serves to only enhance just how dangerous they truly are. Though it is hinted that they are being taken to a hospital for the mentally ill, their true origins and their previous crimes remain unknown. The actors do a decent job in portraying the pint-sized psychopaths with no discern for right and wrong, and the mob mentality they portray when they gang up will have you thinking twice the next time you see a group of preteens loitering around and whispering.
Director Sean MacGregor keeps the multitude of groups and alliances coherent throughout the movie, and provides a fine mixture of sleaze, gratuitous nudity courtesy of Carolyn Stellar, and shadow-filled suspense. Even though we know the children are responsible for the murders, MacGregor has the decency to add some early ambiguity the death sequences just to throw the viewer a little off track, and puts most of his effort into the quickly paced chain of murders that fill the second half of the movie.
And what of children’s horrendous crimes committed while staying at this house? Their ingenious methods of dispatching their adult “playmates” would teach the average serial killer in a slasher flick a thing or two. The kids start simple, including beating to death one of their earliest victims with shed tools, and continue on to set up a lynching via small engine and wire, pouring piranhas into a bathtub while holding their victim under water, and placing bear traps in just the right locations. The bloodletting never goes completely over the top, though a little more splatter would have been most welcome, and there remains several cringe-inducing moments. Underneath everything is a score courtesy of William Loose (who was at the time also providing Russ Meyer music for many of his movies) who keeps the mood oddly light and quirky.
Modern killer kiddie movies, including the phenomenal French release Ils and the upcoming The Strangers, boast that their tales are based on true events, but they owe much to this semi-unknown film which has never truly been given its due. Here is where you’ll discover for the first time children that just want to play, and when they run out of human toys, they will simply move on the next house. Again and again and again.
Code Red’s release of the movie is a completely middle-of-the-road release for a print from the seventies, which is presented here in anamorphic widescreen and has been pulled from the original 35mm elements. There appears to be little or no restoration to the print, which contains minor blemishes and scratches throughout the movie. The audio suffers the same fate, with sound pops, a limited aural range with a very low levels. Though this deteriorated look, much like the multitude of recent “grindhouse” DVD releases, adds a bit of style and texture to the movie, a little care in touching up the print would have been nice.
Audio Commentary – Actors Joan McCall, Dawn Lyn, along with David Sheldon, Mickey Blowitz and film historian Darren Gross provide a fun commentary with little tidbits about the production and their thoughts on the film.
Interviews – Actors Tierre Turner, Joan McCall, Dawn Lyn, along with Producer Michael Blowitz and uncredited co-director David Sheldon are interviewed especially for this release as they look back with fine memories on the filming of Devil Times Five.
Poster Gallery – A short and sweet look at a few of the posters created for the film’s release.
Alternate Main Title Sequence – Actually just footage of the film’s title card, rather than a title sequence.
Original Trailer – Beware! This spoiler-filled trailer includes footage from every death scene.
Additional Trailers – Six trailers for additional movies released under the Code Red banner.
Kids. While usually they are figuratively the death of us, this time around they actually are the harbingers of death. Best watch this if you are on the fence about wanting children of your own, for you’ll soon discover these “bundles of joy” are nothing more than potential killers waiting for their chance to burn you alive.
Code Red / BCI presents Devil Times Five. Directed by Sean MacGregor. Starring Sorrell Booke, Shelley Morrison, Carolyn Stellar, Leif Garrett, Dawn Lyn. Written by John Durren & Sandra Lee Blowitz. Running time: 85 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: May 6, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.