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August 14, 2011

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 7: Devil Times Five

Best title card ever? Possibly. 

Kids kill the darndest things.  At least that's what happens in Devil Times Five, a relatively early entry in the killer kid subgenre of horror.  Released in 1974, its story brings together three couples who are involved in organized crime (led by a bearded fellow called "Papa Doc"), one secluded and snowbound vacation home, and - most importantly - five violent and psychotic children.  Previously incarcerated and now set free by a freak transport accident, the quintet are enough to make me wonder what the odds are of five murderous psycho children between 13-10 happening to be on one isolated institutional transport with one inept driver.  Is there some sort of  "Center For Kids Who Can Kill Good And Who Want To Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too" in the mountains that I don't know about?
Sadly, there are no Devil horns...but they do use a pitchfork once!
The group is a unique fusion of vicious kids with different bits of craziness.  One thinks he's an army commander, one claims he's going to be an actor and uses large words and plays chess.  Another thinks she's a nun, another is fascinated with fire, and the fifth....well, she's just a little girl who wants to play.  The casting of the group is also notable, particularly due to the presence of child star Leif Garrett as the smarty-pants-kid and his sister Dawn Lyn as the youngest of the group. Their mother, Carolyn Stellar, also stars as Papa Doc's lady friend, who joins an elite group of actresses to have their 11-year-old daughter dump piranha on them in a bathtub.
Also, I think she looks a bit like Rose McGowan.  Rowwr.
The other side of the film are the three couples at this secluded result, which really boil down to two and a half couples.  Papa Doc (played by Gene Evans) is no nonsense and business oriented, which leads to Stellar's character (simply named Lovely) trying her best to seduce the heir to the kingpin's throne, Rick.  Rick is there with his fiancee, however...which can lead to only one thing.
Aside from Stellar's beauty, the other adults - primarily Sorrell Booke's (YES, the guy who played Boss Hogg!) meek Harvey Beckman and his alcoholic wife Ruth - are much more interesting than this love triangle.  But we're not here to see what they do, they only exist to be used by the plot. Don't believe me? Then consider this: the film's original title was Peopletoys -  which explains what the kids think of the adults.  The film takes this literally in the final scenes, but the times when the kids manipulate and deceive the adults are the most entertaining parts of the presentation.
Number one way to make someone appear deceptively smart in a movie? CHESS.
While Devil Times Five offers killer kids taking on the kind of victims that only the '70s could provide (read as: with mustaches and sideburns), there's certainly something lacking in the gore department.  While I don't generally like to condemn a movie's lack of gore (and while the problem might be with the transfer of the bargain DVD at times), Devil Times Five is a wee bit restrained for my taste.  The kids' first kill is the film's most frustrating, as the director decided it would be a good idea to add to the effect by slowing the film down to a crawl, muting the colors, and inserting sound effects that sound like Will Ferrell growling like a bear.  I guess slow motion was more effective in the '70s or something, but to me it seems like director Sean MacGregor is resigned to minimize the effect of these "devils" actions on the viewer.  (He also spends far too much of the first act on the adult characters having boring discussions and one long seduction scene that's really weird, but that's a different story for another time.)
I'm sorry, but when you show me a swing with a phallic stabbing attachment, you better deliver the blood!
Make no mistake about it - there's an excellent piece of '70s killer kid coolness trapped inside the second and third acts of Devil Times Five.  It's just really hard to find it amidst all the silly parts of the film.  While I want to stare at Ms. Stellar and while I do enjoy various incarnations of facial hair on slobby lookin' dudes...what I'm really looking for is that brutal edge that can make a killer kid film great.  Devil Times Five simply misses too many opportunities to harness that, which makes the end result far less worthy than it could be.  
Y'know, that would make making a snowman easier....
Aside from a few moments like the previously mentioned piranha bath, it's easy to see why Devil Times Five slipped out of society's eyes despite its release at the peak of horror's golden age.  It's just a bit too uneven and a bit too restrained to live on as more than a fringe favorite of drive-in junkies.  But hey, it got me thinking - a lot more thinking than I expected it too, honestly - and that's worth something.  If you like '70s cheese and crazy kids, I suppose there are worse ways to spend an hour and half. Just expect to be a little disappointed when the title card that reads "The Beginning" comes on screen before the end credits - because the film seems to agree that the children's story leaves the viewer a bit unfulfilled.


Matt-suzaka said...

Yeah, the film is very uneven, sloppy and far from great, but it is certainly an entertaining watch simply due to how strange it is.

I saw it a few years ago, and while I probably liked it about the same as you, the oddness of it all (especially the characters, kids and adults) makes it almost memorable in a way.

Marvin the Macabre said...

I keep not buying the used copy of this I see for $5.99 at my local (surviving) video store. From your review, I still don't know whether to take the plunge.

I can usually get a sense of whether or not I'll like a particular movie if I've got a good sense of the reviewer's tastes (which I think I have in this case), but this one is a total coin toss. Of course, this uncertainty might just be what will push me over the edge and make me decide to see it. of course, it will probably just end up in my Netflix queue.

Chris Hewson said...

When I watched this, it took me longer than I'm proud to admit before I realized that the nun was one of the kids *hangs head*

The Mike said...

Matt - It is strangely memorable. I hadn't planned to write about it, but a day after viewing it I was still thinking about it. So, here we are.

Marvin - The flick's public domain, so you can find it for free all over the web. Here's the YouTube link: It really is a mixed bag, and as i got halfway through the post I wasn't sure if I wanted to praise it or mock it.

Chris - I can see that. If it weren't for the whole five thing in the title, I might have missed that too.

: said...

Weird. How have I never even *heard* of this film? At least, I don't think I have.

It sounds insane. Gonna have to check it out.