Don't Go In The House
Cast: Dan Grimaldi, Robert Osth, Ruth Dardick
I was about to write a scathing review of Don't
Go In The House,
complete with adjectives like stupid, offensive, misogynistic,
and boring. But just before I was about to write, I was e-mailed the
paper from Professor Usborne K. Edwards, who lectures on 80s horror
at UCLA. After reading it, I now believe I (and the few others
it) might possibly have misinterpreted this movie. So that coverage of
this movie may be balanced, I now present to you Mr. Edward's review:
Into The '80s:
Retrospective of Don't
Go In The House
by Professor Usborne K. Edwards
Released with little fanfare
in 1980, Don't
Go In The House was unfortunately dismissed by both
and critics. Audiences, no doubt accustomed and
with the notorious "slasher" films of this period, were likely both
that it didn't give them enough blood and violence, nor the kind they
expecting. Another factor perhaps explaining the poor turnout by
might come from the fact this independent production was released by
small independent studio FVI(1),
who were saddled in their brief history with limited resources, thus
able to promote the movie to the extent it needed.
What's really unfortunate is
that the few
critics who bothered to cover the movie generally gave it reviews both
quick and dismissive, such as "Lurid junk"(2).
The little examination they gave it had them only taking the movie at
value: "Donald's mother severely abused him as a child by roasting his
arms over the gas burner. When she dies at the beginning of the movie,
he flips out and, listening to the voices in his head, decides to
the favor to the rest of the world. He lures a series of women (who
weren't aware of the title of the movie they were in) into his house,
he strips them, douses them with gasoline, and blasts them with a
After they're charred black, he dresses them in his mother's clothes
leaves them sitting around her bedroom, where he talks to them."(3)
In this paper, I will disprove
charges against the movie by a thorough examination of the movie, which
will list evidence proving my theory that Don't Go In The House is,
in fact, primarily a cross-satire/examination of the attitudes of
specific social groups prevalent at the time when the '70s were ending
and the '80s were beginning. Additionally, I will bring up evidence
director Joseph Ellison, at the same time, was foreshadowing specific
attitudes and events, as well as trying to introduce to mainstream
new insights to the mentally ill(4).
The first clue pertaining to
my theory of
the examination of the period actually comes with the opening credits.
In the copyright credit line(5),
the date reads 1979, though documentation shows the movie was actually
released in 1980. Because of this delay it can be concluded that FVI
to wait until the '80s actually started until a release, being afraid
a '70s audience would not comprehend the '80s material until the '80s
started. Soon after, main character Donald (played by actor Dan
comes home from work, to find his mother has died in her sleep. The
of his mother in effect equates the death of the 70s, and Donald's
grief represents the populous who wish to be conformists (in other
the "in" crowd) being upset at this time, because a new decade
means learning and mastering new fashions (clothing, lingo, and the
and there runs the inevitable risk of not being able to feel a part of
this conformist group. His tears equate the tears of a newborn's birth;
in effect, Donald is reborn - he is now a child of the '80s,
he is ready or not.
Donald then convinces himself
that he's okay,
he's free of his abusive mother (free of the '70s values), and attempts
to convince himself more by a celebration consisting of playing disco
out loud on his stereo(6), and
on the furniture. This act is essentially mocking the entire '70s
- Donald believes now that deep down he was actually always an '80s
and he is making fun of one particular '70s trend (the "disco dance")
his leaps onto the furniture. His self-denial and braggart behavior is
typical of many people in the '80s, like American President George
These actions also pre-echo a famous scene in the 1983 movie Risky
when actor Tom Cruise had his own scene where he danced to music and
about on furniture(7). It's
to note that the Tom Cruise character is partially undressed in this
when Donald does his dance completely clothed. Cruise's character is
to the period, and therefore lacks inhibitions - unlike Donald, who is
secretly inside very nervous about himself and his place in society.
This nervousness Donald's
is seemingly the catalyst of his sanity beginning to slip away from
As stated earlier, director Ellison used this opportunity in the course
of the story to present audiences with a new insight into the mentally
ill - though ironically, this new perspective has come into criticism
the same critics who disapprove of the usual stereotypes concerned with
the cinematic portrayal of these challenged individuals(8).
This criticism includes complaints that the voices Donald's character
hearing in his mind are inaudible, and a dream sequence is seemingly
and pointless to the thrust of the narrative.
It is true that the voices
start to hear in his mind are, for the most part, difficult to
to make out. But this seeming flaw in the technical aspects of Don't
Go In The House actually contribute to the points director
was making - that we can't understand the workings occurring
the mind of a madman. We cannot read the mind of any individual, sane
not, and with this technique, Ellison has broken down one of the
associated with the mentally ill in motion pictures. The same thing
with the dream sequence, where Donald dreams about fires and explosions
on a beach for several minutes. All of us have experienced many times a
dream that makes absolutely no sense. How many times in previous motion
pictures has there been dreams with the purpose of providing symbolism,
or a chance to try to shock the audience in an unsubtle fashion?
every time there has previously (and afterwards) been dream sequence in
a motion picture.
Most of the controversy (and
criticism) surrounding Don't
Go In The House has centered on the murder sequences, when Donald
his flame-thrower to burn nude women alive. The setup and execution,
is a foretelling of the change in sexual attitudes in the '80s - mainly
with the introduction of AIDS(9).
Witness Donald, now firmly rooted in an '80s sensibility, coming to
with the '80s new attitude towards sexual activity; he is seen looking
nervously in the window of an Army surplus store, looking at a fire
suit. This scene represents the '80s individual dealing with the
of having to purchase male contraceptive devices(10) for
the first time. Later, when Donald's first victim is taken to the metal
sheet-lined room and chained up naked, Donald enters the room wearing
"protection", having prepared for his symbolic sexual activity. Further
proof of the upcoming flame-broiling is seen with the phallic hard and
straight nozzle of the flame thrower extending away from his body,
when the tip of the nozzle emits flame(11).
subsequently with the realistic effects sequence of the screaming naked
woman ablaze, Ellison has thrown in a visual joke - a true "naked
Further proof of the movie
around the issues announced in the second paragraph, and not around
misogynistic and exploitive topics, is in the look at the subsequent
Footage of the second murder only shows the smoking corpse after it was
burned, and we don't even see footage of the third murder(12).
The third murder happens before half of the movie is over, and,
to many people's surprise in 1980, there are no subsequent murders(13).
Ellison uses the rest of the movie to focus on several key issues. A
portion of this footage takes place inside Donald's house, where he is
taking refuge from his anxiety - unable to handle the new decade and
showing the house pitch-black inside while it being daylight outside
the classic "black/white" parallel(15);
Donald's decision has made the inside of the house dark (black), which
means that his decision is wrong.
Subsequently, the remainder of
the movie focuses
on a night when his long-puzzled friend manages to convince him to go
the disco with him and two women. This leads to yet another scene
of being pointless padding, when Donald goes to a men's clothing store,
and asks a homosexual(16) clerk
to help him purchase the right disco shirt for him, then subsequently
the selection and purchasing of a pair of pants, shoes and a coat to go
with this disco shirt. The point being made here is not to waste time,
but details that, although Donald has advanced into the '80s, the
around him actually hasn't - in other words, the '80s (Donald) can't
the kind of thrills experienced in the '70s (including disco). This
to the scene at the disco itself; Donald is unable to speak or dance
his date, and she gleefully pulls at his arms, trying to drag him onto
the dance floor. "Enter the '70s, it's fun!" she is, in effect, saying.
Donald then has visions of his mother (the '70s) pulling his arms over
the gas burner - a warning from his subconscious that makes it clear
the '70s created foolishness that would be embarrassing (represented by
the pain from the gas burner's flames.) When Donald then thrusts a
into his date's hair, setting it aflame, he is giving her several
First, that her embrace of the '70s is now giving her the same pain
Donald has experienced. Second, he is mocking her embrace of the '70s,
and disco, by giving her some actual "Hot Stuff"(17).
Lastly, he is giving her a warning that the glitz and spectacle being
by disco will evolve into the "new wave" musical style of the '80s,
while not negative by itself, will have the indirect consequence of
pop performer Michael Jackson having his hair accidentally set ablaze
the shooting of a carbonated beverage commercial for television.
It seems unlikely as of this
writing that Don't
Go In The House could receive any wider retrospective, seeing that
theatrical prints don't seem to exist any longer, the sexual and
content of the movie making it unfit for commercial television, and
the video edition(18) long out
print on video. Rumors of a "special edition", starting in 1998, have
punctured by the elapse of time. Hopefully, this paper will start the
to make this "special edition" a reality, which will in turn hopefully
initiate more examination of this motion picture, clearly ahead of its
FVI in the
70s and 80s released other misunderstood movies of a similar vein, such
as Survival Run and The Dark. The latter movie
study of man vs. environment, plus a satire of race relations in L.A.
a literal "alien" interacting with the W.A.S.P. community - has
latched to one critic, who constantly mocks it by writing "The
opportunity he gets.
Maltin, Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide, (c) JessieFilm
1998. Published by The Penguin Group
L.A. Morse, Video
Trash & Treasures, (c) L.A. Morse 1989. Published by Harper
Collins Publishers Ltd.
distributed Don't Go In The House, the independent Turbine
actually made it.
score throughout the movie consists mostly of disco music. This may be
director Ellison's manner in representing the inescapable influence of
the '70s even well into the '80s; one is constantly reminded and
by the decade, and must live with knowing how foolish (in their
they acted in that period.
was endlessly imitated in other '80s productions, suggesting Ellison
this national craze.
include, and not limited to, shrieking out loud, "symbolic" dreams,
of intense fury, etc.
day research shows proof of AIDS occurring before the '80s, it was not
commonly known before this period. Either Ellison had some inside
of this spreading disease, or he somehow had a sense that the excesses
that would occur in the '80s would have tragic consequences.
(10) Fire protective
suit = condoms
- the "fire" of sexual activity
(12) A parallel
to the ingestion of cocaine - a drug that was to flourish in the '80s -
can be seen here. It is well documented that addicts find that, over
uses of the drug, the same quantity of cocaine ingested subsequently
less effect. Since we can assume that Donald is committing the second
third murders in the same fashion as the first murder, the likelihood
this parallel being intended by the director becomes more likely.
(13) One person
gets a life-threatning injury just before the end of the movie, but
never made clear if the victim actually dies.
represented by his not going to work.
(15) The standard
symbolism for these two colors have black representing "bad", and white
= gay - as in "a gay old time," which is what many people felt about
dancing in the '70s.
by Donna Summer, written by Pete Bellotte, Harold Faltermeyer,
Forsey. (c) 1979 Mercury Records
Video, in a poor quality edition free of hi-fi, and using a substandard
print and video transfer.
UPDATE: I got some (true) information about
the theatrical release of this movie from reader William Norton:
"Don't Go In The House actually opened very
wide in Seattle,
and Los Angeles, and had major ads in newspapers, and TV commercial on
Night Live several time in my area, and even had tv spots on Saturday
It had a good three week run in most cities. I saw it at the
with The Dark. (: The film was released in 1980, but shot
in 1979 because no one wanted it. I hear FVI picked it up cheap,
similar to Survival Run (Spree
some cities, like San Diego,) and Nightmare in Chicago, (which
supposed to be released by Columbia pictures once). Don't Go In The
House also was shot without sound, as the producers really had no
of US release, as they only cared for non-English speaking
The film's ending pre-dates MANIAC, but William Lustig mentioned that
film ripped his film off, despite the fact it was shot a year before
And now to add my own information for this
update...Shortly after this
review was first put up, I learned by accident that Don't Go In
House was recently re-released on DVD!
for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
See also: Clownhouse, Confessions Of A Serial Killer, Uncle Sam