In which I waste hours of precious life streaming a movie that is free or very cheap.
What lured me in?
I wanted something for the Halloween season, preferably late ’70s or early ’80s. I was wary, though, because I knew that while this movie has been described as a nuanced psychological portrait that riffs on the Hitchcock classic Psycho (1960), it has ALSO been denounced as a nihilistic dumpster fire of deplorable misogyny.
Good Enough, Let’s Find Out
Our hero/murderer is a man of few words (a dope) with some sort of fire-related job in an incinerating factory. He has but one semi-friend, who he never hangs out with because he always has to go home and take care of his mother. The movie opens with a coworker catching on fire, dancing like the Unknown Comic, and our hero just watching with a blank look on his face.
(In response to this movie, Congress passed the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” Laws.)
Anyway then our hero goes home and his mom is dead. Natural causes! What a day! He immediately Hears Voices that tell him now he can do whatever he wants. He gets excited. He does this:
His joy is short-lived, though, as next he has a flashback where he remembers that as a child, his mom burned him on the stove for being bad. Like really, really burned him. (They never show the bad thing he did, so did he deserve it? No way to be sure.)
Naturally, after the day he’s had, he takes a week off from work, fireproofs a windowless room in his house by nailing sheet metal over the walls, and goes out to find a girl to bring back and kill in there with a flamethrower.
That’s basically the whole enchilada.
Worth noting, the main murder scene was edited out for the Amazon Prime stream. So you won’t witness a chained-up naked lady on fire as the film gods semi-legendarily intended. There’s a decent chance that’s an improvement, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the edit felt like… well, “a letdown” sounds wrong. A cheat? A lie? A white lie. It’s the same thing as when Spielberg edited the guns out of E.T. (it is the exact same thing, why would you argue); it denies the artistic vision endemic to its [godforsaken] era, and renders the movie a dishonest testament to Our [Nightmarish] Shared Past. For this movie must reflect the Jimmy Carter Years, when every single day, Americans had to watch their daughters and sisterwives get chained up and immolated in the streets of Skokie by the Iranian Hostage Force. Perhaps by shortening Don’t Go In The House, we betray their memory, and the memory of those horrible days when America was dead.
On the other hand, thank god we didn’t see that lady get murdered. What are we, Uday? Qusay?
By the 45-minute mark, the movie feels like it has been playing all night. Following a serial killer around on his errands is tedious. Yes, you’re plagued by guilty nightmares, yes yes you need to buy sheet metal, I GET IT you’re going to argue with a priest COME ON.
There is one demi-worthwhile scene where Sir Burnsalot gives a monologue to a bunch of corpses – he ends it saying, “I don’t know why I talk to you!” Not bad, and then while exiting, he pauses to adjust a chair, and the awkward way he does that just slayed me. That’s good horror!
Overall, though, the movie is grim. It’s like watching footage of a guy washing dishes. Except instead of dishes, it’s people, and instead of washing, it’s massacring. But the emotional content mustered up by this movie is the same. A question you will never ask yourself in the first hour is “THEN what happens?” You won’t care.
But, then? In the last half hour? This movie turns into a whooooole nother venture. Sir Burnsalot’s semi-friend invites him out to a disco—so he has to buy an outfit. There follows a shopping scene. The dude selling the clothes laces his sales pitch with disdain for Burnsalot while upselling him to fancier threads the whole time. It’s super entertaining. For three minutes, salesdude owns the movie, and acting opposite him Sir Burnsalot kicks up his acting game too, looking utterly lost and hopeful and doomed at the thought of going out socially.
And then we go to the disco. Now, I don’t want to oversell the last half hour. But the movie steps away from its monster and lets you sweat on behalf of his victims for a change. Not to put too jargony a point on it, he finally turns into the Other instead of the girls being the Other. So I guess we can say “whew,” even though the girls might get killed? It no longer feels gross, anyway.
I got through this movie by focusing on real estate.
If You Want to Walk in My Footsteps
Free to stream at Amazon Prime! I had a nightmare after watching it that I was trying to save a woman and her son who were kidnapped by a truck driver, but they were also assholes and they turned me over to him, so I had to run for my life. Plus there was a magic doll?
I googled the house in the morning: In 1979 it was a boarding house on the Jersey Shore (my home state!) with 21 rooms, condemned in 1980. What planet were we living on where a Victorian mansion two blocks from the ocean, 30 minutes outside New York City, was so underwhelming you could have bought it with your paper route money—and how has the world changed so much that that is totally impossible now? Real estate is the true horror.
It’s a museum currently, with ghost tours and movie nights. If you live in NJ, here’s a next-level Month of Scares activity: Go visit on October 14 , and watch this movie in the house where it was made. I will be jealous. A little. And you might get material for the SCARE-venger Hunt Photo Contest.