It’s Killer Kidz Week on Badass Digest, and today we look back at the brilliantly-titled 1974 exploitationer Devil Times Five, also known as Peopletoys*, Tantrums** and The Horrible House on the Hill***. The film chronicles the collision of a group of wealthy businesspeople on a mountaintop lodge retreat and a group of five disturbed children escaped from a crashed van. Predictably (to us), the kids begin offing the dysfunctional grown-ups one by one, until there are none left. That’s the story. You know already if you want to watch this movie.
The first edit of Devil Times Five was just forty minutes long. To multiply its duration Times Two, forty minutes of filler scenes were shot and inserted. That’s the pace of this movie - while it features a number of fun sequences and a killer ending, it’s frequently dull as hell. Its cobbled-together edit also sees the filmmakers cutting and ADR-ing their way around the weak child actors, as well as lengthy, patience-testing slow motion sequences. It’s kind of a mess, which aligns it with its mid-seventies exploitation brethren, but like those brethren, it’s not without its pleasures.
For one, the sequences with the adults, despite being those most prolonged by the reshoots, provide some strange fun. There’s a weird pseudo-seduction scene between a randy millionairess and a rabbit-loving, mentally handicapped groundskeeper, followed almost immediately by a clumsily staged girl-on-girl catfight. Most of the grown-up actors give it their all (whatever that might be), so there’s decent scenery-chewing scattered throughout. It’s got wealthy people complaining about wealthy-people things. You take what you can get.
The kids are bizarrely short on screen time in this movie that is ostensibly about them. Each one is themed, like a miniature, homicidal Village People: the nun one, the cross-dressing one (Leif Garrett!), the military one and so on, which suggests they’ll get some decent character development. But no: they’re mostly there to kill grown-ups. There are several standout deaths, but the setpiece de resistance, involving a naked lady, a bathtub and piranha, is jaw-dropping not only in its brutality, but its placement of child actors in the scene with a writhing naked actress. They then drag her nude, mutilated corpse through the snow. Kids these days!
By the time Devil Times Five reaches its pretty great finish - with the words “THE BEGINNING” blazing across the screen to the nursery-rhyme score, as the kids move on to find other people to murder - it’s managed to shock and bore in equal measure. With a production story more interesting than its actual story, it’s one of those movies from which you must extract your own entertainment. If your tastes run similar to mine, you’ll extract plenty.
* Peopletoys refers to the film’s final scene, which has the kids playing house with the corpses of the people they’ve murdered. Again: great ending. Bit of a spoiler of a title, though.
** Tantrums refers to the screaming fits often thrown by children. It's an ironic joke about the fact that these children kill people. It's slightly better than Peopletoys but not as good as Devil Times Five.
*** The Horrible House On The Hill refers to the literal house in which the story takes place. It's a vague and downright terrible title. Don't use it.