AKA: Don’t go Into the House!
AKA: The Burning
Donny Kohler is an unwell man. Any time Donny did anything wrong as a child, Donny’s domineering mother would punish him by holding his arms over a gas stove in an effort to “burn the sin out of him”. As a result, Donny is now detached, hearing voices and has developed an extraordinary hatred of women. His proclivities seem to be held in check until he comes home one night to find out that his mother has died. Now free of her influence, Donny lets loose and expels his pent up rage by luring unsuspecting women to his home, trapping them and then burning them alive. With Donny’s sanity and impulse control slipping by the hour, it doesn’t take long before others start to notice that Donny isn’t the harmless, mild-mannered guy he portrays himself to be.
Don’t Go In The House is an American psychological horror film from 1979. It garnered a reputation for itself by ending up on the BBFC’s “Video Nasties” list, which caused about 3 minutes to be cut from the UK film, most of which involved a scene of Donny burning his first victim to death with a flamethrower. But while that first death is, admittedly, quite disturbing, I wouldn’t call this a particularly graphic film because, with the exception of that one scene, it’s really not.
Pictured: That one scene
While other horror films tend to focus on the brutality inflicted on the victims, Don’t Go In The House is more focused on trying to be a character study of a very deranged individual and showing the audience how he got to that point. You see, Donny suffered particularly painful abuse at the hands of his mother. The experience physically and mentally scars him and he winds up taking out his frustrations on others. In that respect, the film is clearly heavily inspired by Psycho, it just cuts out all the mystery aspects and, well, …nuance. Norman Bates developed a split personality due to the guilt of killing his overbearing mother, and then killed women he was attracted to, in the guise of his mother, because he subconsciously knew she would hate them. But Donny is, quite simply, a much more straightforward take using the same general idea. Donny’s mother would burn him when he was ‘bad.’ As a result, he developes a hatred for women, an obsession with fire, and a pathological need to tell stories to make himself feel better or more important than he is (Example: a guy kicked the crap out of him and tells his next potential victim that he kicked the shit out of him. Oh, and there were two of them…and he’s a soldier…etc, etc... ). And while he does hear indistinct voices, none of them are that of his dead mother. On top of that, there’s no real reasoning in the choice of his victims, beyond him thinking they’d make an easy target. There really seems to be no deeper meaning behind his motives, despite the film’s implications that there might be. There’s no suggestion that he’s ‘punishing’ the women because they were sinning in some way, or that they made him want to sin. Donny is simply a deeply disturbed man, who is taking out all the pent up anger towards his mother and rechanneling it towards harming random, innocent women.
In a way, this makes his actions even more disturbing because of their more random nature and their quick succession (Seriously, he kills three women, disfigures one, and almost kills 2 more, in the span of a week. Dude escalated hella quick), which more accurately aligns with the motives of actual serial killers. But this is a movie, and movie goers tend to search for reasoning in such things, so one’s mileage on whether or not this particular aspect of the film helps or hinders it will vary.
Who am I? Why am I here? Why do I charbroil people?
That said, whether the killer’s logic or motives work for you or not, I think most could agree that Donny himself is still an effectively disturbing fellow. Dan Grimaldi manages to make Donny feel non threatening, yet simultaneously creepy as hell. His desperation to feel better about himself and release his frustrated rage, coupled with his lack of social understanding makes for some uncomfortable moments. For instance, he tries to lure one of his victims in a grocery store with an offer to help her with her groceries. Which sounds like a good plan, but his method involves getting right up in her face and blocking her path when she declines his offer and repeatedly tries to leave. And the creep factor only escalates when he’s alone with the charred corpses of his victims, dresses them up, and proceeds to have conversations with them. These exposition-like moments further illustrate Donny’s psychopathy, while further alluding to the reasons for his hatred. Yet the movie also shows that Donny is not 100% unsympathetic. He has an early realization that what he’s doing is wrong and reaches out for help from his estranged priest, and tries to accept the overtures of friendship from one of his coworkers. Unfortunately, his attempts at normalcy backfire when he has a flashback of his abuse and, he once again reverts to his new normal. That Grimaldi manages to so subtly convey these two dichotomies within such a low-budget undertaking is a testament to his skill.
….Are all kids arms that hairy?
But while Donny’s character can be rather captivating, the same can’t really be said for much of the rest of the film. The only standout moment is the first victim’s death, where a woman is literally strung up in metal room and blow torched to death. It is by far the most memorable and disturbing part of the whole movie, and yes, that includes the scenes where Donny is talking to his dead, charred victims. The rest of the film is just lackluster by comparison. The film starts off slow and stays there, never really picking up speed, and what little there is of captivating ‘action’ is further deterred by boring, clunky moments that slow the pace even further.
We now interrupt this movie so that the protagonist can go…shopping with a flirty salesman. Lovely.
The acting and script don’t fare much better either. Grimaldi does pretty good, but even he studders in places, and most of the rest of the film feels stilted and awkward, and not in an intentional way. There are a lot of blank stares and awkward pauses, one’s that I’m sure in more capable hands would be meant to convey creepiness or tension, but instead it makes it feel like the actors were forgetting their lines.
On the plus side, the setting for most of the film, a large, dilapidated house, is a suitably creepy setting, and the low-budget, grittiness of the whole film does add to the appropriately dark atmosphere surrounding the whole picture. It’s just a shame that such large chunks of the film are so dull and uninspired that you likely won’t remember them very well.
Don’t Go In The House is an interesting take on one man’s struggle with sanity. But while the character of Donny may be interesting to watch, that alone likely won’t be enough to bring many people to the film. The story is familiar, the pacing is slow, the acting and script don’t register higher than a ‘meh’, and despite the inherent brutal quality of the scenes and subject matter, there’s a definite lack of blood and gore that would attract a larger portion of the slasher crowd. It does manage to be super creepy and convey an appropriately dark atmosphere, but with the exception of a scene or two, for a lot of horror junkies I think this one is going to feel like a bit of a dud. If you’re a hardcore slasher fan Don’t Go In The House is likely worth a watch, but most everyone else will probably be less than impressed.
Don’t Go In The House is available on a variety of streaming services, including free on Pluto and Tubi TV. Word of note, though. I’m not 100% sure which version they’re streaming, but I suspect it is the edited/censored one.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.
2 thoughts on “Don’t Go In The House (1979)”
The one scene in particular you mention was a grisly reminder of how brutal these films can be, even when the rest of the movie felt more awkward. I remember the first time I saw it, just staring at the screen and wondering what I had gotten myself into. It’s a shame the overall film falters so much.
I agree. I feel like they did things a little backwards. Like they should have worked up to the charbroiling instead of working down from it. Because after that it feels like they figured they couldn’t top themselves, so they just didn’t bother trying. Which ends up being pretty disappointing.