The ABCs of Weird Cinema: Devil Times Five

In this semi-regular column, I’ll go through the alphabet and post a different movie that you should seek out. These aren’t reviews, merely a small sample of the weirdness you’ll find in the film itself.

 

Devil Times Five (1974)
Country: USA
Director: Sean MacGregor and David Sheldon
Writer: Sandra Lee Blowitz, John Durren and Dylan Jones (story)
Starring: Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans, Taylor Lacher and Leif Garrett

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Let’s face it: Kids are creepy. Even when they’re not trying to be, anybody under the age of 15 is just plain unsettling to be around. They either have too much energy or too little, they are too talkative or they don’t say anything at all, they are too dirty or they are suspiciously clean.

In 1975, a film capitalized on adults’ innate (and completely warranted) fear of children. The film is DEVIL TIMES FIVE (or PEOPLETOYS as it was originally released – though that title lacks both the catchy ring to it and the helpful mathematical assist for those audience members who have a hard time counting the number of pint-sized murderers who, in the film, take a vacation home under siege). When a bus loaded up with a quintet of mentally unstable children crashes in the snowy wilderness, a group of vacationing grumps are terrorized by an evil – an evil unable to reach the cookies on top of the fridge.

If Tyler Perry ever decided to direct a horror film, DEVIL TIMES FIVE would fit perfectly within the director’s wheelhouse. The film’s victims are a group of lily-white losers who spend their vacation bickering, boozing and bellyaching. Gathered by Papa Doc, a tightly wound businessman played by Gene Evans, the group consists of family members, employees or a combination of the two. Even before the devilish children show up, the group is already at each other’s throats. Relationships become even more strained when the threat of being offed by a tween enters the equation. Essentially, DEVIL TIMES FIVE is WHY DID I GET MARRIED? with the added bonus of killer kids!

Speaking of terror tweens, teenage heartthrob Lief Garrett plays one of the murderous children. Part of what makes DEVIL TIMES FIVE so damn entertaining is the fact that every child is given their own particular crazy quirk. While most creepy kid movies feature the same old tired “vacant eyed, impossibly precocious” creepy child, DEVIL TIMES FIVE features a practical buffet of unsettling youngsters. There’s the pyrotechnic, the child who likes to pretend they are a nun, the child who cosplays as a soldier 24/7 and Lief Garrett who … well … I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

DEVIL TIMES FIVE began production under the leadership of director Sean MacGregor. Things quickly became apparent, though, that the shoot was a troubled one (MacGregor was allegedly dating one of the film’s underage actors) and MacGregor was quickly replaced with one of the hardest-working-men in genre filmmaking – David Sheldon. Sheldon, the writer of GRIZZLY, would see the movie through to its conclusion and then some since so much of MacGregor’s footage, as rumor goes, was deemed unusable. As for MacGregor, it’s said that he spent some serious time in a nuthouse following his removal from the project. Let’s hope he didn’t meet up with any real-life mentally unstable children – he’d be super bummed to learn that the kids from DEVIL TIMES FIVE bear little resemblance to reality.

DEVIL TIMES FIVE is a film that feels no need to ground itself in logic or reality. 10 minute slow-motion murder scene filmed in black and white? No problem. Death by piranha? Absolutely! A grown man who asks other adults to refer to him as Papa Doc? Of course. DEVIL TIMES FIVE is one of those wonderful ‘70s horror films that managed to achieve the right kind of goofy tone – a vibe that easily straddled the line between fun-quirky and that other kind of quirky – the one that is fun in the moment but then, on the ride home, you begin to wonder if, maybe, that manic pixie girl who reminded you of Natalie Portman in GARDEN STATE was actually a seriously disturbed individual who requires medical supervision and at least a dozen pinkie sized pills to stabilize her moods before she picks up a razor blade, shaves off your eyebrows and demands you dance in the rain to the latest Bon Iver song.

The rights to DEVIL TIMES FIVE have slipped into a bit of a DMZ so it is fairly easy to find a copy of the film on DVD as it is released through a variety of companies – including several of those wonderfully economic variety packs from Mill Creek. Or, if you live in the Houston area, you can catch a rare 35mm screening of the film on Wednesday, August 1 at the Alamo Drafthouse – Mason Park at 10 PM. Either way, you should definitely watch the film as it’s important to learn that children cannot be trusted and, as when dealing with other dangerous animals such as panda bears and sugar gliders, you should probably attack them before they attack you.

Follow Robert Saucedo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robsaucedo2500.

 

Robert Saucedo

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