Devil Times Five (US - DVD)
Gabe does the math, but isn't sure of the value of the Devil. Does he equal one?
A group of bickering worker bees and their significant others, along with an emotionally stilted man-child find all kinds of angst during a weekend retreat at the boss’s winter vacation spot. Things turn from slightly annoying to terrifying when a group of psychotic children stumble upon the cabin, and begin picking off the arrogant adults one by one.
It’s intriguing that any filmmakers have found success in the concept of killer children, but it’s shocking that I can think of four genuinely good films in the subgenre. Village of the Damned and Children of the Damned are the sort of cool headed, genre originators – genuine classics that worked their way into the lexicon and garnered a John Carpenter remake. Who Can Kill a Child is a European take , culling nature amuck and thriller ideas from Hitchcock’s The Birds. Devil Times Five is the deep-fried, true blue grindhouse take on the formula, brimming with seedy atmosphere, taboo smashing sequences of graphic violence, and even a dash of nudity.
If I’m comparing Who Can Kill a Child to The Birds or Night of the Living Dead, then I’ll compare Devil Times Five to Last House on the Left or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s not as deeply disturbing as Craven’s film, or as expertly and artistically crafted as Hopper’s film, but there are comparable elements. The tone is eerily realistic in that post- Night of the Living Dead fashion that defined the era, and the horror elements unravel in a craftily slow manner. Like Last House the humour ends up hindering the deadly tone a bit (though these jokes are often genuinely amusing), but the events have a twisted buyability, which is pretty important considering the general unbuyability of the set up. The use of crash zooms, super slow motion, and still frames adds a layer of style to the surprising substance.
Devil Times Five is an unmistakably amateur production, and the behind the scenes problems are pretty apparent even without the cast and crew commentary their to point them out. Apparently the film was directed by two people, neither of whom are credited in the opening titles, and the second pass footage was written and shot quite a while after the first round of production was shut down. The two halves do not gel, and we’re left with one movie about a bunch of rather childish adults having sex, arguing, cat fighting and drinking alcohol, and another movie about psychotic killer children slowly turning the screws on some childish adults. However, like most good grindhouse experiments, it is the mistakes that make Devil Times Five so memorable.
The film is also memorable for its performances, which are almost unreasonably good. Despite the narrative and editing issues, the characters are strangely realistic, and the actors, including the kids, are really natural. The cast is made up of a mix of professionals and amateurs, but everyone winds up complementing each other quite well, ensuring that the pros aren’t too melodramatic, and the dabblers aren’t too stiff.
This might be Code Red’s crowning achievement, at least so far. There’s a whole lot of grain and noise, but given the film’s age and stature this is a top-notch transfer. The best element is the rich colours, which are pretty sharply separated. Warm colours pop without too much noise, with the exception of reds, which dance with compression, though maintain a solid hue. Edge enhancement is quite minimal, and general contrast is well balanced. Blacks are inconsistent, but favorable overall. The cigarette burns are pretty big and obvious, and other chunks of print damage artefact are plenty obvious, but all in all this is a clean and good looking disc.
I can’t say what the film’s original framing is (imbd.com claims 1.85:1), but I did notice that the entire film appears to have been slightly cropped on the bottom of the frame. This may be generally armature filmmaking rearing its head, but I have a feeling that this isn’t on purpose.
The original mono track is what it is, clean enough to fully understand and appreciate, but not without its problems. The effects, music, and dialogue is well balanced, and has a decent amount of depth without sounding overproduced. The general volume level is a bit low, and louder elements like screams and gunshots distort a bit. Pops and cracks are minimal, though to match the prominent cigarette burns change overs don’t go too smoothly. The score is an effective mix of standard thriller cues, eerie music box-like elements, and military inspired motifs, and it’s really only lacking a bit in bass definition.
The story of this peculiar little film is told through a group commentary track and a selection of video interviews. The commentary includes actresses Joan MaCall and Dawn Lyn (Leif Garrett’s sister), producer Michael Blowitz, and co-director David Sheldon, moderated by Darren Gross. The interviews add actor Tierre Turner, who seems to think he was the leader of the killer kids. The commentary is a little loopy with its focus, but Gross keeps things tight enough. The video interviews are a little more candid because folks are alone and free to say a little extra about the behind the scenes troubles. The interviews are pretty low in film quality, but the questions are well thought out with repeating too much of the commentary.
The extras also include an alternate title sequence, which is really just a title card (it should be noted that the final DVD uses the title The Horrible House on the Hill), a pretty cool poster gallery, and a collection of Code Red trailers.
Devil Times Five isn’t quite the quality shock of Who Can Kill a Child, but it holds a few chilling moments, some surprising performances, and a sort of charm in its patchwork nature. This DVD looks and sounds good for what it is, and the sort of homemade looking extras are worth a glance.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 6th May 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: Director/Producer/Actor Commentary, Actor/Producer/Director interviews, Trailers, Stills, Alternate Credits
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sean McGregor
Cast: Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans, Leif Garrett, Taylor Lacher, Dawn Lyn
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 88 minutes