Devil Times Five (1974)


When I began this review, I typed how life is full of lessons, and one of them is that I should watch movies before I buy them blindly on Blu-ray. Call it a New Year’s resolution, if you will, but I realized I didn’t need to own every movie that’s a subject for Classic Horrors. I watched Devil Times Five (1974), aka Peopletoys, on Amazon Prime and felt grateful that I had not invested in purchasing the movie.

.

Something happened since then, though. This movie has haunted me. The more I think about it and read about it, I want to see it again. In fact, this is a case where I believe a movie would be enhanced with a crystal-clear Blu-ray print instead of what looks like a murky, VHS transfer. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a great movie. It was tough getting through its 88-minute running time… but I kind of want to own it.

.

The story is simple. A bus full of children from the “acute children’s ward” of the state mental hospital veers off a snowy road and tumbles down a hill. The survivors, four kids and a nun, trudge across the terrain until they find a lodge at Lake Arrowhead Village that’s occupied by some of the worst adults you could imagine. Why, they almost deserve to be killed, just like the bus driver they brutally murder (his name tag is how we know from where the children come.)

.

Let’s talk about that murder. It’s a long scene shot in black and white and slow motion. Out of the hard-to-distinguish-detail imagery, I believe I saw everyone participate, including the nun. It takes place in a basement or shed of the lodge with various tools and chains as he’s excruciatingly beaten to death. When he does finally expire, the film returns to color and regular speed. The odd thing is, it’s not particularly gory, if at all.

.

Subsequent murders don’t use this style. Perhaps when it occurs, we’re not supposed to have read a synopsis that tells us the kids are psychopaths. In 1974, this might have been shocking. Devil Times Five has the definite look and feel of the exploitation films of the era. In fact, the movie poster for another of its titles, The Horrible House on the Hill, advertises, “If you get too scared – try telling yourself it can’t happen to me… it can’t happen to me…” etc.

.

So, those adults… Papa Doc (Gene Evans) is a ruthless businessman. Harvey Beckman (Sorrell Booke) is one of his lackeys, trying to muster enough courage to make some career demands. Rick (Taylor Lacher) is the virile young man who’s sleeping with Julie (Joan McCall), but has a past with Lovely (Carolyn Stellar), who’s sleeping with Papa Doc. Ruth (Shelley Morrison) is Harvey’s drunken wife. They’re all in a big, dysfunctional (and unpleasant) relationship.

.

The closest one to being a hero is Harvey. He seems to strike a sincere friendship with one of the boys, David (Leif Garrett.) Well, he’s nice to him. While that may extend his life for a short time, it won’t eventually keep David from chopping more than wood with his little axe. One of the women is nice to Susan (Tia Thompson), but I don’t think writer John Durren much likes the female sex. They’re all nasty creatures in Devil Times Five.

.

The movie was supposedly made from a troubled production. Director Sean McGregor had a volatile relationship with one of the producers, Mickey Blowitz. When he was removed, an uncredited David Sheldon replaced him, supposedly having to reshoot many of McGregor’s scenes at a later date. That’s why at various times Leif Garrett is blonde, dark-haired, and/or wearing a wig.

.

What was Garrett’s relationship with the filmmakers? The film also features his mother, Carolyn Stellar, and sister, Dawn Lyn (Moe.) There also seems to be some type of relationship, perhaps coincidental, between Devil Times Five and Walking Tall (1973.) Leif Garrett and Dawn Lyn were in both, as was Gene Evans, who played Sheriff Al Thurman. (The siblings played Buford Pusser’s, Joe Don Baker, children.)

.

Finally, let’s talk about the nun, Sister Hannah (Gail Smale.) I spent most of the movie thinking she was one of the children and almost thought I saw her rip off her habit during the bus driver’s murder to reveal that she was actually a boy. However, I’m not sure this really happened. It should have. I mean, that would be pretty horrific. But I sadly don’t think there’s that much depth to the film.

.

Here I stand at a crossroads, tempted to buy a Blu-ray for a movie I didn’t particularly like, so I can determine either if I would like it more, or simply obtain some clarification about the events that occur in it. What can anyone tell me about The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973)? They’re both on sale from Code Red. I’m just wondering if I should go ahead and order both of them. It’s January 24… this wouldn’t be the first time I've blown a resolution by now.

Written by John Durren

Directed by Sean MacGregor

Starring Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall, Shelley Morrison, Carolyn Stellar, John Durren, Leif Garrett, Gail Smale, Dawn Lyn, Tierre Turner, Tia Thompson

RT 88 min.

Released May 31, 1974

Home Video Code Red

31 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All