I’ve written before about the trope of having adorable little moppets constitute the monster in horror films. I’ve written even more about the cultural taboo against depicting children being killed in horror, and how the only exception to this rule comes when you combine it with the first. Until today, I have not written a word about what would happen if you tried to combine killer children with the production quality of your average Mystery Science Theater 3000-level film. Devil Times Five, I’m sad to report, is that film.
Notable mostly for having a pre-teen Leif Garret among the cast of homicidal children, Devil Times Five (originally entitled, I shit you not, Peopletoys) has the rough bones of what might be charitably called a plot. Two couples head to a cabin in the Canadian north to respond to a summons from their father-in-law (who is also apparently their employer? It’s all a little unclear) regarding a new job, to head up one of his facilities. (That should be run a doctor? But both men are in the running for the job, and only one of them is a doctor? It’s all a lot unclear, actually.) Simultaneously, a vanload of youngsters goes flying off the road, killing the driver. Five little bastards come piling out, stopping only long enough for the young black kid to steal a watch off the driver’s corpse. Stay classy, young black kid. Stay classy, movie, with your racist cultural stereotypes! They head up to the cabin, where they’re taken in by the unsuspecting adults. From there, things go wrong. Oh, God, so much goes wrong. Let’s talk about everything wrong with this miserable little film.
First off, it’s garbage. Utter garbage. I noticed a conspicuous absence of any other films on the director’s resume, and after seeing what he handed in here, I’m unsurprised. The direction of the film is laughably bad, to the point where basic screen grammar is getting mangled. If someone points off-screen down and to the left, cutting the next shot up and to the right is awkward, to say the least. That level of incompetence is on display throughout. Pro-tip for directors: if you want to change scenes, and have one scene taking place later in the day than the previous one, not to mention in a different location, maybe don’t cut from two people talking in a group of people to the SAME TWO PEOPLE TALKING, without a beat missed in the conversation, in a different place and time, without an establishing shot. It comes across as slightly muddled and confusing, until we realize that it’s just because you’re a bad director. The less said about this, the better. Better for me, I mean, because it means no longer having to think about the direction.
Comically bad dialogue, #1: The kids are discovered, shivering from the cold, downstairs in the living room. One of the kids says she’s feeling sick. The father (who, incidentally, is hilariously named “Papa Doc,” and addressed as such by every character in the film, including his daughter and spouse) calls his spouse into the room (said spouse, I have to add, is named Lovely, also a hilarious name for a shrew-ish nightmare vixen of a human who, in what I believe is meant to be a running gag, keeps trying to fuck every other man in the cabin, including - most upsettingly - the man-child maintenance man at the cabin). Rick, the husband we first meet and the ostensible protagonist: “Get under the comforter, kids, warm up.” Lovely then takes the sick child upstairs. Two seconds later, apropo of nothing: “Get upstairs, kids.” MAKE UP YOUR MIND, RICK.
Really, I should address the names and characters thing as a whole. The children barely register as characters, Leif Garret being the only one I could even remember a name for (“David”, not hilarious). There’s essentially: younger girl, older girl, girl dressed like a nun, black kid, and Leif Garret. Inexplicably, the adults all treat the girl dressed like a nun as though she were an honest to God nun, which is so weird I don’t even know how to address it. Then again, these adults are basically children themselves. They have tickle fights. They tease each other about sex. They go for inner tube rides down hills roughly the size of a pothole in the road. The husband of the other couple, Not-Rick, looks like a younger Wilford Brimley, only without the raw animal charisma and sex appeal of Wilford Brimley. Rick’s wife (Blond Woman, she might as well be named) and Papa Doc’s wife Lovely (still can’t believe that) have a fight in the first ten minutes, after Lovely announces that she HAD SEX WITH RICK BEFORE THE TWO OF THEM GOT TOGETHER. Wait, what? Blonde Woman, you’re marrying a guy who had sex with the woman who’s having sex with your father? That is what Dr. Phil would call NOT COOL.
To be fair, Lovely had a pretty good point that she made to Blonde Woman right before the fight started: “You and me, we’re the same. I do my thing, you do yours.” That is a very generous interpretation of being the same, Lovely! Do you want to tell Blonde Woman about how, just moments before, you tried to sleep with the obviously mentally challenged handyman, Ralph? Because that is probably not quite the type of “thing” that Blonde Woman does.
The music in this film is not to be believed. I checked - they had a composer, conductor, and everything. And yet most of this ostensible horror film bops along with a smooth, mellow jazz soundtrack, easy listening to the nth degree, the kind of thing that might make the receptionist in your dentist’s office say “Hmmm, we could probably stand to liven this up a little bit.” A woebegone theremin announces the children’s arrival, like we’re in a fifties alien invasion movie. It’s so clumsily handled, it feels like they’re intentionally trying to make the worst possible choice.
SPEAKING OF WORST POSSIBLE CHOICES. Every single murder, aka The Thing That Drives Your Plot And Makes You A Scary Movie, every single one is done with an equally baffling, opposite-world decision: the film is slowed down, to maybe one-fourth speed, effectively robbing what should be the most tense and shocking segments from your film of any tension or shock. Or coherence, really. You would think that slowing down the murder scene in a film to boredom-inducing levels of tedium would make painfully coherent the action happening on-screen. You would be wrong.
Comically Bad Dialogue, #2: Blonde Woman: “Why don’t you finally take some time and hear my dad out?” Rick: “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Blonde Woman: “Why don’t we get away from everyone tomorrow, spend some time alone?” MAKE UP YOUR MIND, CHARACTERS.
I haven’t even gotten into the mundane noodlings of the plot. The kids start to kill people, starting with the guard from their van who miraculously lived long enough to stumble to the cabin, where the children beat him to death for four - I’m not kidding, four - minutes of slow-motion, agonizingly tiresome beating. With no special effects. Not even like, say, blood or something. It’s a remarkably clean death-beating! Next, they kill Ralph, the depressing man-child character who shows up to remind us why Flowers For Algernon isn’t intended to be a comedy. At this point, only Rick is even remotely suspicious of the kids. Then, they kill Harvey (aka Sexy Wilford Brimley). Papa Doc tells Rick that no one must know about this, they don’t want to panic the women. Cut to: a scene of the women crying because Papa Doc has just told them Harvey was killed. Nice consistency, Papa Doc. At this point, we’re in the last fifteen minutes, and the kids finally start turning on the juice. Not the film, mind you - that still goes into super-slo-mo any time something exciting threatens to break out - but the kids start offing everyone in fairly quick succession. One death is so exciting (Blonde Woman’s) that the filmmakers felt the need to just freeze-frame the camera altogether. That’ll teach us for expecting forward momentum! At the end, even Rick is done in by the little monsters, who we learn are escapees from a local hospital for the “criminally insane.” Sure, why not. The end. Only, the film ends with the words “The Beginning.” Awful optimistic there, Devil Times Five.
Look, I want to apologize somewhat for this review. I feel like it’s a bit on the scatterbrained side. But, when I sat down to revise it and try and rearrange the pieces into a more coherent whole, I realized that the film just doesn’t lend itself to much coherence. And, frankly, at a certain point I felt mean-spirited enough toward the movie that I didn’t care. I don’t usually opt for this tone. I hate giving good people bad news. But I don’t think the makers of Devil Times Five are good people, at least not in the sense of wanting to create a genuinely good film. I think they were lazy bastards who felt they could wring a few dollars out of unsuspecting people by slapping Leif Garret into a suit (and, later, a dress - did I mention his drag scene?) and having him kill adults. This is the film equivalent of snake-oil salesmen. I bear ill will toward this film. Go home, Devil Times Five, you’re drunk.