Monday, August 2, 2010

DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1974) - no matter what the title says, Satan is not to blame for these unholy munchkins

Sister Hannah and a ragtag group of kids are sticking their noses in where they don't belong. Namely, into a world filled with adults who foolishly trust that children won't try and slaughter them for no discernible reason.

Boss Hogg haunted my dreams. Seriously. While Luke and Bo tried to have a little more fun than the law will allow (i.e. redneck-y car stunts), Boss kept interfering. He’s the law after all, and therefore, the murderer of all that is fun. So, years ago, I was driving cross country from L.A. to Chicago, alone. After 24 hours or so, I was driving in the middle of nowhere (i.e. Nebraska) and needed that extra push to send me over the top.

For the record, I blame
Cannonball Run and all that it hath cinematically wrought (sequels and off shoots, like Speed Zone) for the predilection of the American male to drive “straight through”, as it were. Every man worth his salt considers it a violation of machismo to make a stop along a road trip unless it is deemed absolutely necessary, like a NASCAR pit stop. I once succumbed to this irrational temptation, but never again, I tell myself. Never again.

So, I decided to stop at a truck stop for a quick pick me up. I noticed this futuristic “Red Bull” concoction sitting in the freezer, staring at me with psychopathic glee. Although never having drunk one previously (despite brushing up against the rave community), I decided to pick one up and throw it down with a couple of No Doz. Surely this would take me “over the top”, with all guns blazing, sending me across the checkered flag while a drunk priest cheers me on. Oh wait, it’s Dean Martin.

Of course, divorced from irrational cock fueled goal seeking, this was flat out fucking dumb, as I
simultaneously fell asleep behind the wheel and started hallucinating. I was no longer driving a piece of shit Neon. Oh no. In fact, I wasn’t driving at all. Rather, I had transformed into Luke, and was sitting in the passenger seat of a cop car, with Boss Hogg behind the wheel, He had finally caught me, and forced me along as we chased Bo in the Charger at warp fucking speed.

Now, I’m not used to getting into high speed chases while asleep at the wheel, so I was never able to catch up to him. Instead, I woke up parked on a cow pasture. Hearing an array of annoyed moos, I quickly drove on my merry way. Luckily, I was never pulled over by the oink patrol during all of this, as I would have looked pretty foolish trying to explain to the officer that I was trying to catch up to a speeding television character in my sleep, too focused on my goal to notice that I was going 95 miles an hour with my eyes shut. Then again, I probably would’
ve just said to the oinker “if you’re going to write me a ticket…WRITE ME A FUCKING TICKET. I don’t have time for this shit. I’M FUCKING ZOOMING THROUGH LIFE OVER HERE!”.

Hogg stars in Devil Times Five, another horror obscurity I love with all of my blackened heart, yet no else gives two hoots for (or one hoot for, at least). Released in the mid 70’s, I first saw it on cable sometime in the late eighties and have remained scarred for life (well, scars upon scars, if you follow). Here is one of the few slasher-esque films to aspire (it would seem) to some deeper context. Luckily, I saw it at a young enough age to soak in all of it’s nihilistic glory, sans an adult ability to nitpick a film's technique.

So, a group of misfit kids escape from a bus overturned on a snowy road. This ragtag group of bad seeds come upon a cabin filled with potential adult victims, and the shit hits the proverbial fan. There is a zoom in on the bus driver’s badge, identifying him as an employee of an insane
asylum. However, this bit of rationalization, painting these kids as merely “crazy”, was clearly an addition in post production, as were a bunch of other scenes.

Apparently, original director Sean
MacGregor shot a 45 minute movie, and the rest was added later by someone else. This always seemed to me to be the case, padded as these homicidal exploits appeared to be. There is a scene where the resident harlot Lovely tries to seduce the simpleton assistant Ralph, and this leads into a catfight with Joan McCall (then again, if you’re gonna pad a movie, pad it with catfights). There are other “character” scenes between the adults, merely detours along the road of impending slaughter. After all, it is the children that are the stars of the show.

The first murder scene, that of a nut house
assistant apparently, is shot in monochrome slow-mo, with the kids taking turns pummeling the shit out of this adult figure and his steadfast rules. After all, these children wish to be left alone, hoping to be unimpeded by the structure of their elders. “Is he dead?”, one child asks. “I sure hope so!”, another replies. The little girl complains “I’m hungry!”. This adult human means less than nothing, a mere obstacle to be overcome on their path to munchkin independence.

Part of the adult drama involves Boss
Hogg and his drunk wife whining back and forth, revolving around Hogg seeking a promotion from Papa Doc, the real boss of this adult group. Unfortunately, Boss Hogg is a bit of a pussy, unlike his wife, who finds strength at the bottom of a bottle of J & B, like many a euro crime hero/villain (like pretty much every character Tomas Milian has played during his career). This just goes to show that booze, strategically consumed, can provide a much needed boost of courage. Boss later follows the lead of his dear misses, throwing down some J & B and telling Papa Doc that he wants that fucking promotion. Of course, he gets axed in the head by a young Leif Garrett a short while after. Too bad. His wife is proud of him though. She was planning on leaving his ass, but felt proud of his booze-fueled stance against authority, a much delayed display of brass balls. She recollects her husband’s last stand with, appropriately, a bottle of J & B. One last salute to the Hoggster, as it were.

Every child embodies a specific
archetype. There is a hippie girl, obsessed with fire as she is, marveling at what a butane lighter can do without a safety tab. Then there’s the youngest girl, clutching her goldfish plush doll, and Sister Hannah, an apparent nun in training and leader of the group. A pre-heroin Leif Garrett plays a cross dressing faux actor/swinger, and Tierre Turner is a soldier boy, obsessed with military protocol. These kids seem to represent factions of disenfranchised youth, a culmination of anger so resolute, against a society they thoroughly despise, that they can’t even feel one iota of empathy for their elders. These adults are merely objects to destroy or have fun with or whatever; as the original title entails, “peopletoys”. This generation of youths only wish to have the world to themselves.

The youngest girl, for example, is
horrified that Papa Doc feeds goldfish to his piranha, she of the goldfish plush. She later joins Sister Hannah, now wearing a red blanket in lieu of a penguin suit, now a nun of a different sort, I guess. They feed Lovely, Papa Doc’s wife, to the piranha while she takes a bath, a sort of karmic revenge. Clutching her precious doll, the little girl yells “stop kicking! You’ll hurt the babies!” (i.e. the piranha). A fish’s comfort level holds more importance than the entirety of her existence, I guess.

Hogg’s wife tries to further connect with Susan the hippie, telling her she loves her and understands her. “You didn’t love me!” she screams back. The others chant in unison, yelling “murderer!” at Mrs. Hogg, despite her honest attempts at connecting with Susan. Also, she has never taken a life, which would seem to render their chant illogical. Nevertheless, Susan the pyro sets her on fire, as the other children cheer her on. No, unlike many a horror film, Mrs. Hogg has never committed a crime, and therefore is not deserving of any comeuppance. The children murder her savagely because she is an adult, and all adults are guilty; killers and thieves and rapists who built this society they finds themselves thrust into.

Sister Hannah guides this group (see “Top 10 Willy Inducing Moments” for more on my favorite nun),
achieving a sort of purity of purpose along the way. Unlike the other kids, she seems to be haunted, a previous victim of horrors unspoken. She leads the way on this path of revenge, coldly disposing of any adults as they see fit. After all, their winter lodge suits the kids’ immediate needs. In her singular moment of humanity, she seems to bond with Ralph the simpleton, as if responding to the child in his eyes. This doesn’t spare him; in fact, he is the first to die of the group. Joan discusses the death with Hannah, telling her that Papa doc and Lovely adopted him about five years ago, and he had lived with them ever since. “Until today”, Hannah coldly retorts. She is a spiritualist, yes, but of internalized hatred and externalized death.

Director Sean
MacGregor was also responsible for the story for The Brotherhood of Satan, an excellent sorta combination of Rosemary’s Baby and Village of the Damned. While Brotherhood is slick and superbly directed by Bernard McEveety, a gothic gallery of oddities revolving around a group of children being bound by Satan’s law, Devil Times Five is rough and padded throughout. However, the two make a good comparison. In Brotherhood, an All-American family is trapped in a small town while evil grabs a hold of the local children, kicking off a new society with Satan at the helm. Devil Times Five shows a corporate hierarchy of adults (with Papa Doc, the boss of the others and owner of the house, on top) succumbing to children, but with no evil force guiding their hand (keep in mind the word "devil" was not in the original title). Where as The Brotherhood of Satan is a much more cinematic enterprise, it is tempered by an explanation of the evil within. Devil Times Five, haggard and inexplicable as it is, seems to me to be a purer expression of MacGregor’s diseased nihilism (and I mean that as a compliment).

Devil Times Five ends with the children playing tea with the adult victims, their corpses socially gathered around a table. With the older generation totally dehumanized, merely objects to discard and maybe play with, the end credits begin with the title card “The Beginning”, as if Mr. MacGregor is trying to establish a new world order of disenfranchised youths. Rather than seeking to rectify the system, they shalt annihilate it. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to think that the Manson family was also built on such an “ideal”.

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