Color, 1974, 88m.
Directed by Sean MacGregor
Starring Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans, Leif Garrett, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall, Shelley Morrison, Tierre Turner, Tia Thompson, Gail Smale, Dawn Lyn, John Durren
Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Of course, none of the adults are all that sympathetic. They consist of three couples of varying ages as well as a mentally impaired handyman, played by Durren, the film's screenwriter. Since the film never feels compelled to offer any motivation for the kids' behavior (apart from the obvious-- "They're nuts!") or sketch out the adults with any dimension whatsoever, the best way to approach this film is as an extended E.C. Comics story with plenty of nasty violence inflicted on schemers who deserve what they get. Garrett gives the standout performance of the young cast, though his real-life sister (Lyn, who appeared in the complete Walking Tall trilogy) does a fine job as well; their mom, Stellar, appears as well, which must have made for an uncomfortable set at times given some of the sleazier moments in the script. The murder scenes are quite brutal and protracted, but more startling is the heavy dose of sex and equal opportunity nudity, which is more uncomfortable than titillating. Perhaps most startling, though, is the film's odd connection to Spanish director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, whose The House that Screamed gets a nod here with a slow-motion murder sequence similar to that 1969 film; Serrador must have noticed, since his unsettling cult classic, Who Could Kill a Child?, was made two years later and acknowledges this film from its basic premise to the very similar ending. While the killer-kids theme is still potent (obviously), one aspect that really makes this film stick in viewers' memories is the isolated, snowy setting, which is effectively used and offers a legitimate excuse for keeping the potential victims from simply running next door to call the police.
One of the earliest horror films released on VHS back in the ancient days of Meda (later Media) Home Video, Devil Times Five went out of circulation for many years and earned an even bigger following by virtue of its unavailability. Code Red's very welcome 2006 DVD features a good (for the time) anamorphic transfer that obviously blows past versions out of the water; even the occasional 35mm revivals don't look this clean and clear. As with many independent horror films, the production history for Devil Times Five was quite difficult and rocky, almost ridiculously so in this case. Originally titled People Toys (or Peopletoys-- the spelling seems to vary), the film came in at only about half of feature film length in its original version under director Sean MacGregory, who, according to the supplements here, didn't exactly set the producers on fire. David Sheldon was brought in to shoot more footage to beef up the running time under the supervision of producer Michael Blowitz, and both men cover the strenuous production history on their audio commentary with moderator Darren Gross, who as usual does a solid job of keeping the conversation fact-filled and quickly paced. Lyn also joins in and offers her own perspective as a child performer drawn in to a most unusual project. All three are joined by Tierre Turner for the other big extra, a 22-minute featurette that offers even more stories about the shoestring filming in a less-than-optimum setting with enough continuity problems to fuel months of nightmares. Other extras include the theatrical trailer, some additional Easter Eggs involving the interviewees, an alternative opening title sequence, a promotional gallery, and vintage trailers for other Code Red releases.
A decade later, Code Red revisited the title as a Blu-ray release sold via Diabolik; in this case the difference in image quality is very substantial, taken from a shockingly immaculate source that looks better than anyone had a right to expect from this film. It's probably safe to say that this is the most visually impressive HD transfer from Code Red to date; sometimes at the mercy of films whose elements or shooting conditions weren't the slickest, they come through here with a very pleasing presentation that satisfies on all fronts. The source actually bears the clunky alternate title of The Horrible House on the Hill, so don't be surprised when that pops up. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio is also in excellent shape. Apart from the unrelated trailers, all of the extras from the DVD have been carried over here (commentary, featurette, trailer) with the bonus interview bits presented as a 7-minute reel; no hunting around required this time.