DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE (1979) Blu-ray
Director: Joseph Ellison
Scorpion Releasing

The best known of the 1980s "don't" horror films DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE burns its way onto Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.

Ever since his fanatical mother's attempts to burn the evil out of him as a boy, Donny (Dan Grimaldi, THE YARDS) has been alternately fascinated and frightened of fire. As an adult, Donny is a loner who works at a trash incineration facility while caring for his still very much feared but ailing mother (Ruth Dardick) in a foreboding old mansion. When a co-worker is set ablaze by an exploding spray can, Donny is petrified and fails to act, earning the scorn of his boss (Bill Ricci) and co-workers (stunt coordinator Charles Bonet, DEATH PROMISE) with the exception of more outgoing Bobby (Robert Carnegie, CRUISING) who tries to bring him out of his shell. When Donny returns home and discovers that his mother has died, the voices in his head tell him that he can now be "master of the flame" leading him to construct a steel-walled chamber where he attempts to burn the evil out of abducted women with a flamethrower. He keeps their charred corpses (dressed in his mother's clothes) as his friends (charred corpses by CHRISTMAS EVIL's Tom Brumberger that look unnervingly like Guanajuato mummies), but his mother's voice and apparition continue to haunt him and even his "friends" start to mock him. He seeks guidance from his mother's priest Father Gerrity (Ralph D. Bowman) and resolves to try to be normal by socializing with Bobby who takes him on a double date, but the voices in his head have other ideas.

Although the film does feature a couple naked women chained to be burned alive, DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE is not as graphic as it is reputed (that we only actually see one victim set alight and the others in the aftermath may have more to do with the in-camera opticals utilized). A study of child abuse and sexual repression couched in an exploitation scenario, the film is carried by stage actor Grimaldi's dedicated performance as a simultaneously monstrous and pathetic character physically and emotionally isolated. There are some parallels with Bill Lustig's MANIAC including Donny's fate which may or may not be a hallucination and a haunting final scene that puts a supernatural spin on the cycle of abuse. Grimaldi became a character actor in episodic television and film with his most recognizable role in THE SOPRANOS. Richard Einhorn (SHOCK WAVES) provides a creepy score spiked by some catchy disco songs while the photography was the work of future bigtime DP Oliver Wood (THE BOURNE IDENTITY). Sound editor Skip Lievsay won an Academy Award in 2013 for GRAVITY.

Released theatrically by Film Ventures and on home video by Media Home Entertainment in 1982 (followed by an LP-mode Video Treasures edition in 1988), DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE was one of the handful of Film Ventures titles to score an early DVD release in 1999 from DVD Inc. in a barebones, murky tape-mastered edition. When Media Blasters' Shriek Show released their DVD in 2005, it was from an interlaced anamorphic master supplied by German company Atlas International (MARK OF THE DEVIL, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD) with an audio commentary and interview with Grimaldi along with two unmatted scenes. Germany's Subkultur beat Scorpion to the punch with a Blu-ray edition of the film, but rewards came to those who waited when the materials used for Scorpion's Blu-ray – put out just before their licensing period ended – turned out to be a longer 92 minute cut of the film (versus the 82 minute theatrical cut) under the pre-release title THE BURNING sourced from the original negative. The downside of this new release is that the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio track has some odd edits, the first of which is when Vito castigating Donny for standing around "like a faggot" on the theatrical audio and badly dubbed in "like a nutcase" on this version. I cannot imagine that any cut of this film would have been acceptable for television but perhaps that may have been the intention and the audio track included with the negative was edited with the intention of using the scenes cut from the theatrical version to make up for the nudity and violence that would be cut from a TV version (and presumably the unaltered track for the 92 minute version may have been mistakenly discarded). While the edits could have been replaced with audio lifted from the theatrical master, the error was apparently not caught before the pressing. Since Scorpion's rights ran out at the end of 2016 and no other edition currently offers this longer cut, the disc should be considered a must for fans of the film to supplement the German Blu-ray or one of the earlier DVD releases.

The audio commentary with Grimaldi has been resynchronized to this longer version who discusses how he was approached while doing a play with the offer to take the lead without an audition, his research into victims of child abuse, and anecdotes about the shoot in the mansion location that only had heat in the attic where the owners lived. His dedication to learning everything he could about acting for film in his first role is such that he is able to provide information about other aspects of the shoot such as the manner in which the burning of the first victim was realized with two passes of the camera superimposing the real writhing actress over a burning mannequin. Grimaldi also appears in an interview (11:30) carried over from the DVD and covering some of the same material while a new interview with co-star Osth (25:30) – aka Robert Carnegie, founder of Playhouse West – finds the actor just as enthusiastic about the early role more so than the finished film. He also recalls that director Joseph Ellison and screenwriters Joe Masefield, and Ellen Hammill (who also wrote Ellison's only other film JOEY which featured Grimaldi in a supporting role) intended the script to be socially conscious of the issue of child abuse. He too recalls the freezing shooting conditions, recruiting a model with whom he had appeared in some romance publications to play the girl whose hair gets set on fire in the disco, and cites the priest as a non-actor who gave him nothing to work with even as he was supposed to get increasingly hysterical (and also notes that the performer was dubbed by Ellison himself). Osth also reveals that he and Grimaldi took it upon themselves to promote the film and that they took a friend with them each time they saw it in the theater (they also made an appearance when a sci-fi fan club requested a print for a screening).

"DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE… Again" (10:49) is a tour of the Strauss Mansion intercutting footage from the film with new video of the house as it looks today hosted by historical society researcher Greg Caggiano whose expertise about the location extends to the film itself. The house was built by New York merchant Adolf Strauss as a summer home but had become a seedy low income housing complex at the time of filming in 1980 and was slated for demolition but is now a landmark and museum. In "Ghost Hunting in the Struss Mansion with Greg Caggiano" (7:36), the researcher reveals that he is also a ghost hunter (along with some other members of the historical society's board of directors). He discusses the activity they have documented in the house and his belief that he met the murderer of one of the house's spirits. He also plugs his book on the house's paranormal phenomenon. The "alternative title card" (1:35) is the DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE credit sequence from the Film Ventures release while the additional scene (0:54) is an extension of the scene in which Donny yells at his "friends" for laughing at him. The disc also includes the film's trailer (1:59) and a TV spot (0:10). Scorpion's rights to the film expired last December so the release will not be re-pressed. The disc is still available from Scorpion's online store Ronin Flix and Diabolik DVD. (Eric Cotenas)