Don’t Go in the House (1980)

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From its title the 1980 horror-stalker film Don’t Go in the House may suggest a cheesy whodunit, something starring Vincent Price and featuring rubber monster costumes. Actually it is one of the most dire, cynical movies I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised I found it online and not at the bottom of a box of dirty VHS tapes. I’m surprised humans made this movie at all.

The film is seen from the perspective of the killer. Not too unusual. The killer’s POV usual pervades these types of movies, a ubiquitous awareness of their presence, if not outright filming through their eyes. But House takes it a step further, a step that throws the audience into a horribly uncomfortable position. In Halloween or Friday the 13th one follows the killer’s gaze without identifying with their form. The POV shots are meant to build up tension, as we fear excitedly for the lives of the soon-to-be-victims whom the killer stalks. But in House we get to know the killer more than any other character. We know him intimately, inside and out. We see his childhood, his present, hear the voices in his head, even see his hallucinations.

Although the general viewing populace has grown accustomed to antagonists in the center stage, with every TV show advertising morally ambiguous antiheroes and plots that relish in slowly stripping them of their humanity. But House is even bleaker. The character barely had any humanity to begin with. And while modern TV shows rarely expect us to sympathize with or relate to their antiheroes, as they tend to keep certain aspects of their personality, ambitions, and motivations at a distance from the viewer, we share a terrifyingly close relationship with the main character of House. Perhaps we aren’t meant to sympathize with or relate to him per se, we are nevertheless inextricably tied to his POV.

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Donny Kohler’s mother would burn his arms on the stove as a child in order to rid him of evil. As an adult he develops a fascination with fire that’s as great as his identification with the rest of the human race is slight. The movie is from there a gradual process of watching Donny stalk, capture, and ultimately kill a series of women. (This is triggered by the death of his mother, whose corpse he leaves to decompose in a rocking chair in her room.) He doesn’t merely kill these women—he immolates them. I’ve never wanted to see a woman painfully burning to death, but House went ahead and filmed that scene anyway. The psychological element stems from the fact that the women are all young and sexually attractive, suggesting that Donny’s childhood trauma has led him to burn away the evil externally rather than internally. This argues for the psychotic nature of the thought process that leads a man to blame the women he is attracted to for his own sexual arousal. This progressive attitude is welcome, as it symbolically views misogyny as the villain, but the bleakness surrounding this message blots it out to such an extent that the viewer can’t feel anything except defeat. Evil exists and it’s the one doing the burning, not the ones getting burned. And, as suggested by the ending, this evil does not die.

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About Bryan Cebulski

Historian, critic, author. Undercover queer. Aspiring P&C adventure protagonist. Collects bad habits like Jessica Rabbit.
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