‘5 bad seeds, possessed by murder!’
Devil Times Five is a 1974 American horror feature film directed by Sean MacGregor and David Sheldon [uncredited] from a screenplay written by John Durren. The movie stars Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall and Shelley Morrison.
The film was originally known as Peopletoys and also released as The Horrible House on the Hill, Five O’Clock Killers and Tantrums (British VHS title).
Five children crawl from the wreckage of a deadly van accident in a snowy canyon. The juvenile survivors (including future teen heartthrob Leif Garrett) seek shelter at a secluded mountain top winter home occupied by a rich businessman (Gene Evans) and his friends (including Sorrell Booke and Shelly Morrison).
Soon, strange mishaps occur and the group is stranded without electricity and telephones. One by one, the adults begin to fall prey to a series of shocking and violent deaths. By the time the few surviving adults suspect the demented delinquents it may be too late…
When watching Devil Times Five, it helps to know a little something about what went on behind the scenes. Apparently, original director Sean McGregor was fired when it turned out that, after several weeks of filming, he only had 38 minutes of usable footage.
Several weeks later, a second director, David Sheldon, was brought in to reshoot a good deal of the movie. Unfortunately, by the time that Sheldon arrived, the majority of the cast had moved onto other projects and the main killer kid (Leif Garrett) had gotten his hair cut for another movie, meaning that he had to wear an ill-fitting wig for the reshoots.
And the end result is a truly weird movie, one that is full of odd continuity errors and strange scenes that were obviously only included to pad out the film’s running time. Among the most obvious of the continuity errors is the insistence that the characters are snowed in despite the fact that there appears to be hardly any snow on the ground outside. This, of course, was largely due to the fact that the reshoots were done in sunny California.
As for the padding, perhaps the most infamous example is the scene where the five children attack and beat to death their doctor. This entire scene is shown in slow motion. It lasts for five minutes. Seriously, five minutes is a really long time. It’s certainly a long time to watch someone supposedly beaten to death, especially when the scene is underlit and sepia-toned. It starts out as disturbing but, after the 2nd minute or so, it just gets boring. And then about four minutes in, you start to laugh because you’re just like, “How much longer can this crap go on?” And then, at the 4:30 mark, you start to get bored again. Around the 4:55 mark, I realised that I had forgotten who they were killing or why.
Incidentally, this is one of those films where, whenever one of the kids is going to kill someone, the kid suddenly starts moving in slow motion. It was kind of like the music in Jaws. If the kid picked up an axe but was still moving at normal speed, you knew not to worry. But the minute that slow-mo started, you knew someone was about to die.
Of course, it takes a while to get around to the killings. Devil Times Five clocked in at about 88 minutes. I would guess that roughly 65 of those minutes were pure filler. We spend a lot of time getting to know the adults at that ski lodge and, for the most part, they’re loathsome. The oldest and grumpiest of them is even called Papa Doc, perhaps after the infamous Haitian dictator.
All of the adults spend a lot of time talking about their crumbling marriages and their dying dreams and it’s all very angsty for slasher film about a bunch of killer kids. There’s even an extended catfight between Julie (Joan McCall) and Lovely (Carolyn Staller), which involves a lot of rolling around on the floor while the ’70s “wah-wah” soundtrack plays in the background.
Once the killings do start, however, Devil Times Five actually starts to live up to its potential. These are some mean little kids! Once they start their rampage, we get axes in the back, spears to the throat, immolation, death by swing, and one really disturbing scene involving a bunch of bear traps.
However, Devil Times Five is probably best known for the piranha scene. You can legitimately wonder why someone would keep piranhas at a ski lodge but there’s still no denying that you don’t want to take a bath with them. Making the piranha attack all the more icky that the victim in the bathtub is played by the mother of two of the actors who played the killers!
Lisa Marie Bowman, guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens
” …the simplicity of the title spreads to the screenplay by Sandra Lee Blowitz and co-star Durren, which gets the kids to the cabin and has them dispatch the adults for the third act. In between? Well, things take a while to percolate; even with such a short running time it could have been trimmed by another ten. (Leave in the catfight though, please and thank you.)” Daily Dead
“…takes the “killer kids” genre to a chilling, disturbing level without having to resort to the paranormal to explain their psychotic, sporadic behavior. The film’s low budget is evident, but adds to the effective minimalism that 1970s drive-horror often thrives on.” DVD Drive-In
” …a quite effective play on the whole malevolent children subgenre that grew up out of the previous year’s The Exorcist (1973). There are some undeniably effective scenes with kids hunting adults with rifles, setting bear traps in the snow and one wonderfully malicious scene with them dumping piranha in someone’s bath.” Moria
“Kills are not simply tools such as a knife and axe (though they do make an appearance). Fire, piranhas, and an inventive combination of a spike and a swing show us just how to be a creative bunch of little maniacs. The winter setting is a big plus for the film, adding isolation as well as an adoring scenery to the adventure through exploitation.” Oh, the Horror!
“The film manages to overcome a boring first half, with a suitably trashy second half, and an incredibly downbeat ending. Devil Times Five is perhaps the best film of its kind, and may never be topped in terms of the sheer success of its exploitation elements.” Critical-film.com
“Using real children in horror situations can be disturbing, but barring the unlikely event that look-alike midgets were substituted, Devil Times Five steps way over the line of acceptability. The kids dump the piranhas into Ms. Stellar’s bubble bath and then try to drown her.” DVD Savant
“There is no question that Devil Times Five is an absolutely ridiculous entry into the “killer kids” genre of horror film, but I enjoyed the hell out of it in spite of myself. Just force your way through those brutal first fifteen minutes, and you may find your new favorite winter horror film.” Horror Honeys
“Maybe boring was the wrong word, as if you were unaware of the events of that last half hour you would be tempted to bail out as no matter that the psycho kiddies bump off their case worker in the early stages, it is filmed in such a dreary, slow-motion fashion that thrills are thin on the ground.” The Spinning Image
“It’s to say if the initial blandness of the film is a result of unimaginative direction or a sly teasing of the viewer’s expectations. Seen twice, the menace of the early scenes is more obvious, as we witness a gang of children emerge from a minibus crash in the snowy wilds, somehow undisturbed by their brush with death. […] it’s only when the murderous children start to ‘play’ with their ‘people toys’ that the film’s nasty streak emerges…” Stephen Thrower, Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents
“Devil Times Five takes a while to get going and suffers from way too much slow-motion during some of the murder sequences. But if you’re patient and stick with it, the rewards are great. It’s definitely a damned fine Killer Kiddie Movie; better than any of those Children of the Corn flicks, that’s for sure.” The Video Vacuum
Cast and characters:
Sorrell Booke … Harvey Beckman
Gene Evans … Papa Doc
Taylor Lacher … Rick
Joan McCall … Julie
Shelley Morrison … Ruth
Carolyn Stellar … Lovely (as Carolyn Steller)
John Durren … Ralph
Leif Garrett … David
Gail Smale … Sister Hannah
Dawn Lyn … Moe
Tierre Turner … Brian
Tia Thompson … Susan
Henry Beckman … Doctor Brown
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1