Director: Joseph Ellison
Script: Joseph Ellison & Joseph R. Masefield & Ellen Hammill
Cast: Dan Grimaldi, Robert Osth, Ruth Dardick, Johanna Brushey, Bill Ricci, Charlie Bonet
Running time: 82.5 / 83/ 84/ 92 minutes
Year: 1979
Certificate: 18

I first caught up with this film back in the mid-eighties while attending a movie-watching party at a mate’s house. My brain, fogged by too much Woodpecker cider (or was it Strongbow?), struggled to compute what it was seeing during the infamous burning scene, and it was to be a couple of decades later when I got the chance to revisit the film during a special festival screening used to help promote Stephen Thrower’s excellent FAB Press book, namely: Nightmare USA. On the big screen the film impressed me with its scuzzy nihilism, exploitative flair and grindhouse grit. Hence, when Arrow announced their upcoming special edition re-release of the film, I had to jump in, wearing only my trusty fireman’s suit, and remind myself about what had impressed me during my earlier viewings of the film.

Don’t go in the house is essentially about the sins of the mother (in a childcare kind of way) being revisited on society. Don (played really well by Grimaldi), an introverted incinerator worker, is borderline crazy at the best of times and then, when his abusive, and domineering mother passes away, he completely falls over the mental edge, and starts to ‘punish’ the women he hooks up with, by burning them alive in his homemade fire-proof room; as you do!

 

The film’s first act sets up the character and his sense of self, and then the second act sees his murderous nature turned up to (gas-mark – sorry!) eleven, and, finally, the third act sees his complete mental and physical degradation and comeuppance.

Let’s be clear, this is not a fun watch! However, it’s captivating and one helluva lot better than many of the other films that appeared, at various times, on the DPP’s notorious video nasties list. It’s certainly one of my ‘previously banned’ favourites.

It’s incredible that this is Joseph Ellison’s first proper directorial gig (he’d previously been a second unit director on Pelvis (aka Toga Party) in 1977, since it’s an accomplished work. Sadly, he didn’t want to get type-cast as a horror film director so never did another genre film; his only other directing credit being Joey (1986). I think he could have gone on to have had a decent career working in the horror field, if he’s have wanted to. It’s clear, by listening to the extras, that he now regrets his decision.

 

Don’t go in the house is pure 42nd Street Grindhouse manna from heaven, if you’re into that sort of thing (I am), and should definitely be seen by cinefiles who enjoy dabbling on the darker edges of cinema. It certainly won’t really appeal to the casual Netflix viewer, on the look-out for the latest PC-brigade-approved wokeathon, but for fans of cinematic slime it’s a real winner. The acting is decent; the environments the characters inhabit are suitably authentic; the in-camera special effects are excellent (and very disturbing); and the musical score, by Richard Einhrn, really works to enhance the grim and disturbing visuals.

Don’t go in the house is being distributed by Arrow Video on Blu-ray. There are plenty of extras on all three discs including:

Disc One:

Television version (89.37) – This is an alternative cut with extra scenes, but less violence.

Audio commentary with director Joseph Ellison and Ellen Hammill – This is an informative commentary where we learn many interesting facts about the 29-day shoot, including the fact that the film was shot during a really bad storm. 

Audio commentary with lead actor Dan Grimaldi –We again learn lots of interesting titbits from Dan, like the fact that they had to dub much of the film and that Dan visited a number of child abuse centres in order to prepare for the role. Dan also stopped getting invited to BBQs after the film got out, apparently!

Housekeeping with Mathew Mallison (associate producer) (21 mins)We learn that the burning effect was done using a split prism effect, and also that one crew member got pneumonia due to the freezing shooting conditions.

We went into the house with Michael Gingo (19.5 mins) – Gingo takes us on a tour around all the locations that were used in the film including the incinerator and the Strauss house (built in 1893), where the bulk of the film was shot.

Playing with fire (10 mins) – Interview with the lead actor, Dan Grimaldi, who we learn doesn’t really like horror and that he felt really bad pouring cold water over the actress in the burn room as it was freezing cold in there.

UK Theatrical teaser trailer (0.45 min); UK Theatrical trailer (1.34 mins); US Theatrical trailer (1.56 mins); US TV spots – four versions (1.46 mins); German theatrical trailer by the name of The house of living corpses (1.53 mins)

Image gallery – Includes 69 images, many of which demonstrate just how excellent the fire effects are. They also include some very cool poster designs for the film, which was also known as The Burning for a while. The German poster, in particular, looks good.

Disc Two

Extended cut – This includes more footage during the burning scene, plus a scene where our friendly-neighbourhood psycho talks to the corpses that he’s produced, plus a sequence where he confesses his sins to a priest, which adds more substance to the character.

Audio commentary by author Stephen Thrower, who included a whole chapter in his book, Nightmare USA, about the film Don’t go in the house. He discusses the films’ position in the pantheon of horror, including how it sits alongside all the other ‘Don’t…’ films that were released around the same time. He also argues against the misogynistic label that is often attached to the film.

Minds on FireA video essay written/narrated by David Flint (15 mins). The editor of Reprobate.com discusses the film and we get to see some cool images and posters to accompany his essay. He reiterates that the film was universally hated when it was first released back in 1980.

Burn baby burnInterview with the director (2017) (28.5 mins) – The director knew that his ‘money shot’ was the burning sequence, which caused Paramount executives to leave the screening room looking ‘ghostly pale’!

The Burning ManInterview with the director (2015)  (13.5 mins) – The director discusses the film but also talks about his career in music following his leaving the film industry behind.

Grindhouse All-stars – Notes from the sleaze cinema underground (34.5 mins) – A fun documentary on the glory days of 1970’s grindhouse films, featuring some fascinating talking-heads interviews with the likes of Roy Funkes, Matt Cimbar, Jeff Lieberman and Joseph Ellison. None of them can agree on where the term ‘grindhouse’ originated from though!

Disc Three

Original UK version, and also the 2K uncut GTO version. The viewer can select which mode to view them in, including ‘cinema mode’, which replicates the BBFC version released in 1981.

Open matte version – The fully exposed negative image, which gives a more ‘revealing’ experience, apparently.

Textless title sequence (1.05 mins)

VHS Mode – This enables the viewer to watch the uncut Arcade video version or the cut version (83.42 or 81.53 respectively).

Don't go in the house (Aka The Burning)
Justin Richards reviews Joseph Ellison's notorious grindhouse film: 'Don't go in the house'.
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About The Author

After a lengthy stint as a print journalist, Justin now works as a TV and film producer for Bazooka Bunny. He's always been interested in genre films and TV and has continued to work in that area in his new day-job. His written work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications, including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not running around on set, or sat hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard, he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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