Initially released in 1974 and also known as Peopletoys, Tantrums, and The Horrible House on the Hill, Devil Times Five is one of a handful of films made about murderous children targeting and killing adults. In the case of Devil Times Five, the children are five escapees from a mental hospital and the adults are a group of largely unlikable people who have gotten snowed in at a ski lodge.
(In a film like this, it helps that the victims are all too unlikable to really care about.)
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 five minutes.
Seriously — and if you doubt me on this, be sure to read Stacie Ponder’s review of the film over on Final Girl — five minutes is a really long time. It’s certainly a long time to watch someone get beat 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 4 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 realized that I had forgotten who they were killing or why. And then it was finally over. Yay!
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. (And let’s not even start on the film’s nominal hero, Rick, who has a pornstache, a comb over, and an extended nude scene.) 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 cat fight 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 scene all the more icky that the victim in the bathtub is played by the mother of two of the actors who played the killers.)
Devil Times Five makes for a strange viewing experience. It starts out as nothing but filler and then suddenly, almost out of nowhere, the entire film goes batshit crazy. Devil Times Five has slipped into the public domain, so you can watch it for free on YouTube if you want. But I suggest tracking down the Code Red DVD, which comes with a fascinating commentary track and an entertaining and candid interview with several members of the cast.