[MANY SPOILERS, and I think you'll thank me for the warnings]
I'm not sure how to feel about this movie.
In spite of the title, it's not about a haunted house. I'd even like to offer an alternate title for this film.
NORMAN BATES: FIREBUG.
This is how it starts off: There's a guy with a very bad disco hair-do who works at some place where they wear haz-mat suits or whathaveyou. One of his co-workers catches on fire, but our main character just stands there, watching in utter fascination. If that doesn't clue you in to the major issues that this character, Donny, will be presenting to us, we get him saying, "[My co-worker] wasn't evil, but [the fire] covered him up."
So if you haven't realized by now that Donny relates fire to punishment and sinfulness, you'll figure it out soon enough, after he goes home to a gross, wallpaper-peeling house on a hill and waits hand and foot on his demanding mommy, who's curiously silent. (PSYCHO alert.) Well, it turns out that she's not rotting away in some fruit cellar--she's died within the last few hours (and Donny hasn't noticed).
So Donny freaks out a little before the whispery voices come to him. "You're free," they say.
Naturally, Donny starts sowing those wild oats that have been building up in him over the years. He asks the voices if he can play his (disco!) music loud. So he does, and he jumps on the furniture, too. He smokes a ciggie with wanton glee, knowing Mommy won't catch him this time.
It'd be great if that were the extent of it--if he then buried his mom, whipped that house into shape, then went on smoking and molesting couches. But it is not to be.
Donny, a mild-mannered guy on the outside, starts bringing girls home with him, chaining them up, then burning them alive.
Released in 1979, this is an early slasher film, I guess, even though there's not much slashing. It's not fun at all, either, and I mean that in an "adrenaline rush" way. There are no big scare scenes, no hide-behind-the-pillow moments that make a good horror movie such a roller coaster ride. To its credit though, it really played on my female psyche, making me relate to the victims because they find themselves caught up in situations that could happen to any of us, really. I mean, a fairly nice guy comes into your flower shop, creeps you out a little, then leaves. But when you're harassed by some scary perverts while you're waiting for your bus, the relatively non-scary guy happens to drive by and he offers you a ride, saving you. Then he says he wants to drop his flowers off at home first. That seems fair enough, and, actually, he's not creeping you out that much any more. Then you find out you were being stupid just before you die.
If anything, this movie is a thesis on How Not To Be Dumb If You're a Single Woman.
I think there's additionally a pretty powerful message about child abuse in this flick. The ending scene drives that home, making me think that the creator had something more than just shock-and-burn depravity in mind. There also seems to be a real attempt at a character study. Then again, the kills in DGITH are just so repulsive and mean-spirited. It's one of those films that make you wonder what the hell you're doing even watching it, much less, making it to the end credits.
So watch this one at your peril. It might turn your stomach.
Next? Maybe PEEPING TOM....