With the range of topics we cover on the podcast, I can travel down some rabbit trails that find the oddities that end up being perfect fodder for this (oft neglected) blog series. May I present to you “Exhibit A”, a film I stumbled into while trying to create a starting list of Satan and satanic cult films for our “Desert Island Picks” episode of them. Though it didn’t even come close to making my list then, it hung out on my Amazon Prime queue anyway.
Devil Times Five also caught my eye for one cast member in particular, and that’s ’70s child star, Leif Garrett. As a child of the ’70s myself, I remember having one of his albums on 8-track (or one of my siblings did) that had his smash disco hit “I Was Made For Dancin'” that came out about 4 years after this film. It also includes his sister, Dawn Lyn, who would appear as his sister again in a couple other productions. So with that twinkle of nostalgia in my eye, I figured why not give it a go.
Turns out that Devil Times Five isn’t even the original title for this! On it’s initial release in 1974, it was titled PeopleToys or People Toys. On re-release in 1976, it was changed to Devil Times Five in the US and UK, and then even changed again to Tantrums for a home video release in UK. And that’s the least confusing or convoluted thing about the film and its production.
Strap in for this ride, Fright Fans.
The quick and dirty synopsis of this delight is that a van loaded with what turns out to be five kids from a pediatric sanitarium crashes in the remote and soon to be snowbound woods. Not everything is revealed about the kids from the start, but you learn right off the bat that Brian (Tierre Turner) has a delusion of being a military commander and can’t actually tell when people are dead. Seriously, he says, “They’re all dead,” to Moe (Dawn Lyn), Susan (Tia Thompson), and “Sister Hannah” (Gail Smale), only to have David (Leif Garrett) stumble out without a mark on him two minutes later. The doctor who was driving comes crawling out of the wreckage not long after the kids have fled.
As for the victims, I mean other cast of characters, Rick (Taylor Lacher) is a doctor and the boyfriend of Julie (Joan McCall), the daughter of “Papa Doc”(Gene Evans), a gruff asshole who owns several medical facilities, including a new sanitarium that Rick is aiming for the director position of. But Rick has competition from Harvey Beckman (Sorrell Booke), who has a hard time standing up for himself, especially when he keeps getting savagely cut off at the knees by his perpetually drunk wife, Ruth (Shelley Morrison). Pour another glass for Lovely (Carolyn Stellar), Papa Doc’s gold-digging wife, as she spreads her own discontent about the scene as well. The six of them are spending a weekend at Papa Doc’s winter lodge, along with the mentally challenged caretaker, Ralph (John Durren). Ralph even talks to his small herd of rabbits.
Yes. … They went there.
The kids find the lodge and break into the wine cellar. Following their trail through the snow, the doctor finds them, only to be dispatched in a gratuitous slow motion, sepia-toned scene of slaughter that drags out for over 2 minutes. Meanwhile, around that same time, Lovely is trying to bed Ralph, who misses every single hint, no matter how blunt. But when Julie walks in on this stunted attempt at seduction, she and Lovely have an argument that quickly devolves into one of the tamest “cat fights” to come out of ’70s cinema.
The kids are found (or reveal themselves) to the other occupants of the lodge, with most of them taking pity on their plight. From here, it’s a steady progression of the kids getting creepier and the adults getting deader, so I won’t go into those details because I don’t want to spoil some of the better parts of this good-bad film.
But what I will go into is some of the batshit craziness that happened behind the camera! Such as rumors that director Sean MacGregor was having a relationship with under-aged actress Gail Smale during the production, and that the reason her character was dressed as a nun was to conceal her albinism. From there, we have tales of MacGregor and producer Michael Blowitz getting physical with each other. MacGregor reportedly punched Blowitz in the face, and Blowitz threw MacGregor through a plate glass window in reply. Add to that that MacGregor was pulled from the film 2/3 of the way in because his work was deemed unusable, and David Sheldon was brought on to finish the film. To cap off MacGregor’s saga, it’s also reported he was admitted to an actual psychiatric hospital shortly after he left the production.
As for other endearing errors within the film itself, play a drinking game for each time Leif wears a wig because he had had his hair cut short for another film he started working on when he was brought back for reshoots. I would say you could do a drinking game around how often night immediately turns to day (or vice versa) or when the snow levels change outside, but I respect your respective livers far too much to abuse you like that.