I finally got a chance to watch an old rental tape of this we found the other night and was actually quite pleased with the results. A bus on it's way to a state mental hospital for children crashes, the driver killed and the five insane kids inside escape to take refuge in a nearby resort hotel, closed for the season and occupied by a sort of local crime boss called Papa Doc [played by country/western singer Gene Evans, who I still remember doing something like football commentary for one of the networks as a kid] and his entourage of hangers on, gophers and Sorrel Brooke [later Boss Hogg of DUKES OF HAZZARD fame] as his pathetic, balding son. The women are all oversexed or drunken harlots, and there is some sort of macho powerplay going on amongst the men, until all of a sudden these five kids appear in the living room after beating the doctor who was with them to death in an extended slow-motion sequence was actually pretty darn creepy.
The kids are an interesting lot; One of them is convinced she is a nun, Leif Garrett thinks he is a big time child movie star [possible in-joke or gifted foresight?], and the leader appears to be the little African American kid who dresses, acts and talks in military lingo, just like a soldier -- He even has a little plastic M-16, which will later be traded for one of the hunting rifles from the walls of the lodge.
Then there is the caretaker, Ralph, who talks to the bunny rabbits he raises, and apparently thinks he is one as well. Ralph is a bit slow on the fastball as it were, and serves as the butt of a series of rather cruel jokes about his size, strength and sexuality, including a scene that sort of left me feeling uncomfortable as he and the little maniac who thinks she is a nun wash dishes and share a "secret". Ahem.
All of this takes place in an utterly drab and unsensational setting, shot in an almost documentary manner and with almost zero character development. The fun sort of doesn't really pick up speed until it is revealed that Evans' Papa Doc actually has an aquarium with live pirhana fish in it [about four, actually] and I had decided that unless we got to see one of the women fed to the pirhana fish whilst stark naked, I was going to ask for my money back.
I'm glad to say that we will be keeping the video, though just how the deadly pirhana fish are used I will keep a secret. The kids start in on the adults slowly, playing mind games and seeming to have nothing better in mind than to mentally and eventually physically torture & kill them one by one -- There are hangings, stabbings, shootings, death by killer pirhana fish, and all of it meted out by the hands of 10 to 14 year olds, to whom it is all just a whopping great time. The film ends with a very chilling shot of the life-sized play set that the kids have fashioned for themselves up in Ralph's apartment room where the alternate title of "People Toys" is fully realized.
DEVIL TIMES FIVE is not without it's problems, most notably these kids ... They don't seem to be affected by the winter climate at all, never seem to get hungry or sleepy or have cold feet in the snow, and are in fact caricatures rather than characters -- as opposed to say the inmates of the asylum from S.F. Brownrigg's DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, which this film seems in part to have been inspired by [right down to the child-like bohemouth character and the character who acts & talks just like a soldier]. DEVIL TIMES FIVE is an interesting twist on the Asylum Horror genre that can be so much fun, removing the insane inmates from their loony bin and setting them loose in an isolated setting from which the adults have no escape -- The question isn't who will survive, but how will each adult meet their demise, and on that plane this is a doubly chilling exercise in the form, with no hope of any kind of a "happy" ending, unless your sympathies lie with the kids.
All in all I found it to be grand fun on a very sick level that films just can't seem to descend to these days, though there wasn't as much gore and sleaze as I had been hoping for, and several slow motion violence sequences suggested that this may have been a "cut" version, though there was ample nudity and profanity to justify the MPAA R Rating. DEVIL TIMES FIVE is currently Out of Print as a commercial retail home video release, though Incredibly Strange Film Works [www.isfilm.net] has a nice codfree DVD release, and Sinister Cinema has had the film available on both VHS & DVD-R for a few years. VERY interesting ultra low budget 70's Novelty Shocker worth seeking out, though be forewarned that there is no hope in this film, evil triumphs over good, and yes, Leif Garrett eventually went on to release albums of garbage that sold millions of units to 12 - 16 year old girls the world over, which is indeed more horrifying than anything depicted on screen.
*** [out of a possible ****]