Movie Review: “Don’t Go in the House” (1979)

Dont-Go-in-the-House

Its a movie still banned in some countries around the world…and it was filmed right in Atlantic Highlands…at the Strauss Mansion Museum I currently serve on the board of directors for. That’s the only reason why I sought out Don’t Go in the House, which is available in its entirety on YouTube. It has also been given a recent DVD release so that more people may see Joseph Ellison’s once-shocking exploitation horror flick. The reason why I use the word “once” is because while the film is indeed grisly, it no longer carries the same weight it once had. The 1970’s were a time for filmmakers to get sadistic. Projects such as Cannibal Holocaust were short on story and large on shock, awe, and disgust. There is one infamous scene in this one which led to its banning in certain parts of the world, but due to our increased desensitivity towards violence, the scene is no worse than anything else you might see in a horror movie nowadays.

Don’t Go in the House is not a good movie, but it is not terrible either. If it was not shot at the building which would eventually become the museum, I never would have even heard of it. In 1979, the 1893-built Victorian mansion was falling into severe disrepair. It had seen a decade of low-income apartment tenants and the owners were apparently letting the place fall apart. How the producers found the Strauss Mansion is beyond me, but it does work well for a horror setting…because it really is haunted. If you are a frequent reader of this blog you already know that. Following the conclusion of filming, sometime around 1980, the building was condemned by the town and slated for demolition. That’s when the local historical society stepped in and purchased it. Restoration projects have been ongoing since that time. There is still much work to be done, but not much has changed if you are a fan of this movie and want to come for a visit. That was the novelty for me. No, not some sordid story about a man abused by his mother as a child who grows up to hate women and kills them with a flamethrower after luring them into his house. Not the cheap rip off of Psycho and a bizarre inclusion of demonic voices in the murderer’s head. It was seeing Strauss Mansion in a previous time. Seeing the rooms I frequent and some of the nic-nacs we have on display on camera. That is why this was a treat.

Strauss Mansion, taken from Prospect Circle.
Strauss Mansion, taken from Prospect Circle.

The main character is played by Dan Grimaldi of later Sopranos fame. When he was a child, his mother used to punish him by holding his arms over the open flame on their kitchen stove (which is still in the same spot but no longer works). He grows up to have a severe hatred of women, though he adores (and fears) his mother. When she dies early in the film, he denies the reality and keeps her corpse in the bedroom. He worships the rotting flesh and talks to it as if she is still alive. One by one he lures in young girls where he knocks them out and chains them in his “room of death”. The walls are covered with metal, and he steps in wearing a fire suit and burns them to a crisp with his flamethrower. This room is now our library, while the mother’s room is our local history room. Upon killing his victims, he dresses up the charred remains in old dresses and seats them in chairs in a different room (the current Victorian bedroom). As stated earlier, for the time, seeing a woman in chains while the terror and suspense build up of knowing she is about to be incinerated must have been too much. Nowadays, though, we can all say, “We have seen worse”.

The foyer, which is the focal point of the house because of its woodwork. Nearly unchanged since filming except for light fixtures.
The foyer, which is the focal point of the house because of its woodwork. Nearly unchanged since filming except for light fixtures.

Grimaldi’s acting is not too bad, but the rest of the casting is pretty wooden and is par for the course for a film like this. The story contains elements from other horror movies, but the flashbacks and creepy atmosphere manages to make this worth watching. Whenever it takes a torturous psychological turn, it becomes more interesting and adds some much-needed depth. But it tends to stray from that too often just to kill-kill-kill. While the script might be worse for wear, this is a well-made movie, and looks professionally done despite that B-level grade. If you live in Atlantic Highlands or the neighboring towns, it will be a joy to watch simply to point out geographic areas. There are shots of First Avenue, Prospect Circle, the Oceanic Bridge into Rumson, and even a scene near Sea Bright and Sandy Hook where the murderer picks up one of his victims who is having car trouble on the side of the road. Without that little local charm, I probably would not have even bothered with this one.

Overall, the people who will enjoy this are the die-hard fans of old grindhouse cinema, and also locals feeling nostalgic wanting to see what the area looked like in 1979. Its not a total waste of time, and might be worth it if you can get a hold of a copy, which is rare. Don’t Go in the House appears to have a decent following in Europe and a smaller cult following here in the United States. Also starring Charles Bonet and Ruth Dardick.

6.5 out of 10 stars.

Strauss Mansion is open to the public every Saturday and Sunday from 1-4pm or we can arrange a tour. Admission is free. 27 Prospect Circle, Atlantic Highlands, NJ.

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