Tag Archives: Sean MacGregor

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil worshippers kidnap children.

Ben (Charles Bateman) and his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) along with Nicky’s 9-year-old daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) are driving through the New Mexico desert when they come upon a gruesome car accident where the vehicle and people inside it were crushed by some unknown force. When they go into the nearby town to report it they find the people there to be acting strangely and showing an unhealthy liking to their daughter. This causes them to get back into their car and drive away, but a blow-out tire forces them to return and face head-on a secret group of Satanists lead by Duncan (Strother Martin) the town’s doctor.

This movie, with a script written by Sean MacGregor who would later go on to direct another horror movie dealing with children called Devil Times Fiveis interesting in that it gives very little away. The viewer is as confused as the lost family about what is going on, which makes for a refreshing change-of-pace from the conventional horror, which always seems to feel the need to spell everything out instead of forcing the viewer to try and piece things together on their own. It also makes one feel like they’re in the same shoes as the family and more sympathetic to their quandary since you’re essentially going through the same confused state as they are.

Director Bernard McEveety allows the creepiness to take precedent over the plot. I loved the way it takes full advantage of the isolation of the town, filmed on-location in Hillsboro, New Mexico, which sits in the southwest portion of the state. I’ve driven through New Mexico several times and have always found the desert landscape there to be boring, but McEveety puts this to good use especially when the daughter goes missing and the camera does a full 180 degree turn showing how vastly desolate the region is and making the parent’s desperate search even more frantic.

The plot’s drawbacks centers around the unlimited cosmic power that these devil worshippers seem to have where they’re able to kill people through children’s toys without the culprits themselves being physically present. They’re also able to trap people in the town, and not allow any outsiders in, in ways that is never made completely clear. Having limits to the powers and showing how the group is able to implement them would’ve helped fill-in-the-blanks that is otherwise missing. To a great extent I felt it would’ve worked better had there been no magical powers at all and members of the group, the majority of them being elderly, would’ve had to do the evil deeds themselves. Watching otherwise harmless looking old people kill the various parents of the children they kidnap would’ve been far more startling to see then just having people fall over dead after looking at a child’s toy.

The idea that the sheriff and the deputy (L.Q. Jones, Alvy Moore) would be completely in the dark and not know about a satanic group secretly meeting in the town they lived in didn’t seem believable. I was born and raised in a small town, that was slightly more populated than the one portrayed here, and believe me word travels fast in those locations. Rumors and gossip are the way of life. It’s simply impossible to keep any type of secret, especially one as massive as this. The fact that the sheriff and deputy could live there and mingle with everyone and not get some inkling of suspicion is just too hard to believe. Since the group had all these massive magical powers anyways that they used to kill everyone else why didn’t they also then use it on the sheriff to get rid of him and then their problems would’ve been over, but they don’t, which creates a major plot hole.

However, if you approach the film for its creepy atmosphere alone then it’s still a winner. I liked too that very little music gets used and when it does it’s very subtle. Too many other horror films feel the need for a loud, booming score that usually gets in the way. If the atmosphere is done right there should be no need for excessive music in fact one of the creepiest moments in the movie for me is watching a brainwashed young child, played by the director’s young son, walk out of his own home and into the dark stillness of the night, with only the sound of the night breeze being heard.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bernard McEveety

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Devil Times Five (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children terrorize the adults.

Two couples (Sorrell Booke, Shelley Morrison, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall) visit the winter retreat ranch run by rich businessman Papa Doc (Gene Evans). They are expecting a pleasant wintry getaway, but instead find terror when a group of five children arrive (Leif Garrett, Gail Smale, Dawn Lyn, Tierre Turner, Tia Thompson). The children state that they were lost in the cold wilderness and simply there to seek refuge, but in reality they are psychotic and have escaped from a nearby asylum after the van they were riding in overturned on the icy roads. Now the adults find themselves getting mysteriously bumped off one-by-one. At first they think it’s only an accident and then realize it’s by some ‘unforeseen predator’, but fail to realize it’s actually the ‘innocent-looking-kids’ until it’s too late.

This cheaply made production has problems right away starting with the van accident. To a degree I thought it was cool seeing it overturn several times in slow-motion after it slides off the road, but I found it preposterous that none of the kids were injured and escape from the wreckage without a single scratch despite the adult driver getting badly banged up. In retrospect it would’ve worked better had this scene not been shown at all and left the viewer in the dark about what the true intentions of these kids were only to slowly unfold the truth to the audience just like it does to the adult characters.

The killings are pretty tacky as well. The scene where one of the victims gets set on fire is disturbing, but the rest doesn’t add up including when one child manages to somehow hold their adult victim underwater by using only one hand. There are also several instances where the victim dies right away when in reality they would’ve most likely only been injured including a fall through a window and another one dealing with a stabbing by a small ax. In both cases I think the person could’ve survived the initial blow and simply be writhing in extreme pain, but I presume the filmmakers felt that watching someone squirming around on the ground screaming in endless agony would be considered ‘too horrifying’ for most audiences so they went with the ‘clean-kill’ option, but unfortunately the one-blow-and-then-they’re- immediately-dead concept looks fake.

The pacing is also poor and the tension badly botched. One bit has the kids killing a man in slow motion and done through a black-and-white filter, which despite going on a bit too long is effective. Yet whatever tension gets achieved by watching that is immediately sapped when the next scene shows a drawn out session of one of the adult couples making love, which looks better suited for soft corn porn flick. The music is equally screwed-up as it sometimes sounds creepy while at other points like something heard in an elevator.

I found it interesting that it was directed by Sean MacGregor, or at least for the first three weeks of production before he got fired, as he had previously written the screenplay for Brotherhood of Satan, which had the same ‘creepy kids’-like theme. There’s also the novelty of seeing Dawn Lyn, who was 10-years-old at the time, taking part in her own mother’s murder, who plays one of the adults. Although overall it’s pretty spotty with majority of it being rather flat and forgettable.

Spoiler Alert!

I was also confused at how during the final credits it says ‘The Beginning’ instead of the usual ‘The End’. I presume this was the filmmakers attempt at being ‘clever’ by intimating that these young kids would now go on to murder many more people throughout the countryside, but since they had already killed quite a few it would’ve been more apt to say ‘The Middle’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Peopletoys, The Horrible House on the Hill

Released: May 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor, David Sheldon (Uncredited)

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video