Closing out our week of horror (and of horrors involving rolling blackouts), I finally watched The House of the Devil, and I'm glad I did. Alternately, I wish I hadn't. Allow me to explain.
The House of the Devil is a great
horror film. It's the kind of film that from moment one fills you with a
pervasive dread for the horrible thing you know is coming. Writer /
Director / Editor Ti West does such a great job of milking that tension,
of letting it build and build that at a certain point I found myself
saying "no, don't go up there. just don't do it.", because that's how
great this movie is at preparing you for the worst. Nothing good can
happen in this film, no matter how innocuous it seems at times.
The House of the Devil, if you want to call it that.
film is a throwback to the very early 80s, like before all the neon
day-glo colors were pervasive and when it seemed reasonable to still
have feathered hair and jean jackets. If it helps, think Friday the 13th part 2 instead of Part 4. But Ti West isn't making a "wink wink" movie set in the 1980s; The House of the Devil
plays it straight. The creepy music, the camera angles, set design,
lighting, a perfectly constructed montage in the middle of the film.
Even the grain, which I must assume was at least partially digitally
added, is reminiscent of low budget movies of the era (like Splatter University).
More importantly, West understands that The House of the Devil
needs to look like a film of that period, so he films it appropriately.
Long takes, slow push ins and pull outs, trickery with lighting. Beyond
that, The House of the Devil does what The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
remake failed to do: the cast looks like they belong in the period.
There's nothing about Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour tooling around in
bell bottoms that says "oh, it's actually the 1970s and not just let's
play dress up," but West manages to get it spot on in casting.
to this is Jocelin Donahue as Samantha; there's something about her
that's reminiscent of a young Karen Allen (or even Jessica Harper in Suspiria),
but she looks like she lives and breathes in that time period. It
doesn't look like the A&F models dropped into horror films that I
mentioned the other day. Donahue's Samantha is a character that feels
organic to the film, and not imposed on a time frame. It doesn't hurt
that she's not very well known, nor a most of the small cast (save for
three, and I'll get to them in a second), but nobody sticks out like
"oh, 2009 playing dress up in 1982."
Samantha is a
college student in a nondescript northeastern town in a not specific
early 80s setting. She's trying to get an apartment, but can't afford to
pay the first month's rent, and decides to respond to an ad that says
"Baby $itter Wanted." The house is out in the middle of the country, and
Mr. and Mrs. Ulman aren't exactly forthright about what they want her
to do, but the money is too good to pass up. All she has to do is stay
in the house until midnight with an old woman who is (mostly) unseen.
But then little inconsistencies start adding up, and before too long,
it's very clear to Samantha that something is very wrong in this
If there's anything that wouldn't clearly fool audiences into thinking The House of the Devil wasn't a "lost" film from the 1980s, it's the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Ulman, played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov.
You may not recognize the names, but check out their filmographies and
you'll see more than a few movies you've watched. (To a lesser degree,
Dee Wallace appears very early in the film, but it's possible that you
might catch it on tv after the title sequence and miss her entirely)
That Noonan was in Wolfen in 1981 and Woronov in Eating Raoul
in 1982 would make it a little tricky to reconcile the clear age
differences in The House of the Devil, but it doesn't matter because
they're so creepy in the film.
And that's a big component here. It's exactly why I wish I hadn't seen The House of the Devil alone and late at night. Seriously, not since The Haunting
have I been so unnerved by watching a film by myself. The film is just
creepy, because you just know something awful is coming, but West is so
good at drawing it out, slowly, patiently, that the audience is freaking
out long before things get twisted. And make no mistake, they do; the
camera style switches to a much more fluid, hand held approach for that
point, but I wouldn't dream of spoiling the last ten minutes of the
film. It's pitch perfect, including the ending, which restores dread in a
way that carries on well after the credits finish rolling.
guess there might be some nitpickers in the IMDB "Goofs" page that'll
go after a few tiny anachronisms early in the movie (yes, I noticed the
very 2007 SUV in the background too, get over it), but once the film
really gets going at the Ulman's house, you stop caring about little
crap like that. The story is too unnerving, as you sit anticipating the
awful thing that happens when the lunar eclipse finally comes, to bother
with things like "that phone wouldn't blah blah."
fans looking for an honest to goodness creepy film that builds
atmosphere over cheap trickery and avoids gore for as long as it
possibly can should run - not walk - to buy The House of the Devil.
That's right, I said BUY it. You don't need to waffle around and rent
it, because if you're the kind of person that reacted when I compared
this film to The Haunting, you know I mean business. I wish that somehow The House of the Devil could have traded places with Paranormal Activity,
so that it did crazy business and ushered in an era of really good
serious horror films, instead of more "found footage" garbage.
this movie is going to have a crazy good life as a "cult" film on
cable, where viewers will come in sometime in the first twenty minutes
or so and think they're watching a movie from the 80s. It does its job
well enough that you could.
Watch The House of the Devil.
Post haste. I'll be giving away a copy of the dvd at the Oscar party.
Sorry, the VHS copy is mine. And for the record, I had the same kind of
walkman that Samantha uses in the film. It only fast-forwarded, never
rewound, and the tape usually got stuck, even if you pressed the
"Stop/Eject" button hard enough. I also had those earphones. Man, I miss