US (dir. Ti West)
Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb
Synopsis: In the 1980s, college student Samantha Hughes takes a strange babysitting job that coincides with a full lunar eclipse. She slowly realizes her clients harbor a terrifying secret; they plan to use her in a satanic ritual.
Review: Ti West’s “The House of the Devil”, is a movie which you could easily believe was made in the early 1980s. The technical quality is something that took me back right from the very first scene. There’s such a high degree of early 1980s authenticity inherent in the film’s art direction, and even the music selection sounds like something someone might be pumping out of their Walkman during that era. To be honest, it is refreshing to see a horror film that’s not a remake or a sequel, but it is absolutely exhilarating to see a horror film made in the 2000s that is set in any other time period besides present day, the future, or Victorian England. Movies in the same vein as “House of the Devil”, where the look and feel of a certain era, (especially the 1980s, which was a decade that spawned horror classics from “The Evil Dead” to “Videodrome”), should become more of the standard than just the rare exception. Besides its aesthetic value and nostalgic appeal, “The House of the Devil” succeeds because it keeps the story nice and simple and has enough scares to satiate most horror fanatics. It truly is one of those rare, slow burn types of films where you spend the majority of the film waiting for the climax at the edge of your seat and with bated breath.
Samantha, a student who apparently rooms with her college’s mattress, is in dire need of some quick cash so she can come up with the first month’s rent on her very own place. She finds a vague poster proclaiming “Baby$itter Needed”, and takes the job.
When she shows up at a secluded house far from town to take the job, she finds out there is no child… yet (hint hint, nudge nudge, wink wink). When offered a whopping $400 to spend the night caring for a quiet, elderly woman instead of a potentially bratty, hyper child, Samantha has her doubts, but agrees to stay anyways because, hey, it’s $400, that was probably close to $1000 in the 1980s. Unfortunately for Samantha, the “babysitting” job was indeed too good to be true, and she finds out exactly why spending the night at a creepy house during a lunar eclipse may not have been such a good idea after all.
Shot using lo-fi, 16mm film, “The House of the Devil” captures an authentic 1980s look using drab a colour scheme, dingy lighting, slow zooming and well timed fade outs that create nice transitions between scenes. The DVD art itself, with that absolutely magnificent house in the center, is reminiscent of 1980s VHS box art – something you might have seen on a VHS box for “The Amityville Horror”. Even the title sequence captures the 1980s look with that gorgeous font and the freeze frames for the title and each name credit.
As I mentioned before, “The House of the Devil” is a slow burn throughout. You can’t really go into this movie expecting non-stop action, which I could foresee being a bit of a challenge for viewers who have grown accustomed to today’s frenetic horror films that sacrifice a proper build up of tension and suspense for fast-paced action and overkill. I’ve heard complaints about this movie that often start with a lament about how main character Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) spends the majority of the movie simply walking around and not really doing much. While this is true in the sense that, yes, there’s plenty of walking around to be had in “The House of the Devil”, I believe it’s foolish to confuse a gradual build-up of suspense and anticipation for a lack of action. I mean, let’s face it, the movie is called “House of the Devil”, the house and the couple who live in the house look pretty fucking creepy, and even before Samantha can begin to be accused of doing too much walking about the house, a completely likable character is killed off rather brutally and unexpectedly. Basically, the entire time Samantha is in the house, you as the viewer totally know something is going to happen. It is only a matter of when… and what.
To further counter the whole “Samantha spends too much time walking around complaint”, I’d argue that scenes of her exploring the house contribute to us getting to know the most interesting character of all, the house itself. After a second viewing, you may begin to notice that this movie (aptly titled “The House of the Devil”) has a lot to do with the house itself. Samantha spends a lot of time in the movie going from room to room, yes, but we get to see so much of that gorgeously creepy house as she does. The house becomes less of a set-piece and more of a character itself as the movie progresses, a lot like how the Overlook hotel in “The Shining” appears to have its own personality when you watch the movie enough times to notice. It’s also kind of (darkly) funny to note that when we first meet Samantha, she’s looking for her very own dream home, and by the end of the movie, she’s in a house of nightmares.
As mentioned, the music in this movie sounds like music someone from the 1980s would actually listen to. It’s not the typical, cheesy music you would hear in a movie that takes place in the 1980s, but was made recently, that seems to think people at that time only listened to “Take On Me” by A-Ha, or “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. There’s a track by The Fixx (“One Thing Leads to Another”) and one of my personal favorites, “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” by the Greg Kihn Band. The music selection is pretty on-par with something you’d actually expect to hear college girls listening to in the 1980s, and the wonderful score complements the movie perfectly, especially that wonderful track from the opening credits which makes for the best 1980s style walking music I’ve ever heard.
Now another complaint I hear about “The House of the Devil”, a complaint that ties into the whole “she spends the whole movie walking around” issue, is the fact that the climax is too brief and a bit of a let down when you’ve spent the whole movie waiting for a big payoff. While I’ll agree that yes, the satanic ritual climax isn’t as lengthy as it could have been, or should have been, I’d like to point out that West still does a pretty good job with it. The mutant looking grandma is scary as hell and Samantha has a wonderful, bloody escape despite being shot and suffering hallucinations. There doesn’t need to be lengthy explanations about what the satanic ritual is for or what has happened to Samantha, you can pretty much figure it out for yourself anyways. The less you know, the more your imagination works to fill in the gaps, right?
You can really feel Ti West’s love for 1980s horror movies present in “The House of the Devil”. I’ve heard the phrase “throwback to horror films of the 1980s” tossed around in respect to “The House of the Devil”, but I would consider it to be more of a loving and truly wonderful homage to the era, and a generally well written and well edited work.
Note: This review is a part of the Final Girl Film club.