Sunday, September 12, 2010



Samantha is a beautiful college sophomore desperate to earn some extra cash for her new apartment. She accepts a mysterious babysitting job at the creaky Victorian mansion of Mr. and Mrs. Ulman who soon reveal to her that it is not actually a child they need her to care for but rather Mrs. Ulman's elderly mother. Against the advice of her best friend, Samantha accepts their offer to take care of the old woman and as a total lunar eclipse darkens the sky it becomes clear that Sam will end this night in a bloody fight for her life...

If you want to get a true feeling for the style and tempo of late 1970s to early 1980s horror, look no further than director and writer Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. The film takes place circa 1983, and West gets as close to an authentic reproduction of then-contemporary film production and realistic recreation of the era as you’re likely to see in the modern age.

While current films like PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF sought to recreate the drive-in experience and provided over-the-top action and effects beyond anything capable during the “grindhouse era”, and the recent HOT TUB TIME MACHINE took a poke at the wacky zaniness that was the 1980s, West goes in the complete opposite direction. West seeks out the complete mundane of the time period, and while Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s films were a blast, West succeeds even more with his ability to replicate the era’s move aesthetics.

The set design and attention to detail is simply breathtaking in its normalcy. That pizzeria used to be up the street from you. Your parents used to watch that local UHF news report. That walkman Samantha listens to is in your attic right now collecting dust. And the crown jewel, the titular house is a maze-like labyrinth of rooms, hallways and staircases that sits on the outskirts of town that you were in once, and just once.

Filmed with a shoestring budget on 16mm film to give it just the right look, West and his crew hearken back to a time of freeze-frame credit sequences, well-planned extended takes, and slow and methodical camera movements where babysitters are in peril and the kind but slightly awkward old man is anything but harmless. West takes all of this and more to turn THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL into a slow-churning, slow-burning horror film almost to the point of madness, with the audience surely expecting that the next pan or cutaway to the shadows or a window is the jump scare we’ve been waiting for. Except it just… never… comes, and continues to build and build that unrelenting tension.

But for all this dedication to authentic reproduction, is the actual movie any good? The answer is a resounding yes, with West going well beyond proving to the audience that he has done his film history homework. But for all of the technical aspects that West pieces together from the weaving of light and shadow letting the viewer fill the voids to the proclamation that the film is based on “true and unexplained events”, it is Jocelin Donahue as Samantha that must be given praise for the film’s success.

The film spends an extraordinary time just watching Donahue walk from one place to another, and then even more time following her from one room to another in the massive mansion where a bulk of the film takes place. Much like the pace of the film, Donahue also builds up a mental and physical tension that is almost imperceptible to the audience until it is too late and they have been infected as well. It doesn’t hurt that Dee Wallace and Tom Noonan are Donahue’s co-stars, who again provide that authenticity in screen presence and acting style of the time period.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL provides chills, thrills and goosebumps in the most traditional sense that a horror film can provide. It is certainly not for all, and will best serve those that are looking for a little more substance than just blood and guts dripping down the screen for ninety minutes.


Dempsey Sanders said...

Ok this really sounds right up my alley! I havn't seen a good horror for a while now. Thanks for the right up, something to watch out for now :)

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Fantastic film. My only issue was the last 15 minutes since it seemed to come out of nowhere and totally changed the flow of the film. But I love the fact that modern horror films are starting to go retro. Less torture porn and CGI crap and more of this please. Nice review.

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