The House of the Devil is a 2009 Horror film based on the “Satanic Cult Panic” of the early 1980’s. Written, directed, and edited by Ti West (The Innkeepers) it was filmed in 18 days with a local crew in Connecticut on a budget of less than a million. House of the Devil is an homage to Horror offerings of the 70’s and 80’s, filmed on 16mm which was en vogue at the time. The result is a very effective and unnerving throw-back that feels reminiscent of classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen.
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Set in the 1980s and based on true, unexplained events, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL stars the sexy Jocelin Donahue as cash-strapped college student Samantha Hughes, who takes a babysitting job in a remote mansion with her good friend Megan (Greta Gerwig, BAGHEAD). She’s desperate for money and the pay is good, but something feels wrong, and Samantha quickly realizes that the girls are trapped. As a lunar eclipse darkens the night sky, Samantha finds that her employers—cult favorites Tom Noonan (MANHUNTER) and Mary Woronov (ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL)—don’t have a baby at all, and have something truly terrifying in store for them.
While I’d heard plenty of positive buzz surrounding House of the Devil, my rocky relationship with the film’s director kept me hesitant. Ti West was the director of Cabin Fever 2, one of the worst sequels in Horror cinema history. Sure, The Innkeepers was pretty good, but that’s still not a great track record. It wasn’t until I saw his hilariously self-deprecating portrayal of Tariq, the metrosexual film student in last year’s home-invasion hit You’re Next, that I changed my tune. Any director who can poke that much fun at himself simply must be forgiven for his debut abomination. (But I still think Cabin Fever 2 is a piece of shit.)
House of the Devil kicks off with some statistics about belief in Satanic Cults in the 1980’s. It’s an attempt to legitimize the “based on true, unexplained events” claim, but it also happens to strike a nerve in my own dark psyche. At the risk of dating myself: I actually remember the “Satanic Panic”. Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael fanned the flames of paranoia with ridiculous pseudo-journalistic explorations. Even the national news got in on the circus. While, in retrospect, there is scant evidence to support the claims of widespread cult activities (including ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism), this era coincided with my puberty and my initial fascination with all things Horror. Suddenly, as the opening credits unfold, I’m that nervous, jittery pre-teen all over again, unable to separate the factual from the fictional. If you find House of the Devil less enjoyable than I did, it may have to do with your lack of personal resonance with the subject matter.
This isn’t to imply my review is completely glowing, because it’s not a perfect film; it is, in fact, problematic. First of all, if you don’t like that early ’80 style of Horror, House of the Devil isn’t for you. This isn’t one of those over the top giddy throw-backs, it’s an attempt at recreating that serious slow-burn tone. There are a few laughs (Megan stealing hard-candy is priceless) but, for the most part, House of the Devil aims to unsettle you.
This adherence to the past sometimes works to West’s disadvantage, namely in the 2nd Act when Samantha settles into the isolated mansion. While the atmosphere is eventually one of pure unnerving suspense, we must first endure close to 20 minutes of her meandering explorations, bored channel surfing, attempted phone calls and general malaise. True, this down time is common to films of that era, often used to lull an audience into a false sense of security, but it’s still a bit boring. I think it would have been possible to maintain the slow burn without such a cold, dry interlude. Others might disagree and laud spot-on replication of 80’s style, but I think throw-backs are most successful when they improve on the sources material.
House of the Devil is brilliant in its 3rd Act, kicking off with an absolute nightmare scenario. The last 15 minutes are absolute gold and the final stinger is awesome. So while it is, at times, uneven, Horror fans can expect a seriously satisfying conclusion. Again, if you don’t like 80’s style, this film isn’t for you. But gore-hounds and fans of early 80’s Horror will definitely want to give this film a spin.
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|release date||October 30 2009|
|starring||Greta Gerwig, Jocelin Donahue, AJ Bowen, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Dee Wallace, Mary B. McCann, Brenda Cooney, John Speredakos, Heather Robb|