Review: The House of the Devil (2009)

The Dark Knight | 05 September 2012 | DVD/BluRay Reviews, Movie Lounge | | 0 Comments   

Directed By: Ti West
Written By: Ti West
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney.
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Reviewed by: Mike Huntley (The Dark Knight)

Grade: B+

Samantha is a small town college girl who just wants her own apartment since her dorm roommate is a nympho and always trashing half the room. Being that Samantha needs money to make the payment on the perfect apartment that she has just found, she seeks out in search of a job to make some quick cash. Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you look at it), she discovers a babysitter flier posted outside her dorm building. Samantha calls the number and talks with Mr. Ulman, who wants her to babysit for him that night. Since the guy lives out in the middle of nowhere, Samantha’s best friend Megan is worried and tries to talk her out of it. That night, Megan drives Samantha to a big house in the countryside. It turns out though that Mr. Ulman and his wife don’t have a child, but want Samantha to watch Mrs. Ulman’s mother, who is very old. He even offers to double the money. After Megan and the Ulmans leave, Samantha hangs out around the house. She watches television, orders pizza, shoots pool, and even dances around the house listening to music. Things begin to start getting weird when she tries to call Megan’s house phone and nobody answers every time she calls. Then there are the whispers coming from the basement and footsteps up in the attic. And a lunar eclipse that is coming at midnight. Something is lurking in the darkness and watching Samantha closely. Something not Human. Something evil. Something from HELL!

The babysitter story has always been a popular scary story. We’ve had many stories dealing with a babysitter in the horror genre. The story that mostly everyone knows is where the babysitter receives harassing and creepy phone calls, traces them back, and discovers the shocking truth that the stalker is in the house with her. When A Stranger Calls is best known on film as the babysitter story. Truthfully, I’m not a big fan of that movie. Sure, the first ten minutes are creepy, but then there is the rest where we follow the fucking “stalker” around the remainder of the film and got to know him, therefore ruining the mystery that we had at the beginning. John Carpenter’s Halloween is probably the best form of babysitter in peril on film. It was suspenseful, we were never given too much information about the villain, the protagonist was sympathetic, and of course the atmosphere and music made the film chilling. The babysitter story also made its way to book form with R.L. Stine’s (author of the Goosebumps & Fear Street series) 1989 teen horror novel The Babysitter, which spawned three sequels in the early ’90s. I definitely recommend the first book, it’s the best of that series.

While not babysitter related, the creepy caller being nearby scenario was also done in Black Christmas (both versions) and of course in the Scream films. In 2008, an independent horror film titled Babysitter Wanted was released starring Sarah Thompson (Cruel Intentions 2 and TV’s Angel) and Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects). That film brought back the babysitter horror story and gave it a Satanic twist. A year later, independent filmmaker and old school horror fan Ti West released a similar horror film called The House of the Devil. I’m not sure if West saw or was highly inspired by Babysitter Wanted, but both films use the Satanic scenario in two very different ways. While Babysitter Wanted is a pretty fast paced horror film, The House of the Devil does a nod towards the ’70s/’80s horror films by being a slow burning build up of suspense to a creepy and crazy climax.

The thing that I love about The House of the Devil the most aside from creeping me out in a way that many modern horror films fail to do is that the film looks like it was made in the ’80s. I’m not just talking a modern film with an ’80s homage, but it looks and feels like an ’80s horror film. It was like stepping back in time while watching this film. There’s been many modern horror films that claim to be old school horror, yet still feel modern. This movie however impressed me at how it feels like it was taken off of a VHS tape from the ’80s and just now got put out on DVD. Everything about this movie screams the 1980s. The clothes, the hair styles, the music, the phones, and even the music players. Ti West definitely pulled off the retro feel.

The screenplay by Ti West is pretty damn good and the story has a great build up to the horror. I love that West kept the story and characters simple without over explaining anything like most modern horror movies love to do. For the first time in a very long while we get a story and interesting characters that moves the film forward instead of lots of gore and female nudity. While I love gore and T & A just as much as the next horror fan, it’s still nice to see a film that concentrates on story, characters, and build up above all else.

The protagonist Samantha is likeable and also very sexy. I just have a lust for ’80s girls. All Samantha wants is to move out of that dorm room. Who would want to stay in a room with a girl who likes to fuck a lot anyway? Samantha’s best friend Megan is just trying to be a good friend. She’s concerned about her friend and honestly, who could blame her? You can tell something weird is going on by how Mr. Ulman is acting. Megan is like West’s way of placing the audience inside the movie. We know shit ain’t right and don’t want to see this sweet young woman get killed. Of course, we also don’t have a… Oh no, I ain’t spoiling it. You’ll just have to watch and see. Mr. Ulman is all kinds of creepy. Personally, I thought Mrs. Ulman was even creepier. She kinda reminded me a bit of Ms. Baylock from The Omen except without looking like an evil Mary Poppins. All in all, the characters were well written and well performed.

The House of the Devil slowly gets darker and darker as the film moves along. I could actually catch myself getting low in my seat while watching this film towards the finale. I can’t recall doing that since I was a little kid. The suspense in this film was so well structured that when the movie does kick up, it makes you jolt. Not a stupid jump scare, but actually a real general scare. You’re so involved with what’s happening that it really gets to you when things start speeding up. The atmosphere was fantastic and that house is all sorts of errie.

The film does have a fair share of gore, but it’s like a dessert after a really delicious dinner. The House of the Devil delivers story, suspense, and characters before the red stuff. I really was digging the gore in the last act. We get a head shot to pieces, a slit throat, blood drinking, and so on. It’s no gore-fest, but an appropriate amount for a film like this.

I do have two issues with the film though. While I loved the slow burning build up of suspense that led up to the finale, there were moments that were a tad too slow. Like, there’s a moment where Samantha is just wandering around the house. The other is the very ending. Not the finale, but the very last few seconds before the end credits. It was just a cliche’ final “twist”. Other than that, this film is a great horror film.

The direction by Ti West was pretty damn good except for that sequence that moved a tad bit too slowly. I’ve enjoyed the guy’s work as a writer/director except for Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. I did however really enjoy West’s other horror film The Roost about bats that turn people into zombies after biting them. Pretty good throw back to the old black and white monster movies. The House of the Devil is definitely Ti West’s best movie this far. I also really dug his haunted hotel movie The Innkeepers starring Sarah Paxton (The Last House On The Left ’09 and Shark Night 3D) that came out early in the year. I loved the style of editing with the credits that felt very ’70s/’80s. I could definitely tell that West was heavily inspired by Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. Great stuff!

The acting was pretty solid. Jocelin Donahue was great as Samantha, giving us a final girl that we truly care about. And plus, she’s a hottie too! Greta Gerwig cracked me up as Samantha’s best friend Megan. She was sarcastic and very funny. Definitely the kinda girl I would date. Tom Noonan was creepy as Mr. Ulman. He looked like the old guy who lives in the dark mansion in those old horror classics that’s up to no good. Noonan is probably best known by horror fans as the original Tooth Fairy in Manhunter or as Frankenstein in the ’80s classic The Monster Squad. Mary Woronov is probably the creepiest character as Mrs. Ulman. She had Satan’s guardian written all over her. AJ Bowen was really good as Victor, the cemetary caretaker. And Dee Wallace was good in her short cameo role as The Landlady. Dee Wallace is best known for playing the mother in ET, the main character in The Howling, and Mrs. Strode in Rob Zombie’s Halloween ’07. All in all, great cast!

Before I conclude, I must mention the music. I loved the use of the ’80s music. We get “One Thing Leads To Another” by The Fixx and “The Breakup Song” by The Greg Kihn Band. The horror music was well used too and sounded creepy as fuck! Once that music came up, this movie really got under my skin.

Overall, The House of the Devil is a great horror movie and a great throwback to the ’70s and ’80s horror realm. I wish we would get more films like this in the future. I know that not everyone will get into this movie because of its slow burning pace, but if you love to be creeped out then definitely watch this film. I recommend watching this alone at night with all of the lights off. Then, it may have an entirely new meaning. The House of the Devil is one Hell of a great scare-a-thon!

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