Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The House of the Devil (Review)

The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil (2009)

Directed by Ti West

It's very odd that this decade, the 2000s have all been a haven for the throwback, remake or homage movie. We get sentimental for different decades, the 70s and 80s we deem as the golden age sometimes. This very much is the case within horror.

I am not a child of the 70s, but I did watch the cinema of the time. When I first got into horror, I figured I should self-educate and watch the best of the best. The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, etc. And after watching all these movies, I never knew why people were so obsessed with the occult and the Satanic worship at the time.

But Ti West wants you to get reacquainted with that devil fear all over again. With The House of the Devil, he basically takes that slow burn, jump scare and evil Satanic worshipping frozen dinner and reheats it for you, complete with the side of gory red pudding. West does nothing new to this genre of film, but instead adds some gorehound delights and nostalgic 80s soundtrack to complete a good homage, nothing more and nothing less.

The House of the Devil is a throwback glimpse into a plodding pace that is all atmosphere based which eventually leads to an over the top, metal music cacophony of chaos ending. If you you remember these movies fondly, you'll love this movie. If you're a tween or were born in the 90s, this is a movie where may you spontaneously develop ADD.

I found myself caught in the middle. And I'll tell you why.

Boring Plot-O-Matic

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.

Awesome Review-O-Matic

Let's just start off with what I liked. I loved the vintage 80s opening credits, from the fonts to the freeze frame credit sequences. West spares no expense to get you back into acid washed jeans and Charlie's Angels hair. The soundtrack keeps this going with very montagey music that blends into the film. As Sam blasts her oversized Walkman, we hear music from new wave to metal (thank the Gods of Fire for that). Later, we even get a gratuitous 80s montage set to "One Thing Leads to Another" by The Fixx. It's all these things that gave me a happy because nostalgia is an intoxicating drug for any movie fan.

Here is where we go grey. Sam (Jocelin Donahue) is that everyday poor, struggling college student. She's got a horny, slobby roommate which is the reason she decides to move off campus. She soon takes a babysitting job located in backwoods, USA and she and her friend Megan are off to meet the lovely but ultimately evil Mr. and Mrs. Ulman.

Act 1 is all set up as we play meet and greet with our heroine Sam. Donahue looks like a cloned Danielle Harris. West allows us to see her uninteresting life in the most aggravating of ways. Scenes of watching Sam walk from place to place, with juxtaposition closeup shots of a clock tower followed by more long walks and scary payphones. I have totally forgotten how yawny boring these long shots and scenes of nothing can be. (Can somebody tell me if this is how these 70s/80s Satanic movies were filmed back then? I honestly don't remember. But I get the feeling West makes sure we get the same feel as those movies. The mega slow burn is in effect. You better drink a Red Bull.)

Act 2 begins when Sam decides to take the babysitting job which turns out to be not a babysitting job. Mr Ulman (Tom Noonan, who does a decent job as the creepy undertaker-like guy) explains the rules and coerces her with more money.

We the viewer get painstakingly a collection of scenes of Sam snooping all over the house. Some scenes (especially shots of her through a window are glorious throwaway shots of old). But more so, we get Sam being scared of her friend's answering machine (complete with that 80s pretend voice message), Sam scared of the pizza guy, Sam scared of the bathroom, Sam scared of the creepy attic. West spares no expense who amp up the bass to get you to jump out of your seat. Think of the "Don't!" trailer and this sums up Act 2.

Check out an example of the slow burn suspense in this clip below.

Act 3 which takes about an hour and 10 minutes to get to is filled with bloody uber chaos. Motive is explained by our diabolical couple and their homicidal son tries to go, well homicidal on Sam. Satanic rituals are in effect with that Satanic star, that Satanic animal skull and that Satanic blood drinking and human sacrifices. In all these movies, they end one of two ways. Somebody gets shot or jumps off the roof of the house.

Like I said before, West throws in more gore and splatter than these movies usually have. Gore-ipedia includes a very stellar gunshot to the face, ocular trauma, sliced throats and a headshot. It's top notch FX and I couldn't help but applaud the effort.

However, at the end of the day the movie is a wicked slow slow slow burn. It takes so long to get to the nitty gritty that no Red Bulls were helping to keep me awake. I understand it's suppose to be this way but Satanic and occult movies are my weakest link within horror and I'll admit, I do not like style over substance. The House of the Devil is filled with these cliches of BOO! scares and unseen carnage. Though as an older horror fan, I am not easily scared as I use to be and as the jaded viewer, I demand to see something substantial and not the repackaged same old same old.

That's not to say the film isn't effective in what it was trying to do. Kudos to West and the entire cast for pulling off an impressive homage to the girl meets devil genre. It's brilliant in bringing back that longing for a movie you'd see at 2am on Channel 11 (WPIX in NYC).

So with that, it's a touch of grey for The House of the Devil. It's got its moments and it's got its long moments. Like a magic eye painting, you'll be waiting for the blurry mess of color to turn into a sailboat. Some people will focus and see the sailboat. Others, like myself wait for hours for that damn sailboat. Hell, sometimes you don't see a sailboat at all.


Nada. These aren't the droids you're looking for.

WTF moment

Gunshot to the face. Didn't see that coming.

The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis

Going back on the metaphor I mentioned before, The House of the Devil is a reheated frozen dinner. You've eaten it before and it pretty much tastes the same. But sometimes, if you haven't had that same meal in a while, it tastes a little better. Right? Know what I mean?

The House of the Devil comes out on October 30th in a limited release. You can actually watch it on Amazon.com Video In Demand right now.

This is Ti West's 4th film.


Check out the trailer.

jaded viewer related linkage:
Top 5 80s Horror Movies Hollywood Might Actually Think Would Be Good Remakes

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  1. I'll come back after I've seen it! :D

  2. First "meh" review I have seen for this one, I still have high hopes for it but Im trying not to build up any false hype as not to be let down.

  3. Hey Carl - You might like it 1000%. Like I said, occult horror is my weakest link. I just can't dig the satanic worshiping genre.

    Becky - Let me know your thoughts!

  4. I loved it and I usually don't like satanic movies...You said "If you you remember these movies fondly, you'll love this movie." I think that's me. Even though I'm only 18...I grew up watching those movies.

  5. I didn't like it at all and it was pretty much a waste of my money and time to watch this,

  6. Anon - I hear ya. My friend also was kinda bummed by HOTD. I gave it 2 spinkicks as I had some gripes. Well we're both in the minority as everybody loves this flick.

  7. Thank you..but I think you just want my vote for VOH's Ms. Horror Blogosphere contest ;-P

  8. Jaded-I hear you on some of the criticisms, if someone's not a fan of that style, this isn't the film for them. Personally, i hate the fast edits and pace of today's horror films. Even Halloween took a long time to get going after the inital scene. This was my favorite movie of the year, but I'm a 70's film snob.

  9. It just didn't do anything for me, and I'm a HUGE fan of the slow burn, as well as 80's horror. I enjoyed the retro aspect for sure, but the ending was super-rushed and the prelude super drawn-out - indicating to me that there really wasn't much of a story to work with here. But I now realize that I've been judging it way too seriously. Given the fake 'based on real events' title, and the glaringly obvious continuity errors, I see now that this is more 'parody' than 'homage'. Ie: They made it a bad film on purpose. Unfortunately, not as successfully as QT and Rodriguez' Grindhouse which had many other qualities to enjoy (such as humour, dialogue, and excitement), whereas this has few.

  10. Twisted - Yeah taken as a parody it changes the way I look at it. Though I suspect its more of an homage to the Satan/Devil flicks of old...Like I said before, just not a fan of this genre (of course the Exorcist kicked ass)

  11. I really dug the late 70's aesthetics of this film, the slow burn really worked for me. I never found myself bored during the first hour, even though nothing was happening. The last 20 minutes is where it lost me, too much all at once, it didn't fit the rest of the film. Suddenly the editing was in overdrive. And what the hell was with the deformed woman? Was that Grandma? At least a hint of her earlier in the film, would have gone a long way... a shot or two of her peaking out from the shadows, while the girl is snooping around the house, would have helped build the suspense and also calmed the WTF response at the end. The girl got out of the ropes way too quickly and easily, they needed a bit more of a build-up there, some small explanation of what they were doing. I did dig the end where she shot herself in the head, and finds herself in the hospital pregnant, that saved it a little. Classic 70's type ending.

  12. I absolutely loved this film and it stuck with me for a while afterwards. I was never bored and was always curious to find out what would happen, even though it was pretty obvious what would happen (and not). The scenes of Sam wandering around the house, doing nothing, getting bored, getting scared, but most of all going about absolutely banal things were fascinating. What felt new to me and what worked best, I think, was how abrupt the contrast was between that and, well, the final bit when things start to really go wrong for Sam. The movie just changes the tone so quickly, it's a shocker. I've never before seen ordinary life and horror blend so well. Most horror movies don't really portray anything ordinary, and that makes them (even) less credible.