The House of the Devil ReviewJoe Shaffer
Samantha is a college kid who's hard up for cash. While cruising a campus bulletin board for potential jobs, she chances upon an ad for a babysitting gig that pays beaucoup bucks. However, something doesn't seem right about the situation. Heck, even the house itself looks ominous, possibly even haunted. Matters only become stranger when she discovers that she's not there to babysit, but to look after an elderly woman, who supposedly won't be any trouble since she'll be remaining in her room for the duration of the visit. The deal sounds too good to be true: a butt load of moolah, a simple do-nothing job, and even pizza provided by the homeowners. Little does Samantha know, though, about the ritualistic symbols hidden behind one of the doors, nor about the eviscerated victims contained therein...
The House of the Devil is not an assault-on-the-senses kind of movie. It's a period piece, set in the '70s, that takes its time building towards a violent bang. Rather than relying on an onslaught of visceral scares, the movie utilizes atmosphere, suggestions, and mystery to instill fear in its viewers. It's an approach that doesn't always pan out, but director Ti West works his subtle magic and produces a creepy, albeit slow, tale.
I appreciate subtle horror movies, given that they're well made. At the same time, it's hard to deny that sometimes filmmakers who utilize a slow-burn style need to realize when they're boring the ever-loving crap out of their audiences. For instance, is it really necessary to pad out the The House of the Devil's running time with seemingly endless scenes in which the protagonist explores the house within which she's "babysitting"? Seriously, if anything nearly killed this movie, it was seeing actress Jocelin Donahue dance around the titular abode to The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another." All the while, absolutely nothing was being established. Sure, it eventually led to an important event in the narrative, but the operant word there is "eventually." We could have, and should have, arrived at that destination more quickly. I honestly would not be surprised if many people turned the movie off at that point...
Sadly, if they had, then they missed out. Oh lord, did they ever miss out! You see, The House of the Devil does not abide the age-old standard of repeatedly building tension and releasing it in the form of a quick scare scene. Rather, the entire movie is itself a continuous nail-biter until the closing minutes, during which the film culminates in an explosive and unforgettable finale. Unfortunately, not all of the events leading up to that onslaught are interesting or useful to the experience as a whole.
This isn't to say that the movie is eight-five minutes of torture for ten minutes of greatness. Many of the scenes leading up to the closing act consist of fantastic dialogue, elements of the mystery genre, Dee Wallace, and a boat load of nostalgia.
One of the main attractions on display in The House of the Devil is that it apes horror movies of the early '70s and '80s, especially those of a Satanic nature (e.g. Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, Race with the Devil, etc). Although there are plenty of throwback films around these days, House goes the extra mile to look and feel like an authentic '70s thriller. Not only do the characters dress, talk, and feather their hair as they might have in a '70s or '80s film, but the cinematography very much smacks of the decade. For example, West shot this movie using 16mm film, which gives it an aged, grainy appearance similar to old school horror.
Hell, the movie even saw a limited edition VHS release in a clamshell box. I'm still kicking myself for not snagging that when I had the opportunity!
Bottom line: The House of the Devil is a pleasant deviation from contemporary horror. It nails its desired effect more squarely than some subtle horror films (Session 9, for one), but unfortunately still has that one tedious patch near its middle. Otherwise, House's combination of slow tension and retro presentation make it a horror film that shouldn't be missed.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.