The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil may appeal to those who love the eighties horror genre or have lived through it, like myself, but it’s also very clear that it will appeal to those who haven’t been as attached as those of us who have been scared witless through those years, regardless of the homage aspects, the film is a pretty good one regardless.
So she’s found a dream apartment for herself and looks to be moving on. However she needs the first month’s rent desperately, and a babysitting job appears on the college notice board just at the right moment.
She applies for it, gets it, and heads out with her best friend to the house. Her friend has huge reservations, but the money seems too good to be true. The reservations seem founded when it’s revealed there is no baby to look after and she’ll actually be sitting an old woman, a woman who’s independent, stays hidden away in her area of the house, and will sleep through the night.
The couple she meets head out to watch the lunar eclipse while her best friend heads off home to wait for her call and pick her up.
That’s when events start turning.
From the opening shots you’re placed in an eighties film, the style and feel throughout took me right back, but nowhere is it more apparent than the opening scenes which do a great job of pulling you from your present day setting into the older horrors.
The authenticity is not just in the clothes which look great, the hairstyles, the props – the cola cups in the pizza restaurant are very cool – or the locations, but also in the filming style with the grain of the film and even the zoom and freeze shots through the opening titles.
The early stages of the film are nicely drawn out, building the character and the events without pacing the film too quickly. It plays quite differently on the beats and twists of the average horror story and spends a good amount of time building the characters and their situation to begin with.
In fact you could say that the film revels in the eighties side of it a little to begin with, wanting to enjoy the fact that they are representing the time so well before heading into the story, and who can blame them? Frankly I found some moments rather enjoyable for the simple fact that they were a memorable trip for me.
I could see how some of this early build up could annoy some people, but then it does also help build the characters themselves and create a lot of tension. This character building isn’t just restricted to the female lead either; there are her roommate and best friend and their relationships, as well as the introduction to the man who is looking for the babysitter, an introduction that again plays with the expected standard Hollywood beats and delivers a double helping of slowly building creepiness.
I do like that, and when the babysitter storyline is brought in and there are the initial phone calls with the man looking for the sitter, the unease and that creepy factor begins to seep into the film and slowly builds.
When the girls arrive at the house these feelings are ramped up and built upon until you’re almost at breaking point, but again, where you might be expecting the usual beats of surprises and shocks, you’ll find yourself faltering, and where you’re not there are some great surprises.
That was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film for me, is that it doesn’t follow what you expect from a Hollywood horror these days. Now whether that’s because Ti West recreated the eighties horror that had those non-traditional beats in, or whether he deliberately built it like that, I’m not sure, but hats off to him for doing that and providing a film that doesn’t have anything like standard stamped on it.
As I said, for this reason there are some great shock moments to the film, and I’m not going to give them away, suffice to say the first big one is a corker and really gets you. It left me feeling rather shocked and a little uneasy afterwards. It definitely sets you up for the second half of the film.
There are some moments where I felt it didn’t quite deliver, and again I’ll keep you free from spoilers, but there was the moment with the camera passing through the door to give a reveal that I just felt wasn’t played out that well. Still, it provided for another shock and a great moment of upping the ante on the plot.
The ending is good, and it comes hard and fast, again ducking from what you would expect from a horror these days and delivering a nice surprise. Yet I did feel that the rest of the film was more effective at surprising than the ending, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It did feel a great ending for the film, and it did surprise me, just not as effectively as some of the other big moments in the film.
There’s some great casting in the film, particularly the older leads. The husband and wife looking for the sitter are played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, and are both superbly creepy in their roles. There’s a great appearance from Dee Wallace too which gives a nice throwback for eighties horror fans.
Commentary with Writer, Director and Editor Ti West and lead actress Jocelin Donahue, Commentary with Writer, Director and Editor Ti West, Producers Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok, and Sound Designer Graham Reznick, In The House of the Devil Featurette, Deleted Scenes
Commentary with Writer, Director and Editor Ti West and lead actress Jocelin Donahue
This audio commentary is good, but other than the odd comment or anecdote there was nothing exceptionally interesting delivered about the film, the stronger commentary is by far the second commentary.
Commentary with Writer, Director and Editor Ti West, Producers Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok, and Sound Designer Graham Reznick
This commentary is the better of the two and delivers most of what was in the first commentary but with a lot more discussion about the behind the scenes.
In The House of the Devil
This featurette is okay but doesn't give much more than some behind the scenes shot footage which has been edited together. That said it does give a few nice moments from the viewpoint behind the camera.
There are just two scenes, one with the mother in the attic moment that is talked about in the commentary, and an extended phone call scene from early on which is great to watch if you enjoyed YY’s performance
The House of the Devil is a good horror film that delivers more than you’d expect. Yes it does transport you to the eighties though, perhaps even back, but what it does do better than the portrayal of the eighties horror is surprise you. There are plenty of off-beat moments and unexpected surprises that will keep you on your toes, and it concentrates more on the unease side of the story than of anything else.
That is until the latter quarter where the film really embraces its roots and delivers the horror you’ve been built up to with a nice little twisted ending to boot.
Ti West has created a strong little horror film that will surprise and scare you, coupled with some strong performances, amusing moments, and an authentic eighties feel, the film delivers something that a lot of modern Hollywood horrors are falling short of. Entertainment and scares.
The DVD has a good few additions to it as well which offer more about the film itself, although I would have liked to have seen a featurette examining the eighties aspects of the film and how they created it from the cinematography to the props.
Still, a good offering, and well worth getting for horror fans.