Nostalgia is a strange and cruel beast. The fondest recollections one may have about their youth, or any particular portion of the past, are clouded in the fog and cobwebs of old memories. Some details are hidden, distorted, or even completely fabricated. With The House of the Devil all of these things apply. A film that has courted the favor of horror fans, like myself, simply based on a handful of spectacular posters inspired by the 80s, has a tough act to follow. If you set yourself to live up to some kind of imagery and expectation, you’re almost always bound to disappoint on some level. The weird thing about The House of The Devil is just how much one can like the film and still be grossly disappointed.
There are a few prerequisites that a film must follow if they are trying to emulate an 80s horror film. Some might call them clichés, while others chalk them up to atmosphere. Cheesy synthesizer soundtracks, jump scares, teenage excess, deformed demonic children and loose women are always the first to come to mind. The House of the Devil has all of that and a few things we may have forgotten about. Do you remember elongated credits sequences with nothing more than a girl taking the longest walk back from her new apartment to her college dorm? I don’t, but apparently writer/director Ti West does. In fact, he must remember all the 80s horror films being long, drawn out, and mostly eventless.
There are some very clever moments in the movie that made me feel like I was watching a satire or parody. West plays with the conventions of all the classic devil and horror movies. He also casts some of the genre’s faces, such as Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov and Dee Wallace, just to lend a little more credibility to the film’s look and feel. With a few startling and creepy moments peppered here and there, you are always reminded that, yes, you are watching a horror film. However, it takes about an hour and 15 minutes for anything to really start happening. Considering that the film is only 93 minutes long, you could see where this could be a problem.
I can summarize the movie in a single paragraph. A college girl is tired of her sloppy and slutty roommate and wants to move out on her own. She finds a suitable apartment for a decent price but still needs to come up with the first month of rent. She sees a flyer for a baby sitting job, calls the number and leaves a message. A man calls back on the pay phone line, which she didn’t leave the number too (and this is before caller-ID or *69) and arranges a meeting. He stands her up and leaves a message back at her dorm. She agrees to the job and is driven out to it by her friend. Upon arrival she learns that there is no baby there, and her job is really to just sit around and make sure that nothing happens to the man’s elderly mother-in-law. Time crawls by and then she is attacked to be part of a Satan worshiping ritual in the middle of an eclipse.
That really is the bulk of it. I left a couple of small details out just so you had something to experience for yourself, but as a whole you’ll spend much time wondering when the shit was going to hit the fan. Once it does, it has a pretty decent payoff. Gorehounds are going to get a couple of decent surprises and those that are scared fairly easily will probably go home crying. The well shot scenes of chaos are excellently done and definitely hark back about 25 years. The last portion of the film, however, reminds me more of survival horror moments in European cinema like Haute Tension and Inside. Still, this film is really only for two opposite ends of the spectrum. You’ll enjoy it if you are extremely well versed in horror films and can pick out all the minutia, reminding you of Polanski, Argento, and Tobe Hooper. Conversely, those who are squeamish, scare easily, or wouldn’t know their Poltergeist from The Prophecy would probably not mind the slow pace and lose their proverbial shit at the end.
I can’t easily recommend this film to anyone who has options, as there are many other films from the actual time period that do what this does better. I’m glad to see that Ti West is a definite player in the space. He has a way with his characters and uses the camera well, even though he has some of the worst pacing issues I’ve witnessed in a long time. It will be interesting to see what horror fans think of this one. I’m guessing this won’t be a love it or hate film, but have more of a “I didn’t know what to think” outcome. If you get to see The House of the Devil, please let me know what you thought about it. Come here and give me your opinion because I need to hear it. I need to know if I should ever sit through this one again. Right now, I’m not feeling like that will ever be the case.
Movie Grade: C+