Friday, November 27, 2009



THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is such a well-crafted 80s nostalgia piece that it could have been filmed in 1983 and buried until now. The lingering camera angles, Steadicam work, freeze-frames, lighting, and costuming complete the time-travel package. But while this film has some good things going for it, it really should have been made and presented in the 80s. Not just in terms of style but also content, the package is so completely 80s that it is a modern misfire.

Tension, suspense, and a paralyzing dose of anticipation for something terrifying push this film out of the silly sort of pseudo-anxiety generated by standard horror fare and into the realm of real fear. For years I have wondered to myself (and anyone else that would listen) about what fear really is and how it can be harnessed within a film. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL provides a pretty good answer. It succeeds by employing the creatures of the Id. Unfortunately, the fear this film generates needs to be explained, and THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is lacking in this regard. It is unable pull off a third act that is anything more than average.

The film starts with Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), a college student who is tired of living the dorm life with a slutty roommate. She finds a house she wants to rent and needs to raise some money so she can move.

Samantha answers a “babysitter wanted” job board ad and soon finds herself at a house in the middle of nowhere. A bearded, towering Mr. Ulman (MANHUNTER’s Tom Noonan) explains to her that this isn’t a babysitting job at all. He quadruples his cash offer for her to work that night, and all Samantha has to do is stay in the house while his invalid mother sleeps upstairs.

Samantha agrees, and all manner of creepy house goings-on begin and continue to accelerate as the evening progresses. Strange sounds and pacing footsteps in the attic push this film in a THE SENTINEL sort of direction. As Samantha gets closer to snapping, and the audience is in on only a little more of what is going on than she is, the stress is sharpened effectively.

The weakness of this film, however, is that when the evils that are in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL are finally revealed, they seem trite. If this film had dropped in 1984, it would have terrorized audiences and really raked in the cash. But for today’s jaded horror audiences, the thrills provided by THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL have all been seen already and done better in such 70s and 80s classics like THE FUNHOUSE and THE OMEN. This Geraldo Rivera-style exploitation of Satanism and witchcraft has been tired for some time. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL unfortunately ends on a weird, inexplicable cliffhanger. Regrettably, the horrifying buildup of suspense leads to a weak payoff, and it’s a real disappointment because director Ti West obviously knows a thing or two about jangling a viewer’s nerves.

-Mediasaurus Rex