The mixture of babysitter slasher and supernatural tossed in with a bit of satanism is nothing a veteran horror fan hasn’t seen before; nonetheless, I enjoyed it. But I’m not gonna lie: I love the 80s. When I watch 80s movies or listen to the music, there’s undeniable nostalgia.
So please consider that whilst reading this “review.”
3 1/2 stars out of 5
The gritty film quality, the score, rotary phones with 20-foot cords, payphones, the cars, the clothes, the hair, the electronics — I actually checked the DVD sleeve to verify it was indeed made in 2009. It could’ve been something from a vault of lost 80s tapes. Did I mention the huge soft spot I have for 80s horror and thrillers?
The House of the Devil, written and directed by Ti West, opened on Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), an attractive, young woman, as she checked out the house she hoped to rent from The Landlady (Dee Wallace). The Landlady liked Samantha and had a gut feeling she would be a trustworthy tenant. Right away, I connected with Sam, not only because of her appearance and personality, but even the Landlady thought she was good people.
You had me at Dee Wallace.
Next, as Sam listened to her Walkman, I followed her on a walk from the house back to where she lived. All the while the opening credits rolled and the score played, composed with – what I’m convinced was – music cloned from the 80s. If I hadn’t been sold on the setting up to that point, I would’ve been after watching and listening to the scene with the credits. Then, I was given further insight into Sam’s character as she arrived at a college dormitory where she couldn’t enter her room because of the roommate’s naughty behavior, foretold by a sock on the doorknob.
I wiped a tear from my eye at the sight of that red-striped tube sock.
Later, when Sam responded to a “Baby $itter Needed” ad and accepted the job from an ominous employer (Tom Noonan), I began to understand just how dire her financial situation was and how far her desperation to come up with the first month’s rent in less than a week would push her. It was Sam’s need for a quick buck that paved the way for her [bad] choices the entire movie.
And that’s all I want to give away about the plot. I’m sure other reviews will provide a full synopsis or summary if that’s what you want. However, I prefer to go into movies with as little specific information as possible, so that’s usually how I write my “reviews.”
Overall, the film was good. Not great, but I see a lot of promise in Ti West as a writer and director.
However, certain elements of the movie were great. The lead character was attractive, likeable and in need of something important: money for a place to live. The villains were creepy as hell. West nailed the 80s setting from the opening shot. He developed the suspense at a very slow pace and relied on my sense of dread to pick up on the subtle clues that things weren’t going to turn out for the best.
West also used shadows and sound effects to pull me to the edge of my seat, then startled me as far back into my seat as I could squeeze. Sometimes that jump scare (e.g. a ringing doorbell or a vase crashing to the floor) is a cheap tactic on the part of a filmmaker but in certain situations it’s authentic. The House of the Devil is one of those situations.
If you’ve ever been alone at night, in a strange house in the middle of nowhere, with the tick of the clock almost as loud as the thud of your heartbeat because you’ve spooked yourself over a weird shadow outside the window or by a strange noise from the attic, you know how every little noise makes you jump from that point forward.
In addition, West twisted the brunettes are smart; blondes are dumb stereotype with the character, Megan (Greta Gerwig), who was Sam’s best friend. Megan was blonde, pretty and rich, but she was the one who warned Sam against taking the babysitting gig. More than once Megan used her wits to look out for Sam, but Sam ignored her friend and her own gut instincts. Thus, against her better judgment, Megan was forced to abide by Sam’s wishes.
I have a question for Ti West though: Obviously, Megan had common sense, so why the eff would she pull over on that road to light up a cig? Just sayin’…
In closing, I want to reinforce the slow pace of this movie. It is not action-packed or gore-filled until about the last 15 minutes, seriously. Also, there’s not much profanity and zero nudity. For about 80 minutes, all you’ll get is character and story development, and a heavy dose of the “This ain’t gonna end good” vibes. So if you don’t appreciate a slow build to a hectic, all-at-once climax, then you will probably not enjoy the film. However, I say take the chance. You might be surprised by what you find here.
Which do you prefer in scary movies: a slow build or a breakneck pace?
Purchase the The House of the Devil DVD on Amazon.
Or, purchase the VHS/DVD bundle. Oh yes they did and you knew they would.