“The House of the Devil” (2009)
Studio: MPI Media Group
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, Dee Wallace
Directed by: Ti West
Running Time: 95 min.
Synopsis: A college student takes a job as a babysitter, but finds out it’s not your normal babysitting job in the house of the devil.
All horror fans must see this movie! The House of the Devil has a simple story, but it’s executed very well, it is strongly character driven, and there are plenty of things that will make you jump throughout this movie. It’s a great scary horror film that has a classic 70’s vibe and is set in the 80’s and it’s not one of those period films that says, “Hey look at us, we’re in the 80’s!”, it feels more like a film that came from the 1980’s rather than just set in that time. This movie also has elements that most horror films nowadays don’t like pacing, suspense, atmosphere, and developing characters.
House of the Devil is about a college student, Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who gets a new apartment so she can move out of her dorm, but she’s short on cash to pay first month’s rent. She happens to see an ad for a babysitting job at her college campus and calls them up. She ends up taking the job, which happens to be for that night. Samantha gets a ride from her best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) and the two drive into the country where the family is located. The two girls are met by a strange and creepy man, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) who informs Samantha that the job isn’t to watch their child, but his wife’s mother. Samantha realizes this isn’t what she bargained for and wants to leave, but Ulman offers her four hundred dollars for one night, which pays for her first month’s rent. Against the advice of Megan, she takes the job. Ulman and his wife (played by Mary Woronov) leave for the night and assure her that her mother will be no problem and it will be an easy night. Samantha is now alone in the house unaware what she’s really in for during the rest of the night.
There’s a lot to like about this movie and not that much to dislike. In my opinion, it’s one of the best horror films to come out of the 2000’s. It’s not like other recent films from the horror genre that rush the story, have unlikable characters, and just try to wow you have gore or worse, CGI gore. This film takes its time and builds the suspense. One thing I like is that we get to know the character of Samantha. Where other new horror films don’t even bother with developing their characters or give them time for the audience to care for them before their killed or tormented, House of the Devil puts you into Samantha’s world and you are with her every step of the way. You have time to get to know her, know what she likes, what she doesn’t like, know her current situation, and problems. Donahue is a good actress and she gives a likable, believable, and realistic performance as Samantha and almost has the same likable realistic vibe Jamie Lee Curtis had in Halloween.
The film had a great opening where the camera is slowly moving through the apartment Samantha is going to rent. There’s this eerie music playing as the camera gets closer to Samantha, who has her back towards us. Once the camera is in close, Samantha turns around to talk to the landlady (played by Dee Wallace in a cameo role). This is the first time we see Samantha in the film. The scene is very simple, but is very haunting when you see it at first. Next is a great opening credit sequence that is a throwback to 70’s and 80’s horror films. The titles have a 70’s vibe while the camera angles, freeze frames, and cool music have an 80’s feel to them.
The scenes at the house are some of the best. The house is also a huge character throughout the film. When the girls first arrive there and Mr. Ulman opens the door, you only see his torso and the camera cuts off his head. The way this shot is framed is interesting and looks as if he towers over the girls. As they enter the house the camera tilts up to Ulman and we can finally see him. That character is very mysterious. We only hear his voice on the phone when his presence first appears in the film and not showing him right away added to the mystery. The house is very creepy and huge, which makes it extra scary when Samantha is wandering through it. They are also many parts where I jumped when Samantha is exploring the house. One part made me jump both times when I saw the film. It’s when Samantha is walking on the staircase and is about to see what’s behind a door and suddenly the doorbell rings. God, that part got me twice! As she goes through the house you are constantly wondering what she’s going to find or what’s going to jump out and attack. It just keeps you guessing as she stays there throughout the night.
Director Ti West knows how to build suspense and create a spooky atmosphere. He also knows where to put the camera and set up a shot to tell the story. There’s a sense of realism in his shots. Most of the shots are done wide and others are done with the camera following the action without cutting to the next shot for a long time. This gives the audience the sense that they are right there with the characters almost watching from afar. Also some of West’s style has traces of some horror movie greats. The good thing about it is that he doesn’t rip them off, but he just has the same vibe to his work. The framing of some of the shots he did outside the school and in the dorm room have an Argento touch to them. There’s a few times where he uses the fast zoom, like during a part in the credit scene when the camera starts wide on this walkway, Samantha enters frame and walks down it, and then the camera zooms into her close. That style of zoom is very Mario Bava like. Other parts of the film have traces of The Shining and Night of the Living Dead, mostly during parts when Samantha is going up the staircases in the house. They were two scenes that remained me a little of the scenes when Barbara from Night of the Living Dead walks up the stairs to find the rotting corpse in the farmhouse and the other is the scene in The Shining where Wendy is running up the stairs at the end of the movie, going through the hotel and seeing all the strange things happening. Also, parts of the music had a Shining touch to it and there was even a scene from Night of the Living Dead playing on the TV in the house.
Along with Donahue and Noonan, the rest of the cast gives excellent performances. There’s great chemistry between Samantha and Megan. They are the typically best friends where one is quiet and reserved (Samantha) and the other is carefree and wilder (Megan). One thing that I thought was interesting is that Samantha, who is the not a risk taker, stays at the house and Megan, you seems to be the brave one, tells her she’s crazy for staying there after they lied to her. Mary Woronov, who’s only on screen for a short time, gives a memorable performance. When she meets Samantha for the first time the two are talking on the couch and the way Woronov carries herself through the scene is great. Woronov gives off this weird vibe as she tries to get to know Samantha and it almost gets a little creepy too.
One other thing that was a stand out in the film was a throwback to those 80’s music montages they always throw in almost every type of movie in the 80’s. Samantha always has her trusting walkman with her to keep her entertain. As she starts to get bored in the house, she puts on her headphones and rocks out to One Thing Leads to Another by The Fixx. Different clips of Samantha are shown playing pool on the Ulman’s pool table, dancing around the house, and checking up on things while the song plays. The title to the song fits her situation in the film as one thing does lead to another for her as the night progresses.
Many things are said about the ending of the film (which I won’t give away), but all I’ll say is that many people have said the film didn’t deliver at the end and the finish was too abrupt. I thought so too when I first saw it, but after I watched it a second time I enjoyed it even more and was satisfied with the ending. I guess on the first showing I was expecting more, but watching it again it made more sense and I accepted the ending. I also appreciated the film more on my second showing and really saw how great this film is. So, I urge people to watch this film twice to truly appreciate it, because on the first viewing of it, if you’re like me, you’re expecting a lot from this film because all of the hype. I did enjoy it very much when I first saw it and was just disappointed with the ending, but when I saw it a second time I enjoyed it even more and was cool with how it ended.
I highly recommend seeing this film. It gives hope to the future of horror. Let’s see if director Ti West can repeat the same magic in his next film project. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. There’s also a bundle pack that has the film on DVD and VHS. It’s a great pack to get and it’s very cool seeing it on VHS format. The company that produced the film, MPI Media Group, use to be called Gorgon Video, which distributed many classic horror film in the 1980’s. On the VHS they have the old Gorgon Video logo (which is a Medusa head) on the case, tape, and it even has the old intro before the movie starts. They even add in some video drop out in the intro as well. Whether you see it on DVD or VHS, The House of the Devil is a great horror film that is worth checking out.