The House of the Devil (2009, dir. Ti West)
I honestly had no idea what I was going into when I watched this movie for the first time. Netflix had it two summers ago or so and I added it to my queue. It took about two years for me to finally just sit down and watch it. No preconceived notions or expectations about this movie, other than I heard that it paid great homage to 80s -era Satanic themed horror movies. I wasn’t disappointed when I finally watched The House of the Devil.
One of the best things about this movie is the overall detail to era specificity with setting and props. I mean, right down to the types of sneakers worn. The opening title sequence completely reminded me of the types of movies distributed by Vestron, New World Pictures, or early New Line Cinema, complete with the studio and distributor imprint onscreen. From that moment, with the era correct title sequence and soundtrack in place, I was going along for this ride.
The plot is pure 80s horror-sex comedy, but there is no real sex comedy element present, yet the trope of “broke college student needing fast cash” works so well in horror and sex comedy. The trope works so well because it transmits the idea to the audience that this character will go through almost anything to get that fast cash, even if it means answering an ad to housesit/adult sit a complete stranger. And since the movie is set in the early 80s, our protagonist must sit by the phone and wait for a return call – no instantaneous response or convenience of cell phones. And that one detail really helps this type of horror, where the protagonist, usually a female character, is in great peril and needs to contact the outside world, yet the only readily available phones are usually somehow disabled and unavailable. I mean, the story begins innocuously enough, setting the stage for some college shenanigans, but the title isn’t Room and Bored, where the two female characters must find a quick way to raise cash by doing something outrageous like housesitting for some eccentric old folks and hilarity ensues. No. This movie is called The House of the Devil, and that’s pretty much what we get. We even get to see genre greats Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan fuck shit up and a Satanic ritual gone wrong. What else could you want or expect from such an aptly titled movie?
Aside from the fantastic tiny details that are packed within, this movie also is great at building suspense. It isn’t outright horror – that comes later. The suspense is present throughout from the moment the protagonist arrives at the house, expecting to babysit, only to find out she’s to adult sit an elderly woman. Right off the bat, if someone looking like Tom Noonan opens the door, dressed like he’s going to a funeral, living in a house that looks like a funeral parlor, you’d better look for a way out if shit goes down. And it’s quickly surmised that the only way out of that house is through a window. The House of the Devil is a true gem for those who enjoyed the older cheapie horror films from the 80s with freeze frames, 16mm film stock, and only one era specific Top 40 song in its budget.
Ti West is quickly becoming a modern horror film great, and is one of my favorites right now, along with others who are involved with the previously posted V/H/S series. Even with so much digital media available to filmmakers of today, it’s very refreshing to me to see filmmakers embrace older narratives, equipment, and techniques and show respect to the genre’s roots.