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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.52%
Worth A Look42.86%
Pretty Bad: 4.76%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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House of the Devil, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You Know--That Title Just Might Be A Spoiler. . ."
3 stars

“The House of the Devil” is a film that wants to evoke the look and feel of a low-budget indie horror film from the early 1980’s and on that level, it certainly succeeds--if you didn’t know better, you might easily assume from a glance or two that it really is a long-lost exploitation film that made the rounds of the grindhouse circuit back in the day. The problem with doing a film of this type, especially a genre piece like this, is that it spends so much time trying to recreate past films instead of putting a new spin on the material that most horror buffs, who are pretty much the target audience for this one, are liable to grow restless once they begin to realize that they have literally seen it all before, although usually at a faster clip than demonstrated here.

Set in the era of feathered hair and bulky Walkmans, the film stars newcomer Jocelin Donahue as Samantha, a sweet-faced college student trying to earn enough money for her own apartment so that she can finally be free of her sex-crazed slob of a roommate. On campus, she finds a flyer for an emergency babysitting job for an oddball couple (genre vets Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) who are off to observe a rare lunar eclipse that night. Although she arrives to discover that the house is in the middle of nowhere and that the couple doesn‘t actually have a baby--they need someone to keep an eye on his elderly mother instead--Samantha ignores her instincts and the pleas of her best friend (mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig) and agrees to stick around because the money is so good. At first, everything seems normal enough but as the night progresses, things get weirder and weirder and by the time Samantha finally catches on that there is something sinister in the air, it may be too late for her.

“The House of the Devil” was written and directed by Ti West and right from the start, you can tell that he has seen and absorbed more than his fair share of cheapo horror films over the years by the way that he effortlessly evokes how they looked and felt right down to the font used for the titles. However, while he definitely creates the look of an Eighties cheesefest, the story that he has chosen to tell is more evocative of the genre conventions found in the horror films of the early Seventies in which innocent people found unwittingly found themselves placed on the road to danger because they failed to notice the signs of danger around them (the original version of “The Wicker Man” being a prime example) and the attempt to mix the two approaches is an ambitious idea that ultimately doesn’t pay off--it wants to be a slow-burn variation of the typical babysitter-in-peril extravaganza but it moves at such a deliberately poky pace that the end effect is more somnambulistic than sinister. As for those who are willing to put up with the meandering pace in the hopes that West is building to a knockout final reel, most of them are likely to be disappointed by the been-there, possessed-that finale that isn’t nearly as shocking or surprising as it thinks it is. Had the film been cut down to maybe an hour or so and shown as an episode of something like “Masters of Horror,” it might have gone down as a minor classic but at 95 minutes, it just goes on too long for its own good.

That said, while “The House of the Devil” may not completely succeed as a horror film, though I would take its deliberately funky and low-key vibe over the hard-sell nonsense of “Paranormal Activity” any day of the week, it does have its share of bright spots. For starters, it demonstrates that Ti West has the skills to one day make a good movie--even though he hasn’t done so here--and that it will interesting what he comes up with next as he develops as a filmmaker. (Well, considering that his next film is the already-complete “Cabin Fever 2,” maybe it would be better to wait for the one after that.) Cinematographer Eliot Rockett does a good job of evoking a sense of menace throughout from even the most mundane locations and objects. As the babysitter in danger, Jocelin Donahue is such a likable presence that it is easy to root for her throughout and Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov are pitch-perfect as the creepy couple with a lot of secrets in their basement. Best of all, if you are like me and you hate the whole mumblecore screen movement with every fiber of your being as I do, the end of Greta Gerwig’s big scene is liable to leave you cheering.

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originally posted: 11/13/09 16:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell a scary house check it out 4 stars
3/21/15 Langano Decent throw back style horror flick. 3 stars
9/25/13 David Hollingsworth A simple, but non-PC creepfest that is way better than expected 5 stars
10/29/11 Sharon Rose I liked it but expected more. A few shocking scenes but overall it was kinda slow. 3 stars
10/13/11 matt Cool concept but so many minutes pass with absolutely nothing interesting happening. 3 stars
12/06/10 David A. something like a cross between DarK Night of the Scarecrow and Blood Cult! 4 stars
11/01/10 Stormy Rockweather Bore fest undone by idiotic characters. Who could survive a head gunshot??? 2 stars
11/17/09 Derek Maybe a horror film for non-horror fans, HotD slowly builds tension. Brilliant. 5 stars
11/08/09 FrankNFurter Ghoulish, creepy fun.Miles above the torture-porn cinematic diarrhea on the screen nowadays 4 stars
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  DVD: 02-Feb-2010


  DVD: 02-Feb-2010

Directed by
  Ti West

Written by
  Ti West

  Jocelin Donahue
  Tom Noonan
  Mary Woronov
  Greta Gerwig
  AJ Bowen
  Dee Wallace

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