Review: The House of the Devil
PLOT: Samantha is a young college student looking to get out of her current situation, and hopefully finding a place of her own to live. Groovy! She finally finds a flyer asking for a babysitter, and gladly (well, maybe not so gladly), she is able to let the current family take a night off and take care of the house, and a strange person whom Sam doesn't meet. It’s a horror movie, and she is babysitting… you know bad mojo is coming Sam’s way.
There are a couple of types of movies that I really enjoy. I love pure 80’s slasher flicks with a young victim being stalked by a killer. And then of course, I have a strong attraction to those paranoid 70’s evil satanic cult flicks. Both are fun and make me smile, and when they are mixed together… even better. Happily, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is able to collect both of these types into one atmospheric movie. It starts off as a young girl named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) looking to get out of a bad situation, finally finds an apartment of her own. Lucky for her, she finds the perfect place, and the Landlady (Dee Wallace) really has a good feeling about her new possible tenant. All is swell, except for the fact that Sam really has no money to make this leap. What is a young girl to do when she is in need of quick cash? Well, since this isn’t that kind of movie, she doesn’t go into prostitution. What saves the day is a suspicious ad for “Babysitter Wanted”. But as we all learned from Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN, babysitting can be hazardous to your health.
I mentioned the 80’s and the 70’s, and the reason for this is that while the film takes place in the early 1980’s, the mood and look of the film feels like the Seventies. With Satanic cults, funky camera zooms and just a pure Seventies feel, director Ti West spends a whole lot of time getting to know our heroine. I was recently watching an old favorite of mine called LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, which also takes awhile to really get down and dirty with the heebie jeebies, and I was reminded of how powerful it is to use the slow burn technique. And while it was effective enough in House, the biggest problem I had was that it could’ve built on the horror that was about to happen. Instead, it really seems to just follow Samantha’s day with very few reminders that you are watching a horror film. But don’t worry, if you are patient, you will be rewarded with a pretty satisfying finale, and a couple of shocks beforehand.
A big reason that I was willing to stick with this retro movie-show is the undeniably likable Jocelin Donahue. We follow her all the way from looking at her new apartment, to her going to school, to her hanging out with her friend. She comes across much like the leading ladies of yesteryear, with her earthy good looks and a very real personality. She is brave, but not ridiculously so. She is terrified, but not overtly so. Although I did question how such a smart and interesting girl would not question some of the events leading to devil worshipping fun. Sure I could accept her desperation, when all signs regarding the babysitting job say don’t do it. But I think maybe some of the creep factor should have been going on around her instead of right in front of her. I will say that Jocelin is damn charming and I had fun watching her explore the house and deal with the creepy old man that hired her for the gig.
While greats Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov seem a little strange, they don’t go into scenery chewing too much, and for the most part you won‘t miss it. The two remain slightly grounded even though they get to have a little fun towards the end in the name of the devil. The cast is quite good for this type of thriller, as is Ti West’s solid direction. But with all that is good, I really wish we could’ve seen just a little more hints of horror on its way. We spend so much of the time watching Sam in her daily routine of sorts, that I occasionally began to wonder when and if they scary would kick in. I would’ve liked to have seen a little more interaction with the family, and possibly learn something that Sam does not know. While this may not have worked as well as it could have, it absolutely felt as if Mr. West knew exactly what he was doing. And even with the sometimes slow start, there is one scene early on with Mr. A.J. Bowen that is as creepy as anything you’re going to get this summer. Damn good stuff. And yes, this is a good movie, but it could’ve used just a little more horror in the mix. Yet it certainly has enough 70's and 80's paranoia and atmospheric eerieness to make it worth your while. My rating 6.5/10 -- JimmyO