Movie review: House of the Devil (2009)


HOTD_title_card

Cast

  • Jocelin Donahue as Samantha Hughes
  • Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman
  • Mary Woronov as Mrs. Ulman
  • Greta Gerwig as Megan
  • A. J. Bowen as Victor Ulman
  • Dee Wallace as Landlady
  • Lena Dunham as 911 Operator
  • Director: Ti West
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Samantha deals with her troubles by listening to some kickin’ 1980s rock on her personal Walkman.

No spoilers

Samantha desperately needs to get out of her college halls and away from her gross roommate. When the possibility of that is dangled right in front of her thanks to a kindly Landlady (Dee Wallace), she just needs to make a little more money for the deposit and she’s good to go. When she spots an advert for a well-paid babysitting job, it seems like a golden opportunity. But of course, it’s far too good to be true. Or safe…and what’s with the pizza delivery guy? Will she realise the real plan before it’s all too late? Is it really based on true events?

Well, not really. But it is a great movie. Scary yet demure, House of the Devil is a lot more than a typical slasher. The source of its horror comes from the paranoia of the ‘Satanic panic’ of the 1980s, rather than the typical crazed maniac with a knife. Something is definitely stalking Samantha in the vast house with its ominous locked rooms, and it’s probably connected to the moon eclipse that no one will shut up about – but while the reveal isn’t entirely a surprise, the tension is ratcheted up til it screams. In fact, Ti West directs this simple but deadly story with a masterful level of restraint, and a sneaky sense of humour, letting Jocelin Donahue do the heavy lifting in this skeleton crew of a cast. It’s a masterclass in low-key, hugely atmospheric horror that’s perfect for darkening nights in October.

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We get lots of eerie, voyeuristic views of Samantha as she explores this creepy huge house in the middle of nowhere.

With its chilly Autumnal vibe and spot-on music, House of the Devil provides a healthy slice of nostalgic horror for anyone who really enjoys the odd 1980s guilty pleasure. Delivering several of the best ‘oh crap’ moments I think I’ve ever seen in film, with an efficiently brief run time, this is a certified Halloween classic.

And just remember folks, if a job ever seems too good to be true, then it very probably is

Huge Spoilers

The whole film builds to a terrifying peak! SPOILERS HERE – So, Samantha eventually figures out that the two people she met might not be the real owners of the house, which she figures out from photos she eventually finds, revealing the real family standing in front of a car still parked out at the front. But by then she’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, and there’s a weird noise in the attic, but she’s already eaten some very odd-tasting pizza and now she’s feeling awfully woozy as she climbs the stairs and then the lights go out and the door’s slowly opening to reveal…oh no…

HOTD_wtf_is_that

WTF is thaaaaaat?

House of the Devil is seriously great. The more doomed she gets the better it is! I particularly liked that, because she had a thing about germs and didn’t have much appetite, that the drugged pizza didn’t knock her out for all that long. Is it possible the Satanists wanted Samantha unconscious throughout the bloody ritual? And the blood ritual is also the girl’s very worst nightmare, they made it so unsanitary and gross for her in particular (and set during the increasingly scary Aids epidemic, too).

It raises a couple questions though – first, whilst I’m glad Samantha wasn’t raped (that we saw), how did they manage to impregnate her with the devil’s child after all? Or is it simply that they did that whilst she was unconscious, and the ritual was just to cement the devilry during the eclipse? I mean, ‘magic’ obviously, but it could be something more mundanely awful too.

Second question – what happened to the first girl they said they tried to hire before Samantha showed up, the one who ‘didn’t work out’? I can only assume the poor thing is buried out the back of the house somewhere. This film excels at leaving the very worst parts to your imagination. Also, let’s remember that poor murdered family. The Satanists did awful things in that house. Shudder. I still can’t believe their plan worked.

HOTD_tom_noonan_hiya

Would you trust him? Awkward Satanist number 1… (Tom Noonan)

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Or creepy Satanist number 2 (Mary Woronov)?

So whilst it’s unlikely that Satanic cults actually exist, just be careful where you order your pizza from, from now on. Hopefully Dominos wouldn’t have too many Satanic links (we can only hope). Can’t say the same for Papa Johns’ though…

The Good

  • You’re not the babysitter? – oh shiiiiit…
  • Tom Noonan’s very odd Satanist character…an endearingly awkward fella with very horrible intentions.
  • Jocelin Donahue does a stellar job carrying this whole thing pretty much alone
  • The perfect early 1980s vibe, particularly the opening sequence.
  • Fab music!
  • Dee Wallace!
  • What the hell is that thing in the attic?
  • That ending. Poor, poor Samantha…
  • The dancing around the house scene. A glorious homage to the 1980s in its purest form!

The Bad

  • It takes a very long time to reach any action, though I really loved the build up, but be warned, this isn’t a non-stop frightfest. It relies on spookiness and a voyeuristic vibe to keep things uneasy.
  • These are not the brightest Satanists…though they still kind of get what they wanted. The ones that survived anyway. Their whole operation seems to have been thrown together in great haste, hence leaving a massive pile of incriminating clues in the cupboard rather than say, behind a locked door…and the hair in the bath tub. Eew.
  • They shamefully underused Dee Wallace. Really wanted her to come back later on but it was great to see her in the first scene as a genre star.
  • The dancing around the house scene. I loved it, but some might find it seriously weird.
HOTD_greta Gerwig1

The lovely Greta Gerwig enjoys some bad pizza on the evening of the eclipse. She’s NOT the babysitter…

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