Movie review: House of the Devil (2009)



  • 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

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.


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

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Monster Mondays: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Monster Mondays: Freddy Krueger

One, Two, Freddy’s coming for you,
Three, Four, Better lock your door
Five, Six, grab your crucifix,
Seven, Eight, better stay up late,
Nine, Ten, Never sleep again….

That eerie rhyme remains emblazoned on our inner ear for good reason. It’s ingenious. Capturing everything wrong about dreams, warning even people who haven’t seen it what it’s about. Nightmare on Elm Street was an inescapable rite of passage for children of the 1980s and Freddy Kreuger’s shadow still draws a long, irregularly scratching line into our collective unawareness.

Our favourite dream monster, Fred Kreuger. With looks like these, no wonder he stays in our minds - and our Dreams.

Our favourite dream monster, Fred Kreuger. With looks like these, no wonder he stays in our minds – and our Dreams.

Freddy has lurked in the inner lives of 1980s kids since we first heard stories about his movies in the classroom. The Eyeball remembers listening to them with fascinated horror during ‘wet playtime’ (not nearly as much fun as it sounds), while we read Eagle comics in the corner. We strongly remember a nine year old boy with access to far too many grown up movies callously dissected the unpleasant final moments of the flesh puppet in Dream Warriors, and Johnny Depp’s final bloody gush in the original film. When we finally saw all the films in a lengthy marathon of low-res second-hand VHS vids, (in our teens, Freddy’s favourite age group) then we were hooked.

We didn’t even care that ‘the rest (allegedly) sucked’. OK, Nightmare 2 aside – which was still an unusual piece of film – they’re all exactly what we signed up for. They brim with weird, unnatural deaths, a properly unpleasant monster, and the heroines who we rooted for as they grew in confidence and took on the ultimate disgusting, predatory misogynist child molester. To wonderful, tough Nancy, and those that followed, we salute you.

Nancy Thompson Freddy Krugeur

Turn around and cast him out! (Image from Bleeding Dead Films – click to see their site)

But still, Freddy (formerly the more low-key ‘Fred’) has remained the real star attraction. He’s repulsive, he’s in love with hating the world, and he’s a fantastic bastard son of a thousand maniacs. There was something perfect about a dreadful tragedy that made sense to the storyteller in us. As they coated more layers of Freddys backstory onto the franchise, the dreams remained an exciting angle to watch it all from. It’s hard to hate any of the movies when they’re so clearly in love with weirdness, and symbolism (Jung that movie!). In a dream, anything is possible, and the Nightmare films used that to their advantage.

They provided an alternative type of horror to to Jason and, just compare them to the recent string of humourless, torturous Saw movies. Imagination, latent teenage sexuality, strong female characters and a mercilessly playful killer. Freddy will stalk you into the daylight. You can never be sure you’ve woken up – a point drawn out until it squeaked in the unlovable remake.

Nightmare on Elm Street Poster

The original Nightmare and it’s the best! Your mileage may vary, but you’re wrong, buddy….

So why does Freddy hold such a fascination, when he is clearly so very, very horrible? Most intriguing is that he’s based on a series of experiences and research by his creator, Wes Craven. Freddy was born in the creepy man glaring at Wes Craven from the street when he was a kid, and came to life when he read some real life stories where boys had refused to sleep, and when they did, they died without a known cause. Uncanny. The way Freddy’s popularity gets dealt with in the Final Nightmare is also clever, suggesting he’s really a demon who must be contained by the totem of Freddy Kruger.

He’s also absolutely bloody terrifying because:

  • His picture alone terrifies us, especially if it’s one where he’s grinning at the camera (see above – thanks a lot, Rob Englund!) and he does that a LOT.
  • In a continuation of the first point, even Pinhead doesn’t scare us as much as Freddy does.
  • He’s capable of beating up Jason! (Though we do reckon Pinhead could take him in a sequel)
  • Phone-licker. Eeeew.
  • That hat. Those greasy green and red jumpers. Finger gloves. Sartorially the chap’s already a nightmare.
  • Increasingly smug one-liners. Grrr.
  • The charming way he can snip off all his own fingers and have a big laugh about it.
  • You can’t sleep, so it’s an endurance test we can all relate to. The Eyeball would last about two minutes (tiiiired Eyeball, zzzzzzzzzzz-splat)
  • You might never wake up. Even if you think you have. Repeatedly.
  • He can make your family believe you killed yourself, or that you killed someone else.
  • The Police and your parents will NEVER believe you about him.
  • Your only allies are your best friends at school, and they’re being picked off like flies.
  • Or like cockroaches.
  • You can kill him in numerous ways. But be warned that a dog pissing on his grave is enough to resurrect Freddy so he can murder all the plucky survivors from the previous installment, so basically, if you ever run into Freddy, and think you stopped him…not so much. You’re still all gonna die.

Now, we’ve featured him on the Eyeball today because it was Robert Englund’s birthday last week (June 6th) which makes Mr Englund a highly respectable 66 years old. Happy belated birthday, Robert! It’s amazing how Freddy has taken over his life in so many ways, and he’s never quite escaped the character’s razored grip. It seems odd, but in the early 1980s, Englund actually used to play nice characters! Luckily, Englund seems to love that he’s a horror movie legend, and to the Eyeball and millions of other fans, he always will be.

If you want to know more about Elm Street and Kreuger, then the Eyeball very strongly recommends the awesome 2009 documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.

Are you off to bed now? Then…grab your crucifix….and don’t have nightmares….

Monster Mondays – The Thing (2011) Awesome beasts

Monster Monday

The Thing (2011)

John Carpenter’s 1982 ‘The Thing’ was an eye-popping mix of tension and gory special effects which were mind blowing at the time, and are still effectively shocking today. So when word of the remake or prequel started to come through, it seemed ridiculous, nothing could top it.

And now this remake (or, ok, officially a prequel) has been out for a couple of years, and I still haven’t watched the whole movie, let’s just make that clear now. However, I have peeked at the shiny innards of the film, having grown curious about the way they treated the iconic, shapeshifting alien which so troubled Kurt Russell and Keith David back in 1982.

And you know what? I was pleasantly blown away by the new movie’s monstrous effects. I was expecting much ropier CGI than this, and they’ve brought us a beautifully horrendous and importantly a very SOLID looking monster. Im only going by a youtube copy here, so can’t say for absolutely certain that it’s flawless. But neither is it a SyFy channel lame duck, there’s no unconvincing SharktaPus rubbish for this remake. The new Thing has some quality nasty going on. And arms…with teeth,,,and merging with your face and…and….dissolving and spearing and…owch. Wow.

I really didn’t think it would be any good, but this is pretty twisted. Yes, the Dead Space movie could get made, and if we’re lucky it’d look half as good as this.

The video below contains spoilers, but if like me you don’t want to tarnish the memory of the original film (which, yes, I am well aware was ALSO a remake of a quality black and white ‘man in a rubber suit’ extravaganza from RKO in the 1950s) then this is an excellent way to taste of the meat of the latest version. Weirdly, it’s now a lot likelier I will look at this once it pops up on Netflix, or becomes very, very cheap on blu ray. Or if I win it in a raffle…

Although it could be argued that this gives away all the good bits, if the remake is any good at all it should survive that. In the mid-1990s, Lenny Henry ruined the surprise of the SFX in the 1982 The Thing. I foolishly watched a documentary he presented about monsters in movies, shortly before ITV network (UK) was broadcasting the whole ‘Thing’ movie. Still loved it to pieces.

So if my appreciation of the 1982 movie remains unaffected by seeing all the goodies ahead of any narrative, maybe the prequel isn’t going to be so bad after all. Let’s remember that high tension and relatable characters made the Carpenter version vastly rewatchable. Perhaps this new attempt has nailed it as well. Perhaps.

Generally, though, a prequel is stuck in its own dead end of time, doomed to copycat whatever enthralled viewers of the originals, whilst charging boldly through the motions like a soulless running zombie. What happened to the Norwegian team, who the US research team tried to help, was already quite evident during the scenes when Macready checks out what remained of their camp. I keep calling the prequel a remake because John Carpenter pretty much nailed the interesting part of that story, and all its lovely Lovecraftian elements as well. Frankly, the prequel looks like more of a ‘look what we can do now’, which is fine, but not necessarily as intriguing. Of course that could be age talking, too…

What would be interesting to see is an actual sequel to the John Carpenter movie, with Macready and Childs stopping the Thing in another setting. Or at least something that moves the story along, or tries it from a fresh angle. The logical progression would be to move it to the desert. Right? A ‘Thinged’ camel would be pretty awesome….it already looks like a camel spider. Gulp.

On a final (heavhanded?) note, the Thing monster is endlessly transforming and adapting to survive its new environment, and the blockbuster industry could definitely learn a thing or two from that.