Friday, April 9, 2010

Movie Review: The House of The Devil

You see a title like that and you think "oh lord, I'm in for a treat..."- sarcastic tone duly noted.

And yet a funny thing happened while watching this movie: I got wigged right the fuck out. I'm not talking "AHH! Something jumped at the camera accompanied by a violin shriek" jumpy kind of fear that passes in about 10 seconds. I'm talking true, knees up to the chin in protection, don't wanna see what is in the bathtub WHY DO YOU KEEP REACHING FOR THE SHOWER CURTAIN?! kind of wigged.

And I liked it!

The first thing you notice while watching is that it is shot and presented in a very specific, late 70's-early 80's on the cheap kind of style. Hair is big and the cassette tape players are bigger. It looks like it was filmed 30 years ago. Not to mention you can rent a house (from Dee Wallace, of 'Cujo' fame- probably the only actor in the movie you are likely to recognize with any sense of "ooh, what do I know her from??") for $300 a month.

This artistic choice is very clever and works perfectly for the movie. It's never used as a sly wink at the audiences, it's not meant to be ironic. It's just how it is, take it or leave it. What I took from it (and from the rest of the movie) is a very clear love for the style of horror movies that came out in that era, where not every scary movie had to feature young, sexed out/drugged up teens getting mutilated in clever and obscene ways. Yes, this movie stars a young, attractive lady, but it's never exploitative. She made me long for the days of Jamie Lee Curtis circa "Halloween" and "Prom Night".

To sum up briefly what the movie is about: young woman, Sam, finds perfect home to move into but needs to get money for it. Takes 'babysitting' job for a husband and wife in creepy large house. Convenient total lunar eclipse that night. Soon regrets ordering pizza. Soon regrets taking job. (see title of movie)

Now, one thing you need to know going into this movie is that it's slow. It takes a damn long time getting anywhere freaky. I admit I was getting a little bored at first. Still, it does something most scary movies don't give a lick about: it builds suspense and creates an atmosphere that can be best described as "off". The first third of the movie is pretty much about making the viewer on edge, so that when stuff does happen, it's easier to knock us over.

The first real shock of the movie isn't entirely unexpected. Without giving anything away (it's still DAMNED enjoyable), you know pretty much from the get go that this character is going to eat it at some point and in the moments before it happens, you know it's going to happen very soon. What's amazing is that when it does happen, it's so sudden and nasty that you're still completely taken aback. Joel and I just looked at each other like, "whoa".

And then it slips back into slow and creepy mode for just about the rest of the movie.

But oh man it's creepy. Even Sam knows it, and not long into settling in to 'babysit' for the night is she wandering the house, big ass knife in hand, turning on all the lights (THANK YOU movie character for finally doing what any normal human would) . By this point the movie is completely under your skin. Every time she opens a door, you're hoping that nothing is there. When she turns on a light, you cringe in anticipation. And that bathtub I mentioned? Yah...not empty :S

The final act of the movie is half intensely awesome/half letdown. After so much excellent buildup, there really could be nowhere truly satisfying to go, so things get bloody and chasey and then...end of movie. It's a shame because it feels like nothing really gets explained...and it doesn't. What did creepy couple need Sam for? Why was the eclipse important? And the very last line of the movie can either be contrived or fantastic. Again, without giving anything away, it's the kind of last second "surprise!" that we've come to expect from movies nowadays and that usally result in significant eye rolling and/or groans of dismay. That said, in keeping with the tone and presentation of the movie, back in the 70's/80's an ending like this would have been completely unexpected and shocking, so maybe in the context of this movie, it does work? I leave that to the viewer to sort out. I personally err on the side of 'clever', only because it does sorta kinda give a hint as to what the movie might have been about.

Anyways, final verdict: it's not perfect. it won't change the way horror movies are made. But it's damned effective and anyone who is really willing to give it a shot will be pleasantly disturbed. It's a tiny, unknown gem of a movie and unlikely to find a large audience, but afficionados of good horror should seek it out.

3.5 out of 5

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