Monday, April 15, 2013

The House of the Devil (2009) - A Review


This past weekend some good friends went out of town and I spent the past couple days at their place, hanging with their dog and taking it easy in their big, gorgeous house. One of the perks of this house is the rather large high definition TV that’s equipped with a Netflix/Amazon capable DVD player that allows me to feed my horror hunger in sweet, sweet surround sound.
One that’s been on my list for a while has been Ti West’s The House of the Devil. I’ve lingered with my finger over this one many a-time, but have always backed out thinking that it looked stupid (I know, I know, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover), but this time I decided to give it a go. Shot in the same vein as an 80’s supernatural horror film, this one kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, delivering powerful suspenseful scares, great cinematography and even a pretty solid leading lady. 

Want more? Gotsta read on:

Title: The House of the Devil
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Producer(s): Josh Braun, Larry Fessenden, Roger Kass, Peter Phok
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig
Guest Starring: Dee Wallace

My first encounter with Ti West was in the form of V/H/S, the found footage compilation film that I actually really like (despite my general dislike for the found footage genre). His segment was original and fresh and when I heard people talking about The House of the Devil I became intrigued to see more of his work. Now, as mentioned before, I had added it to my Netflix queue and been contemplating it for a while, often discounting it due to a misinformed judgment call, but that was before I saw V/H/S and became interested in West’s work.

SPOILERS AHEAD, READ ON WITH CAUTION: I will include an END SPOILER for those who have not seen the film. 


The film opens with the ever familiar “BASED ON A TRUE STORY” title card, speaking towards the existence and denial of satanic cults and their doings in America. It follows with showing the beautiful young Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), a sophomore at college. It appears to be the early to mid 80’s, as the cinematography, music, costumes and hair styles all indicate. Samantha is on the verge of renting her first home; viewing the one bedroom apartment and arranging the down payment with the landlady, none other than Dee Wallace (Cujo, The Howling, Rob Zombie’s Halloween). As with any other young college student, Samantha has money problems and after being locked out of her dorm room by her horny roommate, she spies an ad seeking a babysitter posted outside of her dormitory. After an odd conversation with an even odder man (Mr. Ulman; Tom Noonan) over the phone, she arranges a meeting with him on campus that he never shows up for.

Feeling stood up and frustrated, we see Samantha go through a plethora of emotions as she is nervous about somehow coming up with the money for this down payment, when her roommate (who had just awoken from her love induced coma) informs her that a man had called for her several hours earlier while she was out. She calls Mr. Ulman back, and he informs her that his sitter has backed out and he is in great need of a babysitter for the evening. He offers her 100 dollars to come out, which she agrees to.

                                                   Please come in, this is where you die.

Once she arrives at the large and grandiose Ulman estate, she is greeted my Mr. Ulman; a tall looming man who walks with a cane, and isn’t exactly pleased that Samantha has shown up with a friend. After pulling her aside and being reassured that her friend was merely dropping her off, Mr. Ulman goes on to explain that this is no ordinary babysitting job. Why, you may ask? They do not have a child. Rather, Samantha will be watching Mrs. Ulman’s mother, an elderly woman who is still “quite able-bodied”, yet they need someone there for the Mrs. peace of mind. Samantha is naturally put off, and when she begins to leave she is offered 300 dollars to stay for 4 hours. The Ulman’s engagement has taken months to prepare and is of the utmost importance, it cannot be missed. After asking for an additional hundred dollars, Samantha decides to stay.
After Samantha’s friend leaves (in a rather huff, claiming “these people are weird”), The Ulman’s make their way to their very special engagement and Samantha is left in the large looming house with half of her money upfront, and 10 dollars for pizza. After an inquisitive Samantha begins investigating the house she begins to discover many odd things and learns that the Ulman’s aren’t what they say they are, in any way, shape or form.

Mr. Ulman, played by Tom Noonan (Manhunter)


I thoroughly enjoyed this one. While there were a few small things that made me raise my eyebrow, what film is perfect? Ti West executed this film very well, and managed to recreate not only the look, but the feel, sound and vibe of a mid-80’s supernatural horror film. While it was released in 2009, it felt like it was 25 years old, and I loved that. I, for one, am not much of a supernatural horror fan, so it is a real testament to this one that it was able to keep me on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation a good majority of the film. It was filled with “DON’T YOU OPEN THAT DOOR” moments, which are always fun and as 80’s as it can get.

                                                       Jocelyn Donahue as Samantha

Jocelyn Donahue was great as the heroine of the film. I had never seen her before and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her from now on. Her touches of innocence were perfect, but not too overly stated. She reminded me in a way, of Laurie Strode in Halloween, a sweet young girl who is surprisingly single and just trying to get by on her own.
Now, onto the P’s and C’s:

1. The Cinematography.
I know I’ve mentioned it several times, but holy shit, I was really blown away by this one. We see a lot of time-pieces in the horror industry but I’ve never seen one that captured both the look and feel of the era it was representing. Being shot on 16mm film definitely helped, but everything from the soundtrack to the title cards and end credits, it was all perfect. Definitely one of the biggest perks of the film.

2. The Set.  The filming locations they got were pretty awesome, and all felt true to the time. The Ulman’s house with its massive, menacing visage was a beautiful old relic. It had all the ornamentation and feel of an early century estate which definitely upped the creepiness. Even the university (they never specify which it is) matches the time era perfectly.
3. The Suspense: The suspenseful tension in this one is perfectly coordinated. Samantha (who seems to be overly inquisitive, bordering the point of annoyance) spends a good amount of the film investigating strange noises on the second floor of the house, which means I spent a good amount of time sitting bolt-upright, hoping she goes downstairs soon. This doesn’t happen often for me, which made me almost immediately fall in love with the film. Ti West really knows how to build the suspense and dangle you on the end of a rope until he’s ready to show what he’s got in store.


1. The Screenplay:
The story was great, but the screenplay itself left a little bit to be desired. While it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t fantastic either. Then again, this was going for 80’s horror and he did a pretty damn good job with it. There were more mild annoyances than anything, like Samantha’s overly inquisitive attitude, as mentioned earlier. There were also a few times where the story moved so quickly it was a bit difficult to follow. Plus, is pizza the only consumable food item in this small town that they live in?
Overall it was a solid flick that I have already recommended to some friends. Do you have differing opinions? I’d love to hear them. Either way, this one will be on my re-watch list.


-Rg Lovecraft

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