The House of the Devil (2009)

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I dug the hell (pardon the pun) out of this homage to 80’s horror/after-school specials that becomes it’s own weird and intense beast that keeps you on your toes for 90 minutes if you have what most modern audiences don’t these days: an attention span.

Set in the early 80’s the film focuses on a young college student (Jocelin Donahue) trying to scramble the money together to pay for her new apartment. She feels she lucks out when she finds a flyer on campus advertising for a babysitter, so she can get some “under the table” money. However, the job is not as it appears, and the stipulations for the job grow increasingly weirder by her employer Mr. Ulman (the great Tom Noonan) and his wife (the great Mary Woronov).

Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman. If you dyed him yellow, he’d be Mr. Burns.

Samantha takes on the job anyways, especially with a large amount of pay promised by Mr. Ulman for her staying the night, and this is where the film really gets interesting. The titular location of the film becomes a character unto itself as Samantha wonders it’s vast interiors. The highlight of the film comes as she helps herself to the billiards room and dances around the house (dancing around large empty houses is a legendary trope during the time period of which the film takes place, and this is one of the best ever) to the great 80’s hit Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another”

The film takes it’s damn sweet time getting to the horror, mainly teasing the audience with sinister clues as to the motives of the Ulman family’s intentions towards poor Samantha. Their trap is deliberately set and by the time her character or the audience realizes how deep she’s in it, it’s too late. Or is it?

What I loved about this movie is the way it takes it’s time cultivating the character of Samantha, not just through words but by showing us what she is all about. Most of the film takes place with her alone in the house goofing off, which made me feel more empathetic to her, as she came across as a normal, cute, slightly goofy, person. In other words, her character is crafted through her own actions, which is a more sophisticated and challenging way to convey a storyline to an audience. Most films have the character or other characters say what they are all about; here, the girl playing Samantha just goes for it, head first, and God bless her for it, and for director Ti West having the balls to actually make this movie the way he did.

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My fave poster for the film.

It’s a very strange and interesting movie that fans of old school horror will find a great deal to enjoy. I was impressed by the amount of restraint shown during the film; their is only one profanity spoken during it’s 90 minute run time, no nudity, and the gore scenes are sparse and used only when necessary. Also, I have a serious nostalgia for the 80s, so seeing the fashion and iconography (love the pizza place, and the giant rotary dial phone), which also greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the flick. This will be a film that I will proudly add to my collection.

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3 Comments

  1. This is my fave film by Ti West. I loved all the subtle clues in the home. (spoiler alert) The 1st thing I noticed was no pictures of the family on the walls 🙂


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