The House of the Devil (2009)

STARRING Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig & Dee Wallace
DISTRIBUTOR MPI Media Group / Dark Sky Films
RELEASE DATE October 30, 2009
RUNTIME 95 Minutes
COUNTRY United States

Desperate to make some money so she can move into a new apartment, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) takes a mysterious babysitting job. When she arrives at the house, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) mentions a full lunar eclipse and explains there is no child, but that Samantha will be watching his mother instead. After exploring the sinister-seeming house, Samantha soon comes to realize that her employers are hiding a horrifying secret and have plans to use her, dead or alive.

80’s nostalgia and the occult never blended so well together until you see “The House of the Devil”. Now, I’m not bashing modern horror because I really do enjoy it all, but this film puts most attempts to utter shame. Horror in the last decade is hit or miss either being deemed torture porn, glorified for its pretentiousness, or just PG-13 garbage. The House of the Devil is an exception by allowing us to reflect on what made the classics so important to the genre and the cinematic experience in general. Horror heads will be reminded why they descended to the dark side in the first place.

Being that the time period for this film is the 1980s it only makes sense that it be captured on 16mm. This produces the illusion of the era appropriately beside just the feathered hair and Volvos. Along with the visual aesthetics, the film is set on a backdrop of the “Moral Panic” of the 80s: the menace of Satanic Cults conjuring darkness behind the closed doors of American life. We are informed of this collected paranoia by a PSA-like message in the opening scene adding further to the realistic value of the film.

This satanic panic begins with Samantha Hughes, a young college student, viewing an apartment. Unfortunately, she is lacking funds for the deposit, but the landlady is sympathetic and extends the time to get the cash. (Notice the cameo from scream queen Dee Wallace as the landlady.) Luckily Samantha finds an ad on the Wall: Babysitter needed…and guess what?! She gets the job! Hail Satan!

Accompanied by Her best friend, Megan, they venture to the house out in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival, they meet the awkward Mr. Ulman dressed in formal attire to celebrate the night’s Lunar Eclipse with Mrs. Ulman, who is basically a far creepier version of Morticia from the Addams family. Mr. Ulman informs Samantha that she is not actually babysitting at all, but watching over his mother-in-law. He adds this should be fairly easy since she “keeps to herself.” Now obviously this should be a red flag to our heroine but she still agrees after persuading Mr. Ulman to up the payment to 400 dollars. Meanwhile, Megan is getting creeped out by the whole eerie atmosphere and tries to convince Samantha to leave but some people will do anything in desperation? Even if it means a night in the house of the devil and after a bloody explosive scene be warned that the rest of the film will scare you back into Sunday school.

As menacing things begin to occur in the house we get some great scenes filled with nostalgia to remind you of the decade such as ordering pizza from a rotary dial and listening to The Fixx on cassette with your Sony Walkman while dancing through a creepy house. Samantha soon begins to suspect something sinister might occurring in the house. I don’t want to reveal anymore so all I will say is get some pizza and watch this movie.

Aside from the soundtrack containing chart-topping hits of the era, the original score is awesome as well. Jeff Grace composed a chilling score that intensifies the slow-burning terror. The spine-tingling strings alone create a crawling atmosphere that suggests something evil is lurking. The opening credits are specifically powerful as it solidifies the vision director Ti West was attempting to accomplish. Upon first viewing, you might be convinced you’re watching the film on VHS incorporating a carpenter-esque track collocated with freeze frames and classic yellow text.

Executed with brilliance the film delivers almost Hitchcockian suspense that builds to a hellish climax. I promise this movie is more than your typical horror film, it is a study in horror itself. It is a respectful homage to the genre at the height of it’s popularity. This film America’s worst nightmare in the 1980’s, besides Communism. Complete with blood rituals and a couple pentagrams, The House of the Devil will get you waking up early on Sunday morning again.