The House of the Devil comes on like a forgotten classic, a product of the 70s in all but creation. You wont believe for a second that it was made in 2009. The 80s setting will put pay to that, and everything about the film takes us back to a time when The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby haunted our very souls. There’s no Hollywood teen sheen to be found here, and there’s precious little blood for your buck. This is old school horror epitomized. If you were to watch it back to back with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Shining, you would struggle to tell the difference, so similar are the style and tone. Old school horror is back in fashion, and The House of the Devil is a great place to start.
Sam (Jocelin Donahue) is a pretty college sophomore who accepts a babysitting job in order to raise cash for an apartment that she’s interested in. Mr. and Mrs. Ulman aren’t your typical happily married couple, and the baby she’s supposed to be sitting is nothing of the sort, but not even the creepy Victorian mansion deep in the woods is enough to put Sam off. Her best friend Megan has doubts, but not enough to stay with her through the night. If that's not enough, a lunar eclipse is about to take place as well. Why do I get the feeling Sam is going to regret taking this job?
The House of the Devil takes a simple premise and runs with it, battered and bruised. Precious little happens in the first hour, besides well crafted mood, curiosity and tension, taut to the point of breaking. We all know that something is amiss, but we’re never quite sure when things are going to take a turn for the worse. Everybody acts strangely and all the signs say get out, but Sam and Megan have a date with destiny, and it just so happens that destiny is wearing a hooded cloak and chanting. It’s a slow tease of a movie then, deliberate and (un)welcoming. You will get sucked in, just as Sam did, and you will want to stick around for the inevitable bloody conclusion.
Jocelin Donahue is the glue that binds. Barely off screen, she’s the dictionary definition of 70s horror victim. Sweet natured, unassuming and a little bit stupid, she’s every rule the Scream franchise honoured, obeyed and poked a shimmering blade at. West embraces the hallmarks of classic horror with a dated opening sequence, a thumping musical score and lots of bizarre locals who hang out in the woods. Just when you think THOTD might be losing its way, a shockingly violent sequence punctuates the calm. From here on in, all bets are off. The final act is everything you would want from a classic horror movie, as events take a turn for the macabre. All in a day's work for creepy-guy-for-hire Tom Noonan (Manhunter, Robocop 2).
The House of the Devil is a welcome return to the realm of Craven, Hooper and Polanski. It might struggle to convince newbies, but if you long for the good old days of classic horror, this could be the babysitting ad you respond to. AW