Ti West’s slow-burn House of the Devil pays homage to low-budget horror of the 1970s and early ’80s, and it’s not a spoof or a tongue-in-cheek pastiche. It’s the real deal, a low tech chiller that gradually ratchets up the suspense to knuckle-whitening proportions.
Quiet, serious college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate to escape the dorm room she shares with slovenly, hard-partying Heather. When she finds an off-campus apartment she can (barely) afford, Samantha’s determined not to let it get away. If only she weren’t flat broke. A peculiar, last-minute babysitting gig comes up, so of course, Samantha takes it. And make no mistake, the gig is a symphony of bad vibes.
The house, a cavernous Victorian, is in the middle of nowhere (conveniently located near a cemetery) and Samantha doesn’t have a car — her outgoing best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), has to drive her. Oh, and there’s no baby: Soft-spoken Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) explains that he actually needs a sitter for his elderly mother-in-law. She’s no trouble, he insists, it’s just for a few hours — until midnight — and he’s willing to pay extra. He and his elegant wife (Mary Woronov) seem nice enough, but there’s something… off about them. Megan is all for bailing, but Samantha really needs the money.
That Samantha will regret her decision goes without saying: House of the Devil is all about dusting off decades-old conventions and letting them rip. And not in a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” way, either — West plays them dead straight, and damned if they don’t still work.
House of the Devil isn’t for every horror fan. It’s resolutely low tech, long on atmosphere and short on splatter. The first shock (and it’s a doozy) is a good twenty minutes in, and the second is preceded by a whole lot of Samantha rattling around the old dark house, doing what babysitters do — nosing around, ordering pizza, making phone calls (shouldn’t Megan be home by now?), watching TV and telling herself not to be a big baby. Old houses and funny noises go hand in hand, as do old houses and… well, if you love a nerve-stretching build up to a seriously creepy payoff, you’ll want to see for yourself.Read More