3/4/10

The House of the Devil (2009): B.L.O.G Jocelin Donahue Gets Her Fixx

As of recently, if you put two of more horror fans in a room long enough, the conversation is bound to turn to Ti West. Unleashing the throwback horror The House of the Devil and, from what I've heard, the surprisingly not unnecessary sequel to Cabin Fever within a couple of months, West had taken the horror world a bit by surprise. Six months ago barely anyone had heard of him, and now I hear his name mentioned in the same sentences as Eli Roth and Tarantino. Up until yesterday, all I could do was listen to people talk about him (or swoon over the VHS edition of The House of the Devil.), but now I can join the masses talking about Mr. West. Mirroring part of the film, all the hoopla I’ve heard about The House of the Devil seemed too good to be true, I was just hoping that like the main character I didn’t get caught up in a bait and switch.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is ready to move out of the dorms into her own place, but with only $84 in her bank account, there’s no chance of that happening any time soon. When she sees a poster for a babysitting job, she calls the number hoping to get the job. When her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) drives her to the home, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) reveals to Samantha that there is no child, but rather his wife’s elderly mother who need’s looked after. Samantha takes the job in exchange for $400 dollars, but she can’t shake the feeling that something is not quite right. It seems she might just be right because that every night there is to be an eclipse, and the Ulman’s plan to use her in a Satanic ritual.

Seeing as this is Thursday, and that means that The House of the Devil is not just a movie I wanted to see, but since it's a Beautiful Ladies of Genre selection I feel I should start off talking about Jocelin Donahue. If you’re a child of the ’80’s and grew up watching slasher and horror films from the time, you’ll immediately notice Samantha’s feathered hair, plaid shirt, and high waisted jeans as the choice of camp councilors , high school students, and girls next door across in the early part of the decade. Donahue has a look that could put her squarely in a category with Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp, and Adrienne King. If you can mange not to fall in love with her as she bops around the spooky house while listening to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” then you’re a stronger person than I. She not only nails the look, but she had enough quiet character development to the keep the viewer interested through the slow burn sections of the film. The House of the Devil has been Ms. Donahue’s highest profile credit to date, and I hope that we see her show up in more films because she really leaves an impression on me in this one.

Now that I’ve spoken about this week’s B.L.O.G. let’s get on to the man who has been virtually hailed as the new savior of horror. Well, Ti West. I’m only going to say this once, and not more than once. I’ve heard this kind of talk before, and I might have even thought it about a certain director after his first film (his name rhymes with Hi-Li Brofph). Needless to say I’ve been burned before; however, I’m willing to admit that you’re pretty dang good. West really nails the look of this film and that is really at least 65% of what makes it so effective. At least 25% is made up with the fact that, even though this is a throwback style film, it still takes itself seriously. So many films hearken back to the ‘80’s in a cheesy, ham-fisted way. West doesn’t bash in your head with Reagan era flash, but instead presents a pretty faithful rendition of what film from the time looked like. Though I did notice (because a friend pointed it out), the actors used the vintage wax paper cups in the pizza scene so gingerly like they were trying not to ruin an antique. Needless to say, this didn’t take away from the film at all.

So if I did my math right, I still have 10% of the film left to account for, and I have to give it up for the taut script by Mr. West. The man knows how to build suspense in the Hitchcockian style. There is precious little violence in the film until the closing moments, and the one early moment of gore is shocking, unexpected, and over in a flash. It’s perfectly placed in the film so as to get the audience ready for next portion of the slow burn. Hitchcock once said that you can only build suspense “by giving the audience information”, and West does that with double talking characters and brief glimpses of what might be happening just beyond our protagonist’s sight. He wisely chooses to punctuate his suspense sequences with something shocking, and that serves the film well in keeping the audience interested and on their toes as West delves back into his slow burn.

I’ve tried to beat around the bush some with this review because I know there are still tons of folks out there that haven’t seen it, and I didn’t even touch on the great appearances by Tom Noonan (Manhunter), Dee Wallace (The Howling), and Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000). The reason behind that is because while they are all good in their roles, this is not really their film. The House of the Devil really belongs to two people, Jocelin Donahue, who I hope shows up in more films like this in the future, and Ti West, a young director staking his claim in a genre filled with imitators and trash merchants. While I haven’t had time to see Cabin Fever 2 to see if his promise holds thought to that film, the groundwork that he laid out in The House of the Devil proves either one of two things. Either West has found away for a filmmaker to make a deal with Old Scratch or he is in fact that damn good.

Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. Great write up, and I agree 100%. West's The Roost and Trigger Man are also good-looking films with an extraordinary amount of tension, and I highly recommend both.

    As for Cabin Fever 2, beware. West asked for his name to be taken off the film after severe re-editing and re-shooting.

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  2. I loved this movie--glad to hear you dug it too. I'm seeing as many negative reviews as I am positive with most people complaining about the pace of the film. I really had no problem with that. I look forward to more of West's films in the future. I've yet to check out Cabin Fever II, but plan on it soon.

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  3. Yay! I hate that so many bloggers are getting the Trick'R Treat syndrome in being let down by this film. I loved it. Loved the buildup, loved Donahue, loved the Ullmans, just ate every bit of it up like bad pizza.

    I feel like I totally understand someone not liking this film, since it's all about atmosphere and your style of being scared. But it worked for me and you, as usual, do a fine job of explaining why.

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  4. I enjoyed this film immensely - as someone who grew up watching B movies constantly, I honestly felt that West "got it". I know some folks are claiming style over substance, but I think that HOD honestly reflects the look, style and substance of late 70's early 80's horror (not slasher films).

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