Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: The House of the Devil

House of the Devil

I am not averse to slow building horror films. I don’t need action and kills from start to finish. As long as the movie provides a compelling narrative,  interesting characters and decent acting I’m happy to wait for whatever the exciting climax might be. I found none of these qualities in the frustratingly dull The House of the Devil. Even the bloody finale left a lot to be desired.

This film gathered a bit of attention mostly due to its attempt to recreate the look and feel of an early ’80s horror movie. Shot in 16mm, it has the grainy look of films from the that era. The music, cinematography, clothing and hairstyles are recreated and… I suppose it’s successful. If there were any failed attempts at duplicating such a period piece, they pale in comparison to the myriad other faults I suffered through.

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate to get her own apartment, possibly because her roommate is always having sex in their dorm room. Sam has found a place and all her new landlady (Dee Wallace in a cameo that I guess is supposed to evoke a self-congratulatory chuckle from a knowing audience, oh we’re so clever, aren’t we?) is asking for is $300 for first month’s rent. What’s a poor college student to do? This babysitting job she found posted on campus sounds perfect! Sam’s friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) drives her to the huge home way out in the middle of nowhere. But Sam soon learns that this job is not quite what it seems. And how could it be when Tom Noonan is involved?

For the first hour of this one and a half hour film, nothing happens. And it’s not that I expected constant violence and got bored during all the riveting setup and complex character development. How can you develop character when you make your actor walk all over the place for twenty minutes?

The acting is stilted during conversations, especially the first scene with Dee Wallace. Samantha and her friend have boring conversations. Greta Gerwig makes comments like, “I wish you had pictures!” and “I had to use a map!” that are supposed to remind us that, hey! this is the ’80s when we didn’t have cell phones with cameras or GPSes, oh how funny! And she eats pizza like she’s never held one before in her life. Which reminds me, in Stephanie Zacharek’s bafflingly positive review for this movie, she states, “Without spelling it out, [director Ti West] notes, for example, that pizza always looks terrible in the movies.” Really? Is there a pervasive pizza problem in horror pictures? I’ve never noticed, but, as we shall soon see, I’m not very observant.

Tom Noonan, in case you don't recognize the name.

Just in case you don't recognize the name, this is Tom Noonan.

When we finally get to the eponymous ‘house of the devil’, 25 agonizing minutes have passed. We meet Tom Noonan and he recites dialogue which provides solid evidence that the first draft of this script was the only draft. We learn that this is not a babysitting job for a child but out for the man’s aging mother-in-law. Hmm. Very strange. But he’s paying $400, so it’s probably fine.

It takes twenty minutes before the old couple leaves the home, during which time Megan is killed (ooops! Spoiler! awwww, too late) but we don’t really care much anyway because the guy who kills her is not as intense and frightening as the actor thinks he is.

Finally Samantha is alone in the house. To kill some time, she is forced to wander around the house. She explores, she sits, she sighs, she watches TV, she puts on her Walkman and dances around to one of my least favorite songs from the ’80s, “One Thing Leads to Another” by the Fixx. It seems to me that when your main character is in danger, the best way to build tension is to eventually allow the character to realize they’re in some kind of danger. At least that’s what I kept waiting for.

When she finally does make this realization through a picture of the real family that lived in the house, I confess that I didn’t pick up on it. If I had, the twelve bizarre minutes of Samantha freaking out would have made more sense to me. But I don’t think the movie would have been any better. At this point I was so exasperated I guess I couldn’t be bothered to care enough to pay close attention. Even the reveal of the bodies of the family didn’t clue me in. There are so many annoying, nonsense moments in this movie it just felt like another one. Like Samantha rinsing off a knife she’d been carrying around to clumsily slice pizza that’s already sliced. Or an entire minute spent with Megan eating candy from a bowl.

Good lord, I am going on and on about a movie I despised. I’d better cut this short. Since this movie is called The House of the Devil, you can probably guess some of what the climax involves. Samantha is tied to the ground on top of a pentagram. Some woman with a creepy, demonic face draws a pentagram in blood in Sam’s stomach. Sam escapes far too easily and it all is boring and means nothing because everything that went before was dragged out and made no sense and then it’s over, finally!

But you know what? I am so fascinated by how much I couldn’t stand this movie that I plan to watch it with the director’s commentary. For some masochistic reason I want to hear him and his producers pat each other on the back about how great this thing is and how successful they were in making something that would fool anyone who didn’t know better that they were watching some lost movie from a classic era of horror.

Lost movie… if only I had been so lucky.


One Response to “Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: The House of the Devil”

  1. Michael K vaughan Says:

    I nearly watched this movie last week, but didn’t. Now I HAVE to watch it. Damn you to HELL Justin!!!

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