DM Haight

True horror is rarely seen. It isn’t something that every person can enjoy. Some people like gore, some people like paranormal entities, or monsters, killers, the unknown. But they should all be able to agree that House of the Devil, directed by Ti West, is certainly a horror film worth watching. It’s a classic take on the genre, and by that I mean a classic re-imagining of the 80’s horror fests we all know, and some love. It’s a film that can take us back to the time, and give us that feel, that nostalgia of the period’s horror genre. Ti West knows how to do the slow build, knows how to make horror interesting because unlike conventional Hollywood horror, he understands that giving away the scare too early will kill our interest early. It’s a horror film with heart and soul, but not one that asks us to sit in a theater and watch as people are dismembered and half-alive monster-men run amuck on camp grounds. Not to mention, it’s an original story–maybe not an original them–but it definitely has enough new-car-smell to keep you seated for the duration.

Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha Hughes, a college student looking to rent her own place for the first time. She has to get a little cash, but she can do it. Her motivation? Getting out of her dorm because her roommate enjoys extra-curricular activities with a male friend. Sam sees a poster for a position as a babysitter, and she takes the job. Of course once she gets to the creepy house in the middle of the woods during the October lunar eclipse, she finds that not everything is going to go as planned. The heebie-jeebies would keep anyone away, but when the payment increases it’s hard to say no to the creepy old guy, even after he tells her she won’t be looking after a kid, but instead keeping an eye on an old woman in an attic. This is how we build horror. The game changes as the story unfolds. What we thought was the story evolves, moves away from what our perceptions were/are and morphs into something previously inconceivable. This is how Ti West created the horror for House of the Devil. He gave us a pretty girl, a girl who just wanted some money, and he tricked that girl into going to a scary place with scary people, on a scary night to do nothing but babysit. Without the use of gore, we get the chills and goosebumps that many of us experience in moments of anxiety.

The music builds us up, but we also get this great 80’s soundtrack that helps to alleviate the anxiety of the night as it progresses. We get scenes of Sam jumping around the house, listening to her walkman, waiting for a pizza to arrive. But it’s in these moments that Ti West chooses to build the horror, by doing off camera what we want to see. We don’t know the motives of the villains in the film, at least not until the end, but we do know that what they are doing is planned, and that Sam plays a big part in it. The concept is great, and the delivery of the whole makes the wait we bear worth it. And it is a wait. For a culture that is used to, even trained to enjoy films that move at a brisk pace, House of the Devil may be a tough film to watch. It takes its time in getting us into the story, dropping the clichés of the genre for more interesting things like character development. We watch as Sam begins to understand that things may be a bit more off-kilter than originally thought.

With themes like the 80’s, sadism, devil worship, pizza, creepy houses, old people, and good looking gals babysitting, you would think this film a bit of a bust, but really it’s a film that comes together so nicely that once you see it, you may just want to watch again. And it’s a film that can be watched again. Unlike other horror films, House of the Devil is enjoyable because it has that rare quality of horror films–re-watchability. It’s uncommon, simply because of the nature of horror. Once the anticipation of the scares are gone, why bother with it? House of the Devil enjoys that story that makes it worth watching, and enough behind the narrative to keep you coming back. It’s a film about the dangers of being in the 80’s which we’re lucky enough to not have to worry about, but if there was ever a film that could serve as a means to disturb people, House of the Devil will gladly fill the shoes. Ti West is certainly one young director to keep an eye on, and maybe, just maybe, he can revitalize the horror genre and bring with him a golden age of scares. But that may just be a fool’s hope. In any case, House of the Devil is more than worth your time, but you have to ask yourself, are you worth its scares?

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