The House of the Devil
2009, R, 95 min. Directed by Ti West. Starring Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, A.J. Bowen, Dee Wallace.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 30, 2009
New York-based director West nabbed some online press not long ago when he attempted to have his credit removed from the sequel to Eli Roth's Cabin Fever on the grounds that the film had been re-edited and partially reshot by others. (It should be noted that Austin actor Rusty Kelley has a role in Cabin Fever 2.) I haven't had a chance to watch West's sequel, but if it's half as good as the slow-burning Eighties horror homage that The House of the Devil is, then color me interested (and blood red). West's new film is a welcome, nerve-rattling anomaly in a year – okay, decade – in which effects-heavy/terror-lite remakes of a veritable Pandora's box of Seventies and Eighties slasher flicks have both bedeviled filmgoers with fond memories of the originals and placated a new generation with pale, unnecessary iterations of prior horror shows. The House of the Devil is an assuredly sinister and faithful re-creation of late-Seventies/early-Eighties horror that succeeds (mostly) in lulling the audience into thinking they know what's going on – and with a title like this, why wouldn't they? – before amping up the claustrophobic atmosphere and the overall suspense to Chinese-water-torture levels. It's not a classic so much as it is a doppelgänger; part of the film's off-kilter surreality comes from its retro look, tone, cinematography, and even music. The opening titles – freeze-framed shots of coed heroine Samantha (Donahue) accompanied by a louche guitar track that might've first been spawned on AM radio circa 1975 – completely nail the whole milieu in moments. Looking for new digs (which she finds, courtesy of genre stalwart Wallace) but cash-poor, Samantha answers a mysteriously ringing pay phone on her campus and ends up taking a babysitting gig … in hell! Well, in a really creepy house, anyway. Accompanied by her friend Megan (Gerwig, whose totally rocking hairstyle alone deserves its own sequel), Samantha finds herself overpaid and underworked in a most disturbing manner by the "parents," played by Noonan (The Monster Squad) and Woronov (Rock 'n' Roll High School). The perils of babysitting, heh, heh, heh, ensue. Some genre-based critics have reacted negatively to West's re-creation of the past, but this is no pillage, plunder, and profit job. The House of the Devil shows a young director tapping into the very trippy psyche of a particular time and place in indie-horror history, and while it stumbles a bit toward its final shock, The House of the Devil is by far the freakiest and most unnerving shocker in theatres this season.