Friday, October 30, 2009

The House of the Devil

I've always been a sucker for horror movies from the 1970's.

The Exorcist, The Omen, Halloween...

Each of those movies had something that's usually missing in modern-horror films: tension and atmosphere.

So when a modern horror movie is actually able to hearken back to those better times, I make it a point to check it out.

Such was the case with The House of the Devil, which aired on HDNet Movies last Wednesday night before getting a very limited release in theaters this weekend.

The House of the Devil was made by Ti West, a low-budget director (The Trigger Man, Cabin Fever 2) who obviously feels the same way I do about horror movies. There must be loads tension and atmosphere, and West gives us just that during the first hour of his film. He also sets the film in the early 80's, a time when horror movies just felt smarter and people were less connected. IE, no cell phones.

The plot is simple and doesn't try to be original. A girl named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, a dead ringer for Kate Bosworth), who needs money to move out of her shitty dorm and into an apartment, responds to an ad for a babysitter. But the job turns out to be something totally different than she originally thought. Turns out the Ulmans (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov with their creep-o-meter jacked up) don't have a child, at least not one who needs babysitting. Instead, they want Samantha to watch over his mother.

Samantha almost leaves when she's thrown the curveball, but the Ulmans raise the rate, and money-hungry Samantha can't resist. "I'll basically get $400 for just watching TV", she tells her friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), who's given her a ride to the house. After all, mother is said to be sleeping.

But is mother really sleeping? Is there even a mother at all? And is it a coincidence that all this is happening during a lunar eclipse?

Sounds like it could be the plot of any horror movie from the last 30 years, right?

But the difference with The House of the Devil is the execution. Pretty much nothing happens during the film's first hour. OK, something shocking does happen about twenty minutes in, and it's enough to keep us glued to the screen for the remainder of the slow build-up. And thankfully, Donahue is appealing enough to keep us entertained as she huffs her way through the house with boredom and then starts to get creeped out the longer she's in the house.

But other than one good shock and a slow middle portion, it's really just a set-up for the film's final twenty-five minutes.

And when those final twenty-five minutes arrive, you'll realize why the wait was worth it.

I also won't spoil any of the surprising details.

The House of the Devil transports viewers back to a simpler time when horror movies were smart and left the viewer on edge for long periods of time instead of trying to make them jump in their seats with loud noises and false alarms.

It might be a challenge to find the movie, but if you do, you can thank me later.

No comments: