The slow burn is a technique that’s been all but abandoned in American horror films. While some movies can boast to have slow openings before they get to the goods, it’s a truly rare thing for the best feature of a film to be the slow, suspenseful build-up of tension as the audience begins to realize, along with the characters, that for lack of a better phrase, shit’s about to get real. This is part of what makes Ti West’s 1980’s horror tribute, House of the Devil, so special, and even more rare for a horror film, so scary. Hit the jump for my full review, and make sure not to read it alone…
Jocelin Donahue is Samantha, a college sophomore who’s about to move off campus and truly live on her own for the first time. The only problem is money, and with Samantha unwilling to accept financial help from her roommate, Megan, she decides to accept a baby sitting job. The Ulman’s are a little strange, but with their big house, free food, and a charge that she never even has to see, it seems like a great gig. Too good to be true. Before long, Sam finds herself alone in the house, and her night is going to get one hell of a lot more interesting before its finished.
The thing that really sets House of the Devil apart from its peers is the cast. Jocelin Donahue does a remarkable job as Samantha, having to carry much of the movie completely on her own. She creates a full character, managing to create a sympathetic horror movie female lead that the audience can cheer for while keeping her from being an unrelatable, perfect princess. The scenes of Samantha wandering the empty rooms of the house are made all the more terrifying by Donahue’s performance, allowing the audience to connect and insert themselves into her situation. Horror veterans Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov are suitably creepy and quietly menacing as the Ulmans, Sam’s employers who are hiding a dark secret, and Greta Gerwig does great work as Sam’s best friend Megan.
One of the best things that can be said about a film is that it achieves what it sets out to do, and as a horror film meant to look and feel like it was made in the 1980’s, House of the Devil succeeds in spades. Director Ti West creates an ever present feeling of impending doom through his direction and Eliot Rockett’s cinematography, weaving a tapestry of dread through visuals and music that is truly reminiscent of Dario Argento’s direction in Suspiria.
The DVD quality is grainy and the sound isn’t perfect, but this is fine because it’s clearly meant to lend to the look and feel of the film. The extras are pretty great, offering two commentaries, a making of featurette, and few extra goodies as well.
To put it bluntly, House of the Devil is one of the best things to come out of American horror in a long time. It’s not a remake, a reboot, or a reimagining, and offers true, psychological scares to go along with it’s explosive, gory climax. If you’re a fan of suspenseful, slow burns in your horror, want to actually be frightened, or just want to see one of the coolest opening credits sequences in recent memory, then House of the Devil is definitely something you should check out.