Director: Ti West
Writers: Ti West
Stars: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov
Release Date: April 25, 2009 (Tribeca Film Festival) / October 30, 2009
The House of the Devil is more than just a call-back to horror of yesteryear, it is a genuinely chilling sojourn with fun filmmaking flourishes.
Ti West's The House of the Devil is one of the best horror films in recent years yet manages to be deliciously retro. Besides being set in the 1970s, the film takes on an overall air from the low-budget horror films of that era: Touches include the wonky score by Jeff Grace, an occasionally quick zoom, and the freeze-frame opening credits. Just look at the title image below in all its glory:
The House of the Devil knows its influences and emulates them confidently. It would have been a nice fit with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse double-feature, though it is admittedly much less gratuitous and therefore less crowd-pleasing. West has actually rubbed shoulders with that crowd before as he wrote and directed the sequel to Eli Roth's Cabin Fever.
While much of West's form and function are familiar, including the premise of a female college student desperate for cash and excepting a late night babysitting gig out of town, he brings his own stamp to the genre. The House of the Devil is the definition of slow-burn terror. When Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) shows up for the job a very tall and strangely soft-spoken man (Tom Noonan) answers the door. Previous to this scene we have only heard his voice over the phone. Samantha is told that the "babysitting" may not have been the right title for the job, which sends our minds racing while the film paces itself superbly For the next half hour you will wonder when the movie is ever going to live up to its title.
When characters and their mysteries are revealed in The House of the Devil it is further proof that the unknown is much more terrifying than explanations. The anticipation of possibilities is ultimately better than what we are served. Notwithstanding, shocking moments erupt from those composed waits. Both paces prove scary enough. And you know what? I dug the closing credits (and the scene they stem from) as much as the opening.