Wednesday, November 4, 2009

REVIEW: The House of the Devil...


There are a few things that I love in this world. Two of them happen to be horror films and sports analogies. Oddly enough, when discussing what makes a good horror film just that, good, the same thing can be said for what makes a sports game compelling.

Few things in this world are as compelling as a close and down to the wire sporting event. Same goes for horror films. When a horror film is good, it gives you a close game throughout, or in a films case, a good horror film gives you a films worth of tension and suspense. Then, when the games finale comes, a team has seconds left on the clock, only to drain a last second shot to win the game, and send you flying up and high fiving your buddy next to you. Then there is the great horror film ending, which is a continuous set of intense falling action, ending with a close that sends you jumping out of your seat and saying "Oh my god!" Then there are bad horror films, that are suspenseful, jut like a sporting event, and yet end inconsequential, or to end the sporting analogy, with one team shooting foul shots to win by 10.

That is why, after watching The House of the Devil, one can't help but think that this is one of the year's best games. It's the Game 7 of horror films, and to much success.

Set in the 1980's, The House of The Devil follows young college sophomore Samantha Hughes, as she picks up a babysitting job she found whilst looking for a way to make rent on campus. Much to the opposition of her best friend, Sam takes a job babysitting for a creepy yet soft spoken elderly man, in what can be accounted for as one of the creepiest houses you'll see this side of Hill House. The job however, also coincides with a full lunar eclipse, and as she slowly realizes that her clients harbor a horrifying secret, she discovers that there is something much more evil, and much more satanic at the heart of this job.

With films like Paranormal Activity, Grace, and Drag Me To Hell, this has been one of the better years for the horror genre. Minus Drag Me To Hell, the overarching similarities between these films is that PA, Grace, and House of the Devil are all slow burns. The lull the viewer into being not just full of tension, but also truly make the viewer uncomfortable, by creating a true world. This world just happens to be an homage of '70's and '80's horror, and also, the ending actually delivers on the films promise, unlike the buzz kill of a horror film, Paranormal Activity.

This isn't just a Scary Movie style pastiche however. This is full blown homage, and hits the viewer in the nuts making them gasp for a true breath of fresh, painful air. Intensely low-tech and stunningly so, the film is not your splatter stick style horror film. It's like putting your hand on a burner and slowly raising the heat until your hand bubbles as you realize your hand is melting like a Nazi who hangs out with Indiana Jones on a daily basis. The first true jump scare comes about 20-30 minutes in, and it's one hell of a shock, and from there, sends you on a journey straight from the canon of people like Roman Polanski.

The film stars Jocelin Donahue, in what can be accounted for as a secondary performance to the films overall atmosphere. Not truly a protagonist, as not a whole lot happens during the course of a majority of the film, but she still is a compelling lead. She completely sells her role, and seems to be directly ripped off of a frame from a '70's horror film, even down the feathered-do that she is sporting. However, the true star of the film, is Tom Noonan as the elderly homeowner, Mr. Ulman. He is so brilliantly soft spoken, that you aren't sure to be creeped out by him, for fall oddly in love with his quiet demeanor. Mary Woronov is also great as Noonan's wife, but is in it for far to little of the film.

The film is also stunning to look at. As a homage to horror films of the past, the film is shot stunningly on 16mm, the direction from director Ti West, is so "inspired-by", yet instead of seeming like a Planet Terror style pastiche of films past, West has fashioned a potent, almost poetic horror film that would fit right in with films from the era of his inspiration. And sure, the ending is a storyline we have seen before, but the way it is handled still had me saying "what!?" as I turned off my XBOX 360.

That may be the films biggest let down, as this is one film that I truly sh could be seen by a large group of people, in a theatre setting. The film works as a whole to set a story and mood, that I think this film could do gangbusters at the box office, given a solid, Paranormal Activity style marketing campaign. Where that rather stellar horror film failed, the horrible and completely buzz-kill of an ending, this one makes up for in spades. It seems ripped straight out of the trailers for Grindhouse, and in fact, would have played brilliantly as the true film shown before Death Proof. It's Don't Tell Mom The Babysitters Dead, but if it were shot by William Freidkin as a pet project while on a bender post Exorcist.

However, this film is not for every horror fan. If you are like me, and fans of films like Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, or The Exorcist (which I am in no way comparing this films quality too) then this is the horror film for you. Even the score sounds directly ripped out of the music for The Exorcist. Short on Saw like gore porn, but deep with atmosphere and mood, this film is for the horror fan who has had enough with gorno, and wants some thought with his or her horror. However, for those who are salivating at the thought of Saw 49403021, skip it.

HOUSE OF THE DEVIL - 9/10

Go see something good!

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