As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
So many horror movies. This month during the 31 Days of Halloween here at AiPT! I have reviewed an arthouse horror film, an anthology, a look at a dystopian future, and a Turkish horror film. It would make sense to end the month with an homage to the decade horror movies exploded into the American consciousness. Released in 2009, The House of the Devil is a love letter to horror movies of the 1980s.
The most noticeable thing about The House of the Devil is its aesthetic. The movie takes place in the 1980s and the plot seems like it’s straight from a movie of the time. In order to earn money to rent a house, college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) takes on a babysitting job at a large secluded home. The opening text in the film explains the dangers of Satanic cults, a reference to the “Satanic panic” that was widespread in America at the time. Everything from the style of the title cards in the opening credits to the ending credit roll over a freeze frame and everything in between oozes the era. An excellent decision was made to shoot on 16 mm film which gives the movie a retro look. The soundtrack also includes some memorable songs of the time. The standout from the soundtrack is the original score, however. The music is appropriate, but what makes it so effective is its sparing use. Stylistically, The House of the Devil is does everything correctly.
The movie has a relatively small cast. Greta Gerwig plays Megan and does a fine job in the role. Gerwig does not is not over the top in the role and instead comes off as very natural. Donahue spends much of the movie alone and terrified. She does an excellent job as Samantha, playing the part as well as any of the scream queens of the 1980s. However, the standout in the film is A.J Bowen as Victor Ulman. The soft spoken Ulman has to essentially bribe Samantha to watch the house. Every comment he makes seems to have some sinister double meaning. Despite talking about his frailties, Ulman still comes off as someone to be feared. An all around great job by the entire cast.
The House of the Devil may honor movies of previous decades but still tries to attempt something different. This is where the movie may lose some of its audience. The first two acts of the film use a deliberate pace that some may find boring. Instead of going with the faster pace that is normally seen in movies of these type, director and writer Ti West builds a story. For the most part, this works well and tension is built. Where the movie does falter is in the storytelling. Samantha makes odd choices and the impetus for the third act seems to come out of nowhere. The audience is required to make logical leaps in order to fill in the blanks. This was not an example of open ended story telling and instead are just plot holes.
The House of the Devil is a must watch for nostalgia fans. The look and story of the film will make any long-time horror movie fan immediately think of the 1980s. The cast is does well and the music is one of the highlights of the film. While the pacing can be a little lacking, The House of the Devil is a well made movie.
That’s it for me for 31 Days of Halloween. Check AiPT! out tomorrow’s for the spooky finale!