I love horror movies.
Okay you guys. I’m back. Why now, you ask? What has inspired me to return to this vortex of navel-gazing and narcissism? Was I revitalized by my recent move to Los Angeles, a real-life vortex of navel-gazing and narcissism? Have the sunshine and palm trees re-sparked my urge to word-vomit ?
No, friends. Last night I watched a horror movie. A pretty great horror movie. And I love a great horror movie. The House of the Devil came out last year to mostly positive reviews: it’s at 86% at Rotten Tomatoes, and has a metascore of 73 on Metacritic.
The House of the Devil takes places in the early 1980’s, in a small, New England-looking college town. Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is a college sophomore who answers an ad looking for a babysitter in the hopes of paying for an off-campus apartment. A friend drops her off at a creepy-looking Victorian out in the middle of nowhere. At which point a creepy-looking man with a creepy-looking cane reveals that he and his creepy-looking wife don’t actually have a child, but in fact need Sam to stay with the wife’s mother, who they claim is asleep somewhere upstairs. Sam is hesitant, but after the promise of a night of pizza, television, little-to-no work, and $400, she agrees to stay. Unfortunately for our final girl, this turns out to be a bad idea. Satan!!!!
Ok, so, that doesn’t sound all that exciting. And it’s true, writer/director/editor Ti West takes standard elements from slasher/haunted house/devil-worship movies that we’ve seen a hundred time before, and doesn’t do much to push past the familiar tropes. But what he does do is create such a spot-on homage to those typical ‘80’s horror movies, that if you’re familiar with them it’s really hard not to enjoy being thrust into that world.
And if your not familiar with them, but can appreciate an eerie atmosphere and good suspense, there hasn’t been a film I’ve seen in recent memory that’s done those two things so well. West sure knows how to build some tension. Aside from one early scare, not much happens in the first half of the movie. We get to know Sam, and feel for her predicament. Once she gets to the titular house, West doesn’t settle for cheap shocks and empty jolts. As she explores the house, the tension builds and builds until I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Seriously creepy. Maybe too slow for some, but I was on the edge of my seat by the time the giant pentagrams show up and the blood starts flowing.
Unfortunately, the pay-off for all that tension is a bit anti-climactic. The last 20 minutes or so are about as scary as any good occult movie (save Rosemary’s Baby, which is obvs in a class by itself), but not as scary as the build up lead me to imagine it would be. But the devil’s in the details (see what I did there??!!), and the period setting, atmosphere, and suspense are done so well that it makes up for any minor disappointments in the end.
I spend a lot of my movie-viewing time trying to find good horror movies I haven’t seen before, and I end up mostly frustrated and disappointed. The House of the Devil reminded me why I love a good scary movie.