Region 2 Release, 29th March 2010
Director Ti West clearly had two objectives with House of the Devil; to make an old-school horror film and to MAKE an old-school horror. And he nearly succeeds at both. looking to take thematically from 70s and 80s horror is popular amongst modern filmmakers, and it’s easy to see why. Horror films from that era have an innocent rawness to them that stand out a Texas mile from much of Hollywood’s glossy horror output of today. Ti West must have spent particular time and effort not only studying what made such films so terrifying, but also the physical structure of them. Shot structure, lighting, setting, as well as theme, content, and costume have been meticulously pieced together here to make you believe you are watching a film that was made, as well as based, the early 1980s. Even the opening credit sequence is nailed, reminiscent of the first wave of slasher films.
So we find ourselves very much in the 1980s, in a gloriously reserved and real way, this is not a parody of the 80s. Within this setting college student Samantha replies to a ‘baby sitter wanted’ ad for some much-needed cash. The client is clearly on the wonk, but Sam needs the money. Sam and best friend Megan head out to the secluded Ulman family home. All most definitely isn’t what it seems when she discovers that there is no baby Ulman in need of sitting, but rather an elderly woman. In short she’s been duped. This is where the film kicks up the tension.
We all know that the old woman upstairs isn’t going to be a sweet knitter of jumpers. Best of all we don’t meet really old lady Ulman until the film’s finale, cleverly brining to mind the witches of Suspiria or Mrs Bates from Psycho. The movie’s biggest success comes in Sam’s isolation in this house, hearing squeaks, creaks, and footsteps from whatever is upstairs. If haunted house movies get under your skin then these sequences will burrow deep and really put you on edge. Sam, by the way, is played very aptly by Jocelin Donahue who pulls of a period performance with bullish vulnerability that I found resembling a young (pre crazy) Margot Kidder. The film also contains genre favourites Dee Wallace, Tom Noonon, and Mary Woronov, all used in far more suitable ways than is the norm with most genre castings of recent years. Unfortunately both the filmmaking technique and tension slide once the reveal happens fifteen minutes from the end. But this is semantics that shouldn’t take away from West’s labour of love which is, in full, a (almost complete) success.
The DVD is presented much like the movie should be watched; It’s a fantastic transfer but it isn’t crystal clear, as the movie wasn’t presented that way. This movie should never be watched in Hi-Def, it’s very nature deserves an SD or VHS viewing experience. Which brings me onto the R1 VHS release which R2 viewers will not be treated to. Although a lovely touch for genre fans (not to mention an extremely clever marketing device), the R1 VHS release is cool but not essential to enjoying this film. Extras wise you’ll get a great commentary from West as well as a behind the scenes featurette ‘In The House of the Devil’, and finally three deleted scenes. All-in-all well worth a purchase.