This is a repost from last year that fits the Halloween season. It comes from my Sorely Missed category of posts because it didn't get much exposure when it was released in 2009 - the horror gem from director Ti West, “The House of the Devil.” Here are four reasons it ranks among my favorite horror films:
The movie is set in the 1980s – the decade of my formative years – so the references resonate. From the feathered hair styles to lead actress Jocelin Donahue dancing around the house listening to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” on her Walkman, it’s a 1980s love fest. And the movie is an homage to those cheesy (but fabulous) ‘80s horror movies like “Christine” and “Cujo.” Dee Wallace has a bit part in it, for crying out loud. I was so happy to see her because it let me know that this director, who also wrote the script, was a man after my own generation's heart.
The set up
You’re a college kid desperately needing to get away from your annoying roommate and the prospect of any other roommates. Dee Wallace offers you the perfect little apartment for a reasonable rent. Your mission: Raise money for the first month’s rent. Why look, how fortuitous – someone has put out a request for a babysitter on various flagpoles and bulletin boards around campus. That is exactly how good parents would seek a babysitter. There’s nothing suspicious going on here. It all seems very above-board … Fortunately, you have a smart, worldly best friend, played by Greta Gerwig (very Natasha Lyonne from “American Pie”), who doesn’t trust it for a minute, but is willing to drop you off as long as you let her scope out the scene before leaving you. If only worldliness were enough in these movies. For the chance to get your whole month’s rent in just one night, you go along with the job even when you learn that it’s a grandmother (not little darling children) who needs babysitting, and she is not to be disturbed under any circumstances. (Did someone mention 1979’s “When a Stanger Calls”?) So you would be getting paid just to hang around the house and probably never even see the old biddy? Jackpot, right? Ugh.
Setting the movie in the ‘80s automatically gave writer/director West a big boost in the suspense-building department. It meant there were no cell phones – at least not for struggling college kids. In the “making of” featurette, West talks about using the lack of technology at the time to his advantage. Clearly, if you run into trouble and your best friend is nowhere near a landline phone, you’re on your own. And since this is a horror movie, the landline wouldn’t be working anyway. But aside from no cell phone access, what’s great about West’s story is that he takes his time. You keep wondering when all hell is going to break loose. Don’t worry - it does. But the suspense keeps building because as a movie-goer these days, you’re probably expecting a blood bath from the first reel. The waiting makes it even better when you finally learn what’s up with grandma.
The pay off
Obviously, I can’t say too much about the ending without being a spoiler. I will say that while it is somewhat anti-climactic, it is still satisfying and worth experiencing. I’m sure a lot of women out there understand what I mean through other contexts.
Director: Ti West | Writer: Ti West | STARRING: Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, AJ Bowen & Dee Wallace