The House of the Devil ★★★★

Part of Lise and Jonnie’s Horror-o-thon 2014

Well that was a great kick-off to this year’s Horror-o-thon! Not knowing anything going in, I was convinced by the opening scenes that this was a late 70’s / early 80’s haunted house horrorer; that is until the very late 70’s / early 80’s opening credits rolled … oooh, it has Mary Waronov! Wait, what? How old is Gretta Gerwig?

Ti West’s House of the Devil is neither homage nor send-up, it’s something completely sincere. While I’m the farthest thing from a horror genre aficionado, I’ve had enough exposure to the classics from that era to see that this rings true. It reminded me of a small Spanish/Danish comedy from 2003, Torremolino '73 in its cinematic period authenticity. In both cases the filmmaker doesn't use this time slip as a gimmick, but rather taps directly into what made films of that time special in their own right.

Although there are genre tropes directly taken from the originals; good girl protagonist / creepy-from-a-mile-away antagonist, West doesn’t seem afraid to stray off the path and chart his own course. Some of this successful, like using a two piano note sequence to build unease rather than more creepy fare, and brand new takes on jump-scares, but some less successful, for example the extended real-time scenes of walking in and out of rooms that didn't create any tension at all .. at least for me.

In a way I feel sorry for Jocelin Donahue. Her lead character, Samantha, was easily the least colourful of the troupe. Not really her, or the characters, fault; this genre seems to require a flavourless rendering of the main character. This is in contrast to Gerwig’s fabulous flibbertigibbet, Megan, who steals every scene she’s in, and the eldritch couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ulman played with dastardly delicious creepiness by the veteran creepster Tom Noonan and cult queen Mary Woronov.

Sweet, scary, satanic retro fun. My only question is why hasn't there been a sequel?

Jonathan liked these reviews