The House Of The Devil (2009)

AUGUST 15, 2009


Few things would excite me less than watching a Ti West movie right after watching the snoozer that was They Came Back, but I had heard from a few people that The House Of The Devil was by far his best film, and since he’s a guy that genuinely loves making films, I was willing to give it a shot. And they are right - House Of The Devil IS by far his best film. In fact, I actually liked it, though I could have REALLY liked it had someone else edited the film.

Like The Roost and Trigger Man, not much happens in the film. There are long stretches of people walking around (or just sitting around), and when traditional horror elements DO occur (i.e. someone is killed or attacked) they are largely underwhelming. But the difference is, this time it mostly works. Our heroine (the preternaturally cute Jocelin Donahue) is hard up for cash and takes on a “babysitter” job at an isolated house on the night of a lunar eclipse, and over the course of the night she begins to get freaked out. That’s pretty much it, but since the place is run by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, you know something is going to happen, and it’s gonna be EVIL (film’s title notwithstanding). But the rubber-band stretching of the tension works here; I only started getting really restless a few minutes before the shit hit the fan.

And that’s where having another editor would have helped. There are at least three scenes of Donahue walking (slowly) down this one particular hallway as she investigates a noise or tries to satisfy her curiosity as to why she’s there (without spoiling anything - there’s no baby to sit). There’s also a scene early on, before she even gets there, where she goes into a bathroom, turns on all of the faucets (?), and sits on a toilet while she cools off after being annoyed by her roommate. And another brief scene where she drops off a paper with a professor. Little moments like this just aren’t necessary - they either reiterate what we already know, or provide “character development” that we don’t need. Does it matter that she’s someone who turns in her assignments? Get to the damn house!

Also, the money/time used to shoot these scenes could have been used to make the finale a bit better. I can sort of see why West would draw out “suspense” scenes for longer than usual, but why does he suddenly get so edit happy when something’s actually occurring? There’s a sort of Texas Chain Saw moment (the film as a whole is a sort of TCM/When A Stranger Calls hybrid, with Satanists) where she is tied up and screaming and being presented with all manner of disturbing behavior from the people around her, but it goes by so quickly that it’s hard to really feel her extreme distress the way we did for Sally Hardesty. And without spoiling anything, she undergoes a “change” that is not really clarified well, rendering some of the film’s final minutes needlessly confusing. Again, West will spend 30 seconds showing her dropping off a term paper, why not spend a little more time on her fate?

So if you remove those 5 minutes of fluff and apply it to the finale, you have a really good movie. The suspense in some of the house scenes calls to mind Laurie’s walk/inspection of the Wallace house in the original Halloween, praise I don’t give out easily. And there’s a murder halfway through that genuinely shocked me, in both its suddenness and because the character in question was incredibly likable, someone you wanted in the movie more to begin with. Plus, you just can’t go wrong with Noonan; he’s only in it for like 10 minutes but that just makes you appreciate his screen time all the more.

But what really impressed me was the technical quality. If not for Noonan and the other recognizable actors in small roles, you could easily be fooled into thinking this was an actual film from 1983 (the time it is set). The clothing, styles, props... all of it feels authentic (not “retro” - AUTHENTIC), and the amazing soundtrack aids immensely as well. Again, it’s not just a generic “hits of the 80s” song selection, but instead a mix of obscure songs and minor hits from known artists (Greg Kihn, for example - but not “My Love’s In Jeopardy”). And Jeff Grace’s score is even better. Plus, I have half a mind to find musician Mike Armstrong and demand an mp3 of his opening credits theme, which sounds like The Cars doing a Goblin song. And I’m always tickled by the site of those giant orange padded headphones.

This film got West a gig directing The Haunting In Georgia (again - I really hope they do one for all 50 states), and it’s easy to see why, as it’s sort of a haunted house movie (plus his exceptional skill at creating the period setting, which Georgia will also require) that wrings a good amount of suspense with little means. I just hope the producer (or, god willing, a different editor) can rein him in a little and let him have his vision without sacrificing pace. But then again, if this is any indication when compared to his earlier films, he’s well on his way to getting it right on his own.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. Can't wait to see this... as for the slowness of it, how much of it involves more than one character? Because I have no problem with extensive character development as long as the people are interesting, but the when it's only following one girl for a long time, that could get boring.

  2. I watched this movie last night and it was really good. Yes, it is a little slow moving at times and for those of you with ADD it can be a little painful, but it seemed to me just as I was starting to lose interest, something happened that pulled me right back in.
    I was nervous and jumpy throughout most of the movie which is something only a good scary movie can do.
    I agree the "change" part at the end was a little bit of a WTF? moment and I wish it was explained better. Overall though, I definitely recommend this flick.

  3. Hey, Jeff didn't actually write the opening titles(although his soundtrack was my favorite of the year). I did. If you or anyone else reading wants an mp3 or even .wav of it just email me.

  4. This is a solid horror movie to begin with, but it's greatest value to me is that it introduced me to "One Thing Lead To Another" by The Fixx. That is the quintessential early '80s new wave jam.

  5. I too was bored by the first 3/4 of the film. It wasn't too bad, though. In fact, it was some of the most exciting boring footage I've ever seen. The reason being, the house was gorgeous and spooky. I think the filmmakers were trying to help us feel like a lone person in a very strange house. We were slowly led on a a tour of nearly the entire house. I don't think I have ever gotten to know a movie house so well. You often hear in commentaries that the house, space ship, structure, etc. is an uncredited cast member. If that's the case here, there was definitely some character development. It just wasn't terribly exciting.

    I was disappointed that the grandma turned out to be a mutant. I feel like Satanists should simply be human, not so evil that they mutate. Satan corrupts souls, not flesh. It's just not as scary that way.

    Speaking of scary, there were a few scary scenes in the final twenty minutes. I particularly liked the closeups inter cut with Sam's transformation. I think it was the lighting and editing which made them scary rather than the makeup.

    Overall, a pretty good movie, but not one worth watching more than once.

  6. I just realized this was filmed on my schools campus. My head has been blown clear off my shoulders.

  7. I love the way the truth about the other family is revealed and the recurring issue of bad tasting pizza. The latter possibly hints at the sinister undercurrent in the town.


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