AUGUST 15, 2009
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)
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?