BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Ti West
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Brenda Cooney, Greta Gerwig
The House of the Devil could quite possibly be the movie that really shows those pesky youngsters how to make an effective horror movie. Harking back to an era when these types of movies were dubbed ‘chillers’, The House of the Devil takes the slow build-up and tense atmospheres of movies such as The Amityville Horror and Rosemary’s Baby and then climaxes in a crescendo of Hammer-style violence that is reminiscent of when movies were designed to scare and shock without the excessive use of CGI melty faces and the overuse of jump scares.
Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha, a student who is looking to move out of her university digs and get her own place. Hoping to come up with some rent money pretty quick she takes on a babysitting job for a slightly strange couple called the Ulmans, who live in a very big and spooky house. Samantha turns up at the house with her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) for support but Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) tells Samantha that she won’t be babysitting a child but rather looking after his elderly mother-in-law, whom he claims will be no problem and Samantha won’t know she’s there. Not being too happy about it, Samantha refuses but Mr. Ulman, who refers a lot to the lunar eclipse that is happening that night, is desperate so he offers her more money. Samantha agrees, much to the annoyance of Megan, who leaves and says she’ll come back after midnight to pick Samantha up. After the Ulmans leave Samantha spends her time investigating the massive house, listening to her personal cassette player and ordering pizza, although after hearing strange bumps and noises she phones Mr. Ulman on the number he left, but apparently the number doesn’t exist…
Any further plot details will spoil the movie but if you’re a fan of old-fashioned spills and chills then you won’t be disappointed. The movie is a slow-burner, and the middle section when Samantha is investigating the house does take up a lot of the running time, but it’s this build-up of tension that makes the final act of the movie so effective. With its hat tipped towards classic Hammer and a big dose of ’70s horror – there are obvious nods towards The Exorcist and the aforementioned The Amityville Horror – this movie won’t suit everybody, especially given the violent extremes that movies seem to have to go to today, but director Ti West seems to have enough genre know-how to make it work and really show how terror can be effective when using a ‘less is more’ strategy. In fact, if you didn’t know this was a new movie then you could be forgiven for thinking it came out in the early ’80s – missed a marketing trick there!
Overall, this is a great movie and one that true genre fans will really appreciate. The acting is very good, especially Manhunter star Noonan as Mr. Ulman, and the script is convincing. Tense, atmospheric, creepy and disturbing, this throwback film is ironically a breath of fresh air in 21st century horror and a masterclass in how to make a lot out of very little.
Special Features: Audio Commentary by writer/director/editor Ti West and actress Jocelin Donahue, audio commentary by writer/director/editor Ti West, producers Larry Fessenden and Peter Phox and sound designer Graham Reznick, In The House of the Devil featurette, deleted scenes, trailer.
UK Release Date: 15th March 2010