It was five years ago, but I still vividly remember the night I first saw The House of the Devil. I was having a restless night and began watching the movie on Video On Demand (VOD) around 3am. For the next 95 minutes, I was entranced. The movie truly cast a spell on me. I even remember pausing the movie because I couldn’t believe how much The House of the Devil was working for me. I had found not only my favorite movie of 2009, but also the next great horror movie that I am always chasing, especially in October.
The next morning I went to a local horror convention called Flashback Weekend and I wanted to talk to everyone about The House of the Devil. Luckily Dark Sky Films, the company behind the movie, had a booth at the con, so I was able to go to them to gush over their movie and inquire about when it would be available on Blu-ray. They seemed flattered and I was on cloud nine. I was not only at an awesome horror convention (I met Lance Henriksen and we talked about tattoos), but was also riding the high of seeing some great horror the night before. This was surely one of the best days of my life as a horror fan.
The movie personally affected me as well. I have many friends, but I would also consider myself to be a bit of a loner and I got that same impression from the Samantha character in The House of the Devil. This made me align my sympathies that much more to her. She’s a lonely-looking girl, overcome by her financial struggles so much that she panics and makes a delusional decision to take on a babysitter assignment that is too good to be true. Therein lies the cautionary tale aspect.
The House of the Devil is a character study, which is my favorite type of horror. The one in this movie is rich. I give so much credit to Jocelin Donahue for her work in this movie. It’s the Cast Away of horror performances. She has to single-handedly carry the movie (while not doing much in a way that’s showy), hold the screen and drive the plot. Especially with the type of slow-burn horror that the writer-director-editor Ti West specializes in, you need a strong focal point to keep your interest from trailing off. Donahue is always interesting despite never seeming to be doing a whole lot. This is an example of great casting, because the movie depends on the audience being on Samantha’s side and Donahue’s performance is so innocent, vulnerable and helpless that we can’t help but watch with unease as we know she’s entering essentially her own hell on earth.
The scene is so great because it’s a release for the audience, momentarily relieving the tension. It’s silly. It’s the type of thing you do when you are by yourself and bored and the scene captures that perfectly. Plus, dancing on screen makes for interesting cinema. It’s fun to watch. You may not remember anything else from the movie, but I doubt you will forget the babysitter dance once you’ve seen The House of the Devil.
Ti West has cited Roman Polanski as an influence on the late '70s-early-'80s aesthetic he was looking to replicate for The House of the Devil. While I certainly see that (it owes a great deal to Repulsion), I think it’s actually more of a modern day Val Lewton movie. First you start with a exploitative title, The House of the Devil, and instead of making a movie that deals in special effects or crazy makeup (save for a “holy shit” moment with a demon reveal at the movie’s climax), you make a movie that is smart and subtle and built around character. Like Lewton with his classics such as I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People, Ti West is elevating the horror genre with his work on the seemingly pulpy The House of the Devil. Also resembling Lewton movies, West’s movies have an underlying sadness to them that make them stick to me like glue. I love both filmmakers; they are respectful of the audience’s intelligence and also aware of the emotional center of each of their movies.
The House of the Devil is not only a movie I enjoy, but an important horror movie to me in its own right. Before I gave it a look, I was a bit of a movie snob, never giving a chance to direct-to-video (DTV) or VOD movies (especially horror) because I considered them to be second-class citizens. I rationalized that if they were any good, they would be released in the theaters. The reason I made the exception for The House of the Devil was because I knew it was going to be playing the Music Box in a month so I considered it to be of a certain quality that I, at the time, demanded. After being blown away by the movie, I began to actually seek out DTV and VOD movies because I figured if my favorite movie of an entire year could be from VOD, then there’s a good chance many other great movies could be found via this avenue. I have not looked back since. I’m at the point where usually a third to half of my favorites movies each year debut via VOD.
The House of the Devil is one of my favorite horror movies and one that I will revisit each Scary Movie Month. You should check it out.