Director: Ti West (2009)
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig
In association with Final Girl's neat Film Club thing comes a retrofitted re-review of House of the Devil. Because writing a new one would've been far too much like work. It's a movie that, had Ti West made it in the 80s, we'd probably regard it as a classic by now. It's very much a movie that feels like it could have been directed by John Carpenter and starred Jamie Lee Curtis or PJ Soles. House of the Devil is a knowing yet entirely straight throwback to the babysitter-in-peril slasher movies of the late 70s/early 80s.
It's even set back in 1980s' America. Samantha (Donahue) is your typical skint college student. After agreeing to rent a house from Dee Wallace, hard-up Sam realises that she can't actually afford it. In order to make ends meet, she takes on a babysitter job as advertised on campus grounds. Only things aren't as they seem. There's no baby, for one. But to describe the movie's events any further would be cruel of me, since the various twists and turns need to be experienced with an unspoiled mind to work fully. After all, House of the Devil only has about three or four tricks up its sleeve.
At its best, House of the Devil is very good. At its worst, it's merely a bit mediocre. The acting is very good, particularly from Donahue. She's cute and all sorts of adorable - arguably the movie's second strongest suit. The best thing about it? The style and tone painstakingly set up by West. It looks and feels like an authentic old-school slasher movie as inspired or directed by John Carpenter. Right down to its synth-rock soundtrack, House of the Devil is pitch perfect. To add to the effect, there's even a VHS version available. It's this remarkable attention to detail that saves it from becoming just another lazy piece of STD dross. Like Babysitter Wanted, there's more at work than you might expect from just hearing the synopsis.
Ironically, it's that attention to detail that holds the movie back from greatness. Too much is predictable. There are a few mild surprises in the setup and the tension racks up nicely, but there's nothing you won't have seen before (and back in the 80s', to boot). Its gorefest finale provides a nice change of pace, but is all a bit overwrought and melodramatic.
Still, it has a heart and ambition that's hard to fault. House of the Devil might have its problems, but it tries too damn hard for any horror fan to dislike. This is one that deserves watching a few times: once for the plot, and again to revel in the 80s' trashiness of it all. Savour House of the Devil. After all, they don't make 'em like this anymore.