It was a time when people were “Livin' on a Prayer” because Bon Jovi said to, going on big adventures with Pee-Wee, hiding their cats from Alf and taking the physical challenge on Double Dare. During this era, the U.S. went into "Satanic Panic." It still seems that the U.S. has a fascination with the spiritual realm. Movies like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister all deal with the satanic and are huge box office successes. I am a fan of the first installments of these films; but the sequels that follow leave a lot to be desired. The audience gets the same tired jump scares, the relief comedy, and very little substance. The horror genre feels worn out and it makes horror fans yearn for the good old days. That's where Ti West's The House of the Devil (THOTD) comes in and saves viewers the same way Dr. Loomis saved Laurie from the clutches of Michael Myers.
The House of the Devil pays homage to the 80s horror films of the past while bringing a refreshing tone to modern horror films. THOTD tells the story of college girl, Samantha (known to her friends as Sam) trying to figure out a way to pay for her own place so she can get away from her sex-driven dorm-mate. Things start to go down a dark path when she accepts a babysitting job for the Ulmans on the night of a lunar eclipse. Seeing only the dollar signs that will allow her to pay for her new place, she refuses to see the signs laid before her that will take her down a path of danger towards a satanic cult. It's hard to handpick a favorite scene because the movie works as a whole.
In horror movies today, viewers need to be shown the scary, but Ti West makes a statement that the unknown is scarier than the known. Most of the movie is Sam exploring this creepy, foreign home where an unseen woman hides away. Behind each door, around each corner, with every light that is turned on, there is a possibility of something horrible. West allows the viewer to build up the fear in their own head. The only thing scarier than a horrible situation is not knowing you're in a horrible situation. This is perfectly illustrated while Sam dances carelessly through the house with The Fixx's “One Thing Leads to Another” playing through her headphones. Sam is completely unaware of the danger she's in. It's not until she accidentally breaks the vase that she realizes that there might be trouble.
Ti West crafts a brilliant horror movie with THOTD, and it's all in his camerawork and editing. He lingers on shots longer than needed to build the expectation of something happening. He uses these slow zooms to build suspense, and he places the camera in the right places to make viewers imagine all the scary possibilities. Movies today can get criticism for having a slow build, but THOTD isn't a slow build. It's a precise build. Each scene feels more suspenseful than the last, small details build to the final scene, and West uses his camerawork to create this unnerving atmosphere that holds a plethora of possibilities.
The lunar eclipse is a major point in this movie, but West doesn't beat the viewer over the head with it. Instead, he subtly makes references to it. The viewer is much like Samantha, she's aware of the event, but it's not important because there are other pressing matters. It's not until the final scene when the eclipse becomes the center of her problems. The saying is, "this isn't your parent's scary movie," but The House of the Devil is your parent's scary movie. Ti West puts us in the DeLorean and takes us back to when horror movies mattered, when horror icons were emerging, and people were terrified to go to sleep. THOTD doesn't just make you cringe in your seat, it makes you want to lock your doors at night, turn all the lights on in your house, and think twice about trusting people ever again.
You can stream The House of the Devil on Hulu, or rent it through other VOD streaming services.
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