Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The House of the Devil (2009)

My Goodness, what can I say about House of the Devil? I wanted to like it, I wanted SO BADLY to like it.

I loved the idea of a movie made in 2009, but in the style of the great wave of the more classic horror movies of the late seventies and eighties. The premise was a little cliche, but I figured, oh what the Hell, I'm game. And I largely wondered how on earth this movie had come out last year without me having heard of it.

Gentle Readers and Fellow Spooky-dos, I don't wonder about this any more. I don't want to say that there is nothing good about the movie, because that would simply not be true, however, this is a case in which the bad greatly outweighs the good and results in Epic Fail.

The basic premise of the movie is simple, one that is easy to relate to, even. Broke college student Samantha can barely make ends meet, so she picks up a baby sitting gig to try and generate a little cash flow. All right, understandable, lot's of people can get behind the broke college student thing, a lot of us have been there.

And in trying to make a seventies/eighties style horror film, the baby sitter angle is appropriate. Let's face it, some of the most iconic horror movies of that era were baby sitter movies; Halloween, When a Stranger calls, and Trick or Treats, just to name a few.

It's a good angle for horror, any girl who babysat as a teenager can tell you that it can be ridiculously creepy. Sure it's all fun and games while you're entertaining the kiddies, but send them to bed and as soon as you're alone with the TV you start getting paranoid. Every little noise is something in the house with you, every noise outside is something coming from you. Like I said before, fear you can relate to.

Further drawing on established horror angles, HOTD is set in a suitably creepy, enormous house. In the outskirts of Nowheresville, where no one can hear you scream.

However, once our heroine is at said house she is informed by an unnerving old man that she was hired to watch not a child, but his wife's elderly mother. This is when Samantha's friend tells her;

"the agreement was we would leave if the people were weird, this isn't weird, it's mental".
This seems to be setting up the movie to be good and chilly, I mean, come one, what's creepier than weird old people? And if you just said "Nothing", than seriously, you need to sit down and have movie night with Drag me to Hell, Rosemary's Baby, the original Friday the 13th, and Whatever happened to Baby Jane?. Then you and me can talk about how not at all scary old people are.

The trouble is that it all takes a sharp turn downhill from there on out. All of the action of the film is presented in the last 15 minutes, in a hurried slap-dashed frenzy. And before that it's over an hour of "Hey what was that noise?" and "Let's look like we're foreshadowing that something really creepy is about to happen, and then not actually do anything." While that's all going on they proceed to have Samantha do REALLY foolish things, like run around the house blaring music on her headphones. Any paranoid babysitter will tell you, you DO NOT want to wear headphones. Headphones block out the footsteps of the person coming to kill you.

But as I said before, the movie is not without merits. Some of the camera work is downright genius. It intentionally filmed to be grainy and slightly yellowed, so you really feel like you're watching something that has a few decades on it. And a fair number of the shots are filmed in strange, almost clandestine frames. There aren't any first person type shots, most shots of Samantha are filmed in such a way as to make the viewer feel almost voyeuristic. It's like you are put in the perspective of the murderers, stalking the girl through the house.

And Samantha is a very sympathetic character. She's real, she makes real person decisions, she isn't perfect (she is in fact quite the little germaphobe, earning her brownie points with yours truly, who is a bit of one as well.)

Samantha is clever, she doesn't got through the movie shrieking or begging to be saved, she does her best to save herself. And I respect that. I only wish that this respectable of a character was not inside such a mess of a film.

Once the film ended I basically said "... okay."

There is an attempt at a Brian DePalma-esque gotcha ending, but it falls flat, much like the "horror" in the movie once its actually revealed.

I don't know you guys, I just don't know. I hope the next movie I write about here is one that I really like.

wow, look at that, turns out I actually qualify for The Final Girl Film Club with this humble review and I didn't even realize it oooooooh!!!


  1. I'm sorry you didn't like it! But great write up nonetheless.

  2. "Any paranoid babysitter will tell you, you DO NOT want to wear headphones. Headphones block out the footsteps of the person coming to kill you."

    YES! So true and so nicely put.

    I hated this movie too. It is nice not to be alone! You're right about the camera work -- there were some nicely framed scenes. But I need all that to be *for* something. This movie just never came together for me.

  3. Yay! Another person who doesn't like this film!!!! Oh man do I feel better. You and I are pretty much on the same wavelength about this flick. :-/

  4. I couldn't disagree more with most of your review here, but it's fun to read and presents its case well. More important than my review of your review is that I'm glad to have come across your blog thanks to FG's Film Club, since it's pretty great in general. Really like the Candyman review, in particular.