Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The House Of The Devil

This Post has been seized by the Glorious People's republic and will be redistributed to The Final Girl's Film Club. All Hail.

House Of The Dead seems to be going through a mini backlash. After the enthusiastic theatrical reviews, and the positively SQUEE! Levels of excitement broadcast when it was announced that the film would be given a VHS release, the DVD reviews of House Of The Devil have been almost cagey. Most review, seem to run along the lines that, while the film has an effective build up it fails to pay off.

I’d respectfully like to ask what these critics are smoking and where can I get some. As House Of The Devil is the most satisfying horror experience I’ve seen in years. It earned its early fame by being a recreation of late seventies early eighties Let’s Scare Jessica To Death/ The Messiah Of Evil style zoom friendly horror. But the amazing thing is you eventually stop thinking of House Of The Devil as a gag and just immediately except it as a film.

In case you haven’t heard House Of The Dead is the story of Sam, who looks so much like a young Margot Kidder that it borders on uncanny. She’s a college student desperate for her own place who takes the job as a babysitter for an odd couple who seem desperate to get out of the house for the night. Things start to get weird when the husband played by Tom Noonan in a sublimely disturbing performance, drops the bombshell that its not a child she’ll be watching but an old woman. Things just get more disturbing from there. Jocelin Donahue is superbly vulnerable as Sam. Noonan gets his freak flag flying, being utterly unsettling by being unfailingly polite, never raising his voice even under the most desperate of circumstances.

But its really director Ti West who emerges as the star of the film.

Most genre filmmakers, not just horror, seem absurdly terrified of the set up. To a certain extent its partially the fault of the splatter punks of the 80’s like Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, and Dan O’ Bannon. But while their gag a minute enthusiasm spoke to their natural energy as filmmakers, the pale copy cats of today, your pre Frozen Adam Greenberg’s, The Sperig Brothers, and Jonathon King; for example seem motivated only by the fact that they are terrified their audience is a bunch of ADD addled idiots who will reach for their Xbox controller once their hands stop shaking from all the Mountain Dew they’ve injested. Its all pay off all the time, but once you get to a certain point all of that pay off becomes meaningless. And what you’re left with is a film that fails to connect on any level and devolves into a meaningless tableu of gore shots and shock moments all in the vague hope that they’ll stumble across something outrageous enough to get someone talking (Hello close up of a sheep biting off some guys cock). And its this calculation that makes the whole endeavor so patently joyless. When Sam Raimi mixed the Three Stooges with the Grand Guignol it felt like the actions of an irrepressible prankster who just couldn’t help himself. When Peter Jackson had his hero crawl through the head of an alien and out his “arse”, or have a bunch of muppets engage in hard drugs and kinky sex, or had his hero crawl his way out of his undead mother’s womb, it felt like the work of a genuine mutant. Now its all calculation.

What I’m trying to say is that the first hour of House Of The Devil only has two or three scares, but Goddamnit they actual do scare, because West not only isn’t afraid of set up, but relishes it. And the impact these scenes have has way more effect then an entire film that’s nothing but a montage of grotesqueries. Perhaps its fitting that West has the best use of a gun I’ve ever seen in a horror movie (Trust me you’ll know it when you see it). Everything about his filmmaking is deliciously perpendicular.

Which isn’t to say he doesn’t know how to pay off either, because trust me, despite popular opinion he does. The end The House Of Devil is a nightmarish phantasmorghipha of nightmarsish pay offs and sinister implications. Yes House Of The Devil is a pastiche. But its one that plays for keeps.

They don’t write em like this anymore.


Because I am a huge fucking nerd I couldn't help but buy House Of The Devil on VHS. And though this did lead to Amazon delivering the film two weeks late. It looks awesome.

Here's a closer look

And yes I do own Coven on VHS. Because I'm straight up Gangsta that's why.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree, they just don't write them like this anymore. Its one thing to ape a style (*Tarantino, cough, cough*) but its another to actually pull it off effectively. Loved the slow burn aspect of the film.

Good call on the Margot Kidder look alike.

Franco Macabro said...

"West not only isn’t afraid of set up, but relishes it."

You sold me on this film! Im getting it! Thanks for the review!

Troy Olson said...

I'll agree with you on the fact that West does a fantastic job with the setup of the film. He hits all the notes for creating a creepy, dread filled atmosphere and even manages to build a little bit of character in the first third of the film.

But I'm one of those who didn't think that the ending of the film works so terribly well. I'm not bashing the thing (I gave it 3 1/2 stars out of 5), but I don't think the payoff is there.

First -- during the search of the house West makes a major misstep by revealing the details of what is behind one of the doors without Samantha actually opening the door. This felt like a nod to the gorehounds and it unfortunately broke up the tense pace at that moment.

As for the ending, I realize this is the type of film that is hard to end. Comparisons to ROSEMARY'S BABY and CARRIE don't help matters, as those two films show the built-up tension exploding at exactly the right moment. Here, the ending loses any of the horrific feeling from earlier with the whole ritual aspect and "grandma", which I found awfully silly.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ PoT: Thank you. It'd make a good double feature with Sisters.

@FC: Thank you FC. Hope you like it.

@ Troy: I can see how Grandma could definitely come off silly, if you weren't invested in it. But by that time I was in. Still I thought the escape from the house was effective, and the nasty little double twist (even if you could see the second part coming from a mile away was even more so).

I have to disagree with you about the what's behind door number 2 scene. I thought it was the most brilliant in the film. Normally, when a film shows something then backs away its a false scare. Like Oh! But it was only a cat! Or Oh! The monster was down that hall but she didn't go down it yet. Or something similar.

Here not only the scare is something very valuable. If she had scene what was behind the door she might have escaped the house before Noonan and crew got back. But since she didn't she's staying. In a theater the usual cliche is to yell out "Don't Open That Door!" this time you desperately want her to open it.

Plus that's the first confirmation (aside from the fact that you're watching a movie called House Of The Devil) that Noonan and crew aren't on the up and up. I thought it raised the stakes quite effectively.

Franco Macabro said...

I for one like the idea of a movie focusing more on build up then pay off...its like, why must there always be instant gratification? I sometimes enjoy a film that will take its time to build up the dread. I havent seen this film, but I enjoy it when a movie is a good slow burner.