Saturday, October 15, 2011

31 Days of Horror: The House of the Devil

2009, Ti West -- download

The House of the Devil is one of those horror movies that is trying to reflect on its predecessors of the 70s and 80s, the ones that had a lot of suspenseful, mundane build up.  The setup always involved adding fear to a very common, banal element of life.  Really, did babysitters ever feel nervous before the horror movie told them to beware the empty house?  The movie is not only set in the 80s but is shot as if it was done back then, using washed out grainy film and music that sounds like a bad attempt at AM radio rock.  The credits are especially well set up, large and yellow on white.

It's a devil worship movie if the opening text is saying anything, based on real events, but what events we will never know.  A college girl is in need of money and takes a job babysitting at a spooky, old house (but gorgeous of course  -- someone really needs to do a thesis on why previous era houses are automatically considered spooky) in the countryside.  Her friend drives her out and promises to pick her up in a few hours, as the job is quick and is only really housesitting the elderly mother while the spooky couple goes out for a night. The fun thing is that while the couple is obviously spooky (what IS that death's head lapel pin?), they are genuinely warm and friendly.  Unfortunately, Tom Noonan will always be scary especially when dressed like an undertaker.  The couple leaves and the girl is left to her own designs.  The last scene before we focus on her time in the house is seeing her friend get her head blown off by a bearded stranger.  We know something nefarious is going to happen but not what.

The babysitter's time in the house is a combination of boredom and curiosity with the usual bumps and creeks on the upper floors. Everything is quiet, uneventful and pregnant with anticipation.  She calls for a pizza and, of course, it is delivered by the bearded stranger. She roots through a closet and sees an entirely different family in a photo, but next to the same car the spooky couple left in.  In the back yard is a lonely van. Our babysitter is nervous but determined that it is nothing but her own imagination.  We know different.

The movie escalates when we are show the actions the spooky couple have taken (pentagrams, sacrificed bodies on the other side of a door) and after the babysitter realizes the pizza is dosed.  Her subsequent awakening to sacrifice in a satanic ritual is both familiar and creepy. There must be a dozen movies that were MST3K'd that had this theme.  But it is the 2000s and our heroine babysitter is a bit more resourceful getting out of her bonds soon after being fed the blood of the demonic looking leader of the ritual.  She does escape but is having hallucinations of the demonic face.  It all ends when we see her shoot herself, tormented to hysteria.

Last scene, in a hospital bed. She survived a through and through headshot?  She lies there recovering and a nurse comments that she will be alright, both of them.  And pats the girl's belly.  Insert sequel.

I have to wonder what makes a good horror movie. Is it originality? Is it faithfulness to the tropes of the genre? Is it bringing something fresh to the table?  This one is definitely a labor of love, being written, directed and edited by Ti West. He obviously loves the classic horror movies of young girls running away from antagonists in big, empty houses.  Our fun is in watching these mundane events play out seeing whether the usual scare tactics will play out. There is no cat in the closet, no one throws a bird at her and the dead guy doesn't pop up in a the final scene. I honestly don't think there will be a sequel as that was just another play on the genre.