For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.
It’s Day 7 of Spooktober, and it seemed like just the right time for a little devil worshipping.
Written and directed by Ti West, The House of the Devil was quite a surprise for me when it came out. It feels and looks like the 80s films it aspires to, truly transporting you to that time. I honestly had to verify that I put on the right movie because it looked and sounded, with even the stylish opening credits, like it was made decades prior.
Do things ever work out well for babysitters in horror movies?
College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is in need of work, so when she spots a flyer on campus for a babysitting gig, even when reason after reason not to is glaringly waved in her face, she takes it. Even her best friend, played with a wry charm here by Greta Gerwig, get strange vibes from Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), and tries to talk her out of it. Especially, when he explains that there isn’t a child, but his elderly mother upstairs. This also just happens to be the night of a full lunar eclipse, turning the creepy knob to the max.
The House of the Devil is the way horror should be done. It banks on the less is more (until its bloody final act) not needing flashy effects, or overbearing subplots The result is atmospheric, slow building in tension in all of the right ways. We know what’s coming – to a degree- but the deliberately paced narrative ensures that the fear remains.
Donahue is perfect as the nuanced lead, innocent and yet not fragile. As someone who holds many scenes entirely on her own, she has to be magnetic or it won’t work. We watch her walk around the house, order pizza, dance with her cassette player, growing to care for Samantha, and never letting go of the sensation that… things are going to go badly.
The ending does feel a bit rushed, but I don’t mind it, I prefer the slow simmer to a boil that West cooks up (complete with copious amounts of corn syrup). It feels nostalgic and captures the essence of that decade and the horror classics of that time, with a rocking soundtrack and grainy cinematography, it fits like a well-worn pair of stone-washed jeans.
Clocking in at a lean but compelling, 93 minutes, West really shows off his talent for filmmaking here, giving us a retro vibe that seamlessly blends the chills with the eventual, gory, thrills.
I dig it: The House of the Devil is a real horror gem. It pays homage fondly, but still slips in its own distinct and eerie ambiance.