Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The House of the Devil (2009)

The House of the Devil is a brilliant and loving recreation of classic 70s and 80s horror movies covering shit like Suspiria, Rosemary's Baby, some slasher shit, maybe The Beyond, various other stuff, etc. What Ti West (the writer, director, and editor) has done is beyond extraordinary. He's created an authentic period piece (down to hair styles, clothing, cars, news reports, phones) and also filmed the thing using the techniques of the period (including the fantastic opening credits) on what must have been a pea sized budget. What we have here is a picture evoking, not only the best American horror films of that era, but also the strongest of the Italian giallos (from masters such as Argento, Fulci, Bava, etc). This movie puts modern shit to shame by ditching the irony, focusing on the atmospherics, giving the audience a nice slow burn that they all so clearly.....ah hell, I can't do it. What Ti West did was basically remake all the boring parts from those movies we love. Let's face it, the majority of those pictures (I still love them) have long stretches of tedium. The House of the Devil is a glorious recreation of that tedium.

The picture gets off to a good start by introducing us to the lovely Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue), a sophomore at a small town college looking to improve her living situation (dorm mate snores and has sex lots). She meets up with landlady Dee Wallace (whose only reason for being in the picture is to remind us how in love with the genre this film really is) who agrees to give her the apartment if she can come up with three hundred bucks up front. Sam's only got $84 in her bank account which might be a problem. She has until monday. Luckily, she notices flyers strewn around campus looking for a babysitter. She calls the number. The calmly disheveled voice on the other end of the phone tells her to meet him at student services. He doesn't show up. That's that I guess. Also, she used a pay phone if you weren't sure this was taking place during another time.

Anyway, guy calls her back. He's in a bind. His other sitter bailed. Would she be willing to come out tonight? Job pays $100. She gets her friend with the Farrah Fawcett hair to drive out with her. They drive and drive and drive. Through woods, etc. Also, there's a full lunar eclipse that night. Eventually, they arrive at the house (of the devil) and are greeted by Tom Noonan (the voice on the other end of the phone) and his cane. Nobody does quiet, nice and psychotic quite like Noonan. Noonan explains the job. It's not really a kid, it's his mother. Sam says "time to leave". Noonan eventually agrees to give her $400 if she'll stay (Sam's demand). That'll take care of the apartment and maybe score her some coke! Her friend doesn't like it, wants her to leave, and then leaves by herself with a promise to return at midnight to pick Sam up. While pulling out of the driveway she stops to light a smoke but can't find her lighter and the car lighter is taking too long. Luckily, a svelte looking Kevin Smith shows up with a zippo. SPOILER: Then he blows off her face with a revolver.

Ok, so now I'm fully on board even if the spoiled effect (referenced above) did look a little too good for the time period. Noonan introduces Sam to his wife who was in Eating Raoul (which I still haven't seen despite referencing it in two reviews; this and Chopping Mall). They seem nice enough. There's a number for a pizza place on the fridge. I know this because Noonan says it four times. Finally, Noonan and his wife head out. The old lady is apparently upstairs but Sam doesn't have to do anything. Just hang around until they get back. Let the excitement begin.

I waited and waited and waited. We got scenes of Sam walking around the house. She racks up a pool game. She sits down. She tries calling her friend. She hits a few keys on the piano. She orders a pizza. She watches the local news. She listens to her walkmen (which, I'm not sure, but this might be an anachronism.....probably not). She dances. She calls her friend again. This shit goes on forever. I closed my eyes a couple times. I can take slow movies if there's a point. Here, I couldn't figure out what that point was. If this were a war movie we could attribute it to the horrors of waiting for the actual battle to start. Here, there is no sense of dread. I mean, I know right away that Noonan and his wife and Kevin Smith are up to no good. I was also pretty sure that nothing would happen during any of these carefree moments since the director was doing nothing to prepare us for that shit. Sure, there's the third phone call to her friend who pulls the old "hello...haha you dumbass, you thought it was me" trick on her answering machine (and who the hell had answering machines back then anyway?). Ok, the answering machine thing and the walkmen thing are what amounts to insignificant nitpicks. Bottom line, for a good 30 minutes or so I was bored.

Then the pizza guy arrives and it's the same guy that blew off Sam's friend's face only Sam doesn't know that. We do, but I'm not sure I gave a shit at this point. I liked Sam and all. I mean, she's cute but I certainly didn't love her. She got herself into this shitstorm and then had the gall to press Noonan for an extra 100 bucks. So, she eats the pizza but it tastes funny. Then she passes out for some reason and when she comes to she is bound to a pentagram on the floor in the basement or something. We got Noonan, his wife, Smith, and some old witch (I'm guessing mom) doing satanic rituals on Sam. Whoa...I felt like we just showed Sam watching the news for 30 minutes and now we have pentagrams being painted on her belly and blood being funneled down her throat through a goats head and all this has taken like 30 seconds. The pacing could use some work is what I'm getting at.

So, I admired the intent more than the finished product. Also, what's with the modern sound effects (which evoked Saw for me) every time we see a quick flash of the devil, or that witch, or whomever? That shit took me out of it a bit. There's enough here to like that I'll definitely pay attention to West in the future, maybe check out Cabin Fever 2? The ending could have possibly set up a sequel but I kinda hope the guy moves on to something different. Maybe he had too much on his plate for this one? Some tighter editing for the middle parts and maybe a little looser editing for the climax and he might have had himself a moderately effective little chiller. Instead it's just a somewhat masturbatory homage which is sorely lacking tits and ass. I can understand the lack of bush (who has time to wait for an actress to grow that shit out) but no tits? No ass? What is this?? The fucking 90s!?


elmo said...

Your first paragraph had me wanting to see it. Then you went ON THE RAG and starting complaining gratuitously. I suppose I'll rent the fucker...

brian said...

Yeah, sorry about the bait & switch. But that's what I felt like the movie did to me. I was so excited to see my favorite era for horror recreated and for the first 20 minutes or so I was loving it. Then, we get to the house, and it becomes clear that the director isn't that adept at generating tension through mundane situations. And the ending was downright loony, but not in a good way. Seriously, from the time she learns what Noonan and his clan are up to until the end credits it takes about five minutes. It's like suddenly the director found some sweet editing software on his computer and went to town with it.

elmo said...

I'll have it Monday. It may turn me off movies forever.

elmo said...

You were right. About EVERYTHING.