Essays · Movies

31 Days of Horror: House of the Devil

By  · Published on October 25th, 2010

When the calendar page turns to October, we Rejects have only one thought: horror. To celebrate this grandest and darkest of months, we’ll cover one excellent horror film a day for the entirety of the month. That’s 31 Days of Horror and 31 Films perfect for viewing on a dark, chilly, October night. If you, like us, love horror and Halloween, give us a Hell Yeah and keep coming every day this month for a new dose of adrenaline.

College student Samantha Hughes has found her perfect apartment. The problem is, as one would expect, she has to come up with the rent each month. In desperation, she turns to the campus bulletin board and inquires about a babysitting job posted there. When she arrives at the house, she is told that she is actually caring for an invalid elderly woman whom she will probably never see. Though uneasy about the scenario, the man hiring her offers $400 for her services which makes it impossible to turn down the gig. By the end of the night, Samantha will wish she had opted for the dog-walking job flyer instead.

Killer Scene: This lofty distinction belongs to the first kill of the film. After dropping off Samantha, her friend Megan stops to have a cigarette. She thinks she’s alone until a stranger appears to kindly offer her a light. A casual conversation ensues in which he asks if she is the babysitter. The minute she answers that she’s not, she gets shot in the face. This violent outburst is completely unexpected and A.J. Bowen sells his harmlessness so well; the guy’s a great actor.

Kill Sheet

Violence: Though it takes some time to get there, when the proverbial fecal matter meets the fan, things get messy in this fancy Victorian house. Samantha is determined to escape and, contrary to most horror films, makes mostly wise decisions in her pursuit of freedom and shows little to no hesitation. Her final solution proves her brass ovaries and is arrived upon surprisingly quickly. The kills are mostly via blades so the blood is plentiful.

Sex: Nope. Only the auditory suggestion that her roommate is having sex. And suggestions just won’t cut it around here.

Scares: The climax of the film is very unnerving and can cause no small amount of seat-squirming. I also think the face of the crone that keeps appearing in Samantha’s head, and thereby on screen for the audience, is very frightening and reminiscent of those near subliminal images in The Exorcist; no slight compliment to pay this film.

Final Thoughts: I love House of the Devil. It is one of my favorite horror films of the last 10 years. It is a movie custom built for somebody like me because it is a pitch-perfect throwback to the Satan-centric horror films of the early 80’s. When I say that, I don’t just mean that writer/director Ti West simply set the film in the 80’s and made Satanists the antagonists. Every moment of this film lives and breathes exactly as if it were made in my favorite of decades. The the characters, the framing of shots, the title cards, the score all ring true. And as a faithful soldier of the army of fallen formats, I absolutely loved that House of the Devil was released simultaneously on DVD, Blu-ray, and VHS! That is the icing on this retro cake, and yes I own it.

I’ve heard many people complain that House of the Devil is boring; the slightly less negative criticism being that it is slow. While I can see where folks are coming from regarding the latter, I don’t find anything boring about this film. Yes, it is a film about a girl alone in a house and yes, she single-handedly unravels the mystery of this family at a deliberate pace, but I am fascinated by the journey and completely satisfied by the destination. The film builds tension with every quiet moment. Every moment she spends in that house is eerie if for no other reason than there is a universal aversion most of us have toward being alone (the reclusive mother is there, yes, but alone for all intents and purposes) in a big house. I honestly think it is the same tension built by The Shining, though admittedly more compartmentalized.

For more of our (almost complete) 31 Days of Horror feature, click the bloody banner below:

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.