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The House of the Devil

October 23rd, 2009 by unkle lancifer · 8 Comments

After the phenomenal success of JOHN CARPENTER’s HALLOWEEN in 1978 horror movies began to fall from the sky. Eventually FRIDAY THE 13TH was released in 1980 and steered nearly all of the wannabes into a specific bloody direction, however there was a small bubble of time before FRIDAY (call it Thursday) where filmmakers scrambled to create something new and modern but still had one foot planted in traditional horror constructs. SILENT SCREAM, THE UNSEEN, and FUNERAL HOME are all post-HALLOWEEN fare that (sometimes to their detriment) relied more on mood and creepy characters than gore.

Gothic mansions, hidden family secrets or the simple device of having a young woman in the house alone was chilling enough for this crew and, in some instances, audiences yet to develop a hankering for carnage agreed. These are the horror movies you often hear referred to now as “boring” (let me throw later films 1982’s UNHINGED and 1981’s MADHOUSE into that pile as well), but for me they have always hit a quiet nerve. Cribbing just as much from PSYCHO as HALLOWEEN they all tend to share a mistrust of older generations and antiquated ways and fittingly end up as stylistic clashes between “modern” and “classic” horror as well. Too gruesome to appeal to one group, too restrained to appeal to the other, these chillers tend to fall through the cracks.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, which takes place in the early eighties, successfully captures the mood and pace of horror films of that time to a tee. In fact, any and all criticisms against it can just as easily be labeled as further proof of its accuracy. Heck, even its few time period slips (did I hear a car alarm?) seem like the type of harmless flub you’d expect to find in a low budget film of that era. I have a feeling that many modern viewers are going to have a hard time with this one, but as for myself, I have to admit to loving every minute. It’s front heavy with loads of set-up, its core consists of a girl meandering around a mansion giving herself the creeps (frankly I could have watched a two hour documentary on the incredible house this was filmed in alone) and it’s hard earned climax feels like a hit and run, but what can I say, I ate it up.

I liked how director TI WEST’s previous effort THE ROOST lovingly wore its horror fandom on its sleeve, but it ultimately left me cold and unconvinced, with THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL though, there’s just too much glorious atmosphere and too many interesting performances to ignore. Maybe I’m a glutton for nostalgia but the only thing I found missing was a personal dedication to myself in the closing credits admitting that the entire concept and all the casting choices were stolen from my dream journal.

Relative new comers JOCELIN DONAHUE and GRETA GERWIG are perfectly cast as pretty, but still from this planet, screamers, DEE WALLACE is the landlady I’ve dreamt of all my life, and TOM NOONAN and MARY WORONOV are simply, can’t take your eyes off them, arresting in every way. Really just seeing those latter two in the same room together was worth the $9.99 I spent watching this on pay-per-view. Again this movie is not for everyone (I know Aunt John was put off by the abrupt close), but if you are the type who has painstakingly tried to watch every film made in the time period this is set in, it’s pretty much like discovering an old VHS tape that had fallen between the shelves at your local mom and pop video store. It may not have the power to recruit new followers for this type of film, but die hard eighties horror buffs should consider THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL a genuine blast from the past.

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeff AllardNo Gravatar // Oct 23, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    I love, love, love the retro-style posters for this movie! So much so that I’d hate to see the movie itself and be let down. I’ll give it a shot eventually but right now I’m way behind on my Halloween viewing.

  • 2 Pax RomanoNo Gravatar // Oct 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Watched it weeks ago on First Run – loved it, what flipping throw back – and when that first shock comes, man it’s like being hit over the head with a ton of bricks.
    And of course, Mary Wornov is a national treasure, and should be in every movie ever made from this point on.

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Oct 23, 2009 at 6:42 pm


    I have a feeling that you will not be disappointed in this one. It’s not perfect but I think you’ll be like me and be too wrapped up in the nostalgia to care.
    Mary Woranov is just amazing. I have a book of her paintings and poetry and she’s just an amazing, amazing individual and that voice!
    I love Tom Noonan too, I think his movies “The Wife” and “What happened Was…” are just brilliant.

  • 4 aunt johnNo Gravatar // Oct 25, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Just to throw in my two cents on Mary Woronov — she is so beautiful in this movie because she has managed to avoid the Botox and/or weird face surgery that most actresses of a certain age seem so susceptible to.

    She looks her age and she looks fucking awesome.

    I love you Mary Woronov!

  • 5 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Mar 2, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    I saw this movie a couple of weeks ago and quite enjoyed it. I also thought it captured the era really well and the fact that you can have have a girl literally walking around a house for over half the film and not be bored, god bless! That’s good filmmaking.

    Also, the opening song reminds me a bit of Bye Bye Love by the Cars. Did anyone else get that vibe?

  • 6 Theauldlangsyne.No Gravatar // Mar 8, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I loved Jocelin Donahue. She reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘Halloween’.  One of the big disappointments of post-Halloween horror for me has been the misdirected emphasis on gratuitous nudity–don’t get me wrong I love that too.  But ‘HotD’ hits one of the grace notes of ‘Halloween’:  Donahue is so thrilling to watch.  She’s not just foxy, she’s mysterious.  However self-consciously something like ‘Scream’ may be in its homage to that kind of horror formula Neve Campbell just didn’t do it for me.  And while I agree that the rhythm of ‘House’ gets a little lost toward the end Donahue in that creepy mansion was just magnetic chemistry.
    And yes Amanda I also thought that was the Cars in the opening sequence, though I thought it was ‘All Mixed Up.’

  • 7 micksterNo Gravatar // Jun 8, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Prof VW and I watched this over the weekend and loved it! I would have bought this was made in the early 80s had I not already read about it here. I love when she dances around the creepy house listening to One Thing Leads to Another by The Fixx.

  • 8 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Sep 6, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Late post, but whatever. Just saw this last night. The bit where the babysitter goes up to knock on the old lady’s room and we see beyond the door….. Brrrrr. Really, really freaky. Almost worth watching for just that one scene.

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