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.