House of the Devil (2009)
January 17, 2015 9:20 AM - Subscribe

Sam, a college student desperate for money, accepts an unusual babysitting job.

More about horror club.
posted by Librarypt (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yay, now I can finally respond to someone's comment that this movie is boring. This is definitely NOT a movie for people who expect tons of gore and jump scares in their horror movies.

One of the things I love about this movie is that it takes its time to slowly build suspense. It gives you clues throughout that the "babysitting" job Sam is doing is a ruse for something more sinister, but doesn't beat you over the head with it -- one of the scariest moments in the film to me is when she finds the closet full of fur coats, when earlier the wife had said the fur coats were in the basement. This is a very small thing, but why would someone lie about that? This is a movie that expects the audience to pay attention and rewards them for doing so. (And of course, right after that, she finds the photo of a different family at the house!)

And unlike most horror movies, it doesn't open with a random character getting murdered to show you exactly what's going to happen to Sam. The audience has no clue what's going to happen to Sam or what to expect, which makes it a lot more tense. This movie to me is a perfect example of how to build suspense.
posted by Librarypt at 9:27 AM on January 17, 2015


I was a little underwhelmed by this movie (it came with a LOT of hype) when I first saw it a few years ago, but I was much more taken with it the second time around. I haven't changed my mind about the basic problem I have with House of the Devil, which is that it's twenty minutes of story stretched out to ninety. But somehow knowing where the movie was going allowed me to enjoy it much more. It's remarkably well-made, and captures its period impeccably; interestingly, it feels more like an '80s verite drama than a grindhouse movie. And I appreciated the way West subtly shifted to a more modern style in the last act, removing any potential ironic distance between the audience and Sam's plight.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2015


If you hadn't told me it was made recently I would've completely bought it was from 1981 or something. Pitch perfect recreation.
posted by The Whelk at 10:57 AM on January 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


True, The Whelk, which was honestly why I was pretty underwhelmed by it.


It feels like a thing with Ti West and some other younger horror directors - they've got almost a fetish for sooooooooper-accurate recreations of junky flicks from the 70's and 80's, but they're so involved in making their versions so period accurate that they kind of miss the fact that an awful lot of the originals weren't actually . . . . . good. They were "creepy" because the acting was wooden, the pace was slow because they were trying to make a 75-minute movie out of about 35 minutes of script, the "atmospheric" lighting and "interesting" camera angles were because they didn't have the budget for enough gear or reshoots, and nobody really knew what they were doing. Or they didn't care, they were just looking for a quick buck.

I guess you could argue that the originals were, maybe, a kind of "outsider art", but when someone makes, y'know, a 110% exact replica of something, you kind of start to wonder, "Why bother? Why not just go to the source if I want something not great?"

Once the writers and directors start moving beyond the eerily accurate remakes and start integrating modern touches into their films, something more interesting starts to happen, as in Ti West's later The Innkeepers, which is actually a much better flick, IMO.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:46 AM on January 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


On preview I just deleted everything I was writing because saying "what soundguy99 said" pretty much sums it up. The only thing I'll keep is this. The best thing about HotD is that Ti West stayed at the Yankee Pedlar Inn while filming it.

I think what makes The Innkeepers a much better film is that it spends most of its time getting to know a couple of pretty relatable characters. The first third of HotD is boring, unless you consider an eventless tour of a lovingly recreated apartment from the early 80s, long walks on the campus, and dull diner conversations a way to create tension. Much of the first thirty minutes is spent wondering when she's finally going to get to the babysitting job that's so obviously at this House of the Devil suggested by the title to meet the satanic cult mentioned in the opening (likely fake?) factoid. The rest of it is just a standard, middle of the pack, 80s horror flick. Which makes it, to me at least, boring.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:23 PM on January 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


It feels like a thing with Ti West and some other younger horror directors - they've got almost a fetish for sooooooooper-accurate recreations of junky flicks from the 70's and 80's, but they're so involved in making their versions so period accurate that they kind of miss the fact that an awful lot of the originals weren't actually . . . . . good.

I agree that a lot of 70s and 80s horror movies are meh at best, but I don't understand how this invalidates HotD as a good movie. If it manages to perfectly recreate the feel of that time period AND be a better movie than them, isn't that an accomplishment? I doubt Ti West was thinking, "Hey, these movies really suck, I want my movie to suck too!" There's a nostalgia factor involved, and to take that and turn it into a suspenseful, well-paced, good horror movie is a mark of talent.

I think what makes The Innkeepers a much better film is that it spends most of its time getting to know a couple of pretty relatable characters.

The Innkeepers isn't a bad movie, but it doesn't really compare with this one, imo. I felt The Innkeepers was disjointed and meandering, with a couple of effective scares but no real point and a disappointing payoff. It was less coherent than HotD, which is clearly building toward a specific climax.
posted by Librarypt at 3:26 PM on January 17, 2015 [3 favorites]




There's a nostalgia factor involved, and to take that and turn it into a suspenseful, well-paced, good horror movie is a mark of talent.

And I don't think West is trying to recreate an '80s exploitation film (flaws and all or otherwise) either, which is interesting. There's so no self-conscious cheesiness or schlock at all. He's really just making an '80s film that happens to be a horror film, but in terms of its aesthetic is just broadly an '80s film. If anything, it may suffer from not being exploitation-y enough.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:23 PM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


If it manages to perfectly recreate the feel of that time period AND be a better movie than them, isn't that an accomplishment?

But I don't think it is a better movie, is my point - it's got all the same pacing problems and plot holes and story incomprehensibility and indifferent characterization and awkward cinematography and mediocre effects (or shots that make it abundantly clear that the director's trying to avoid having to use effects as much as possible) and so on and so forth as the films it's copying. The originals had these problems because the filmmakers didn't have the money and/or talent and/or skill to do better; this movie has the problems because West intentionally chose to ape those films. But for all that they were intentional stylistic choices, they're still ingredients that add up to a not-so-good film.

If you think McDonald's hamburgers are gross, and then you go home and figure out how to make a hamburger that looks, tastes, and smells exactly like a McDonald's burger, I guess that's sort of an accomplishment, but it doesn't make your burger actually less gross, y'know? Either way, the end result is still a McDonald's hamburger.

Not that I think West and everyone else involved doesn't have talent - it's just odd to see that talent put towards accurately mimicking films that just weren't all that good the first time around.


I do think there's a generational nostalgia thing happening here, though (lawn, mine, off it); I've got about ten years on West and his contemporaries, which means (IMO) that he encountered the original films as sort of historical artifacts of a certain period of the genre. So it makes a certain amount of sense that these young horror filmmakers are going to be interested in making versions of the films that influenced them at an impressionable age. Whereas to me, these films were just what was available to watch in the theater or on cable or VHS rental. So I'm going to be aware of the flaws these recreations have because they're recreations, and I saw the flaws the first time around without the benefit of being able to view the originals as sort of "vintage period pieces."
posted by soundguy99 at 5:45 PM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just wrapped this one up, and count me in with the folks saying the movie was boring. In fact, the talk of working 30 minutes of story into a 90 minute movie seems pretty apt. I mean nothing happens at all for the first hour, excluding the friend getting shot in the face.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:16 AM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I don't think it is a better movie, is my point

Having seen a ton of super terrible 80s and 70s horror movies, I absolutely disagree with you on this point. This movie is not only competent, it should be used as an example of how to build tension in a film.

I still love this movie, ain't give a damn about haters
posted by Librarypt at 6:59 AM on January 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I liked House of the Devil well enough to watch it twice and enjoy it both times. It's been over a year so I can't remember everything about it, but I agree with Librarypt. I liked the slow pace and I was creeped out whenever the filmmakers wanted me to be creeped out. I loved the 80's aesthetic. The first time around I enjoyed the twist ending. The second time I just enjoyed the vibe and creepiness. Good flick!
posted by isthmus at 2:20 PM on January 20, 2015


I just noticed this thread so I'm jumping in a little late (does anyone read the posts down here?) but I figured I'd put a few cents on record.

I did the 2nd Unit directing on The House of The Devil (the newscasters, specifically), did the sound design, some of the music, took most of the stills, play the radio dj voice, grew up with Ti, etc etc etc. Can't speak for Ti but I can speak to my experience at least… which I'm compelled to do partially because it's so surreal to me to see Metafilter discussing it / hear Cortex and Griphus discuss it and it still hasn't fully sunk in that this weird little movie we made is relatively popular and people talk about it at all.

The main thing is that in terms of intent, yes, there was some attempt to try and capture the feel of the early 1980's films that we grew up watching - but in a way it was less about trying to create a simulacrum of an early 80's film and more of an attempt to create a period piece in which the medium mimics the subject matter. But in terms of cinematic technique, there's more being lifted directly from Polanski and Hitchcock than VHS horror. Whether the film is cinematically successful on that level is not for me to say, but much of the influence was consciously coming from good pedigree. The tiny budget and ridiculously quick schedule of HOTD probably ended up contributing an equal amount to it actually feeling like an 80's film. (and shooting on super 16mm)

RE: the whole "slow burn" thing… I GET it, but at the same time I've always been a little frustrated by it, and I think it has more to do with modern viewing habits than the film itself. Not that all older films are slow, or all modern films are fast, but maybe the need to slow things down in this movie was a reaction to the frustration with years of films speeding up - the landscape of mainstream horror 2005-2008 (the general period in which this film was written and completed) was getting so brisk there was almost no ability to enjoy the world created in the film, no ability to enjoy the tone- which was one of the great things about earlier horror. Then movies like Let The Right One In came out and helped swing things around again - but that came out while we were already in post on HOTD (we also had to swap out a song by Secret Service, which Ti had written into the script, because it turned up in the final set piece of LTROI. I made a soundalike, which plays on the radio during Greta's death scene). It's also just Ti's style. Anyways, everyone's taste is different, but I personally don't find anything boring about HOTD's pacing - because the film to me is about as much about tone as it is about plot. I the success of that has a lot to do with expectations, and everyone comes to a movie like this with different expectations.

And if Cortex and Griphus are reading - the candy bars were real. Those brands were chosen (Clark bars, I think?) because they were still packaged in the early 80's design! (or were, as of 2008 when we shot the film)

Glad to see that people watch the film and are enjoying / talking about it. We're almost done with his new film… it's a western!
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:05 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd Did enjoy settling into the mood once it was clear it was going to be a slow burn thing and I could just let myself sink into it not worrying what the twists are going to be.
posted by The Whelk at 5:18 PM on March 30, 2015


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