From the Vault: The House of the Devil

“From The Vault” is a feature exclusive to The Cinephiles “Month of Horror.”  It will serve to shine a spotlight on some of the newer horror films that have flown under the radar.

Building tension is an art form I fear the horror genre doesn’t have much use for anymore. A killer’s strike can be startling for sure, but waiting for the killer to strike can be excruciating. This tension has been replaced with special FX, forcing me to reiterate the old, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” rule. I am not entirely sure who made up that rule, but it was probably somebody’s mother. If there is one area The House of the Devil excels in, it’s taking that rule to heart.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), like all college students, is desperate for cash. She has found her dream place, but fears she may not have enough to put down a deposit. When she finds an ad on campus for a babysitter, she doesn’t think twice. From the moment we hear the advertiser’s voice on the phone, we do. When she arrives, she is greeted by the naturally creepy Tom Noonan, who informs her that she is not expected to babysit a child, but his mother. Uh-huh. Remember that part of the grand horror tradition is a protaganist’s lack of common sense. She takes the job.

From here the film takes its time, letting the house and the silence within it do all the work. Samantha does little but watch television, listen to her walkman and explore her surroundings. But you are always waiting, expecting this mysterious mother to make her appearance. 

Speaking of walkmans—remember walkmans? That’s another area where the film succeeds in spades. It feels like it was made in the 80’s. From the opening credits to its closing moments, director Ti West never slips up. Still, it is hard for me to declare this one a full success. The pacing is perhaps a bit too deliberate and the ending is merely adequate, which tends to be a problem when you have spent so much time getting there.  The House of the Devil is a fun, throwback horror film.  Not entirely satisfying in the end but, worth the trip there.

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