Dear Ti West,
It is a rare thing when you wait for something for so long only to have it meet, let alone exceed your expectations. Honestly I cannot remember the last time something like that has happened to me in the realm of film. You however sir, you’ve made me quite a happy man.
Last night I was able to attend one of the few screenings of your newest film, THE HOUSE OF DEVIL in Los Angeles (I believe it’s only playing for 6 days, four show times a day. A shame when you figure saw is playing everywhere ‘for halloween’ – nothing is less Halloween than saw) and for the remainder of the night I was in such a good mood I could barely fall asleep.
First let me state the obvious – you sir, you get it. I know The House of the Devil is being pimped as a homage to 80’s horror movies, but that is not what I saw at all. What I saw was the perfected version of those movies of yore. You took the concepts, atmosphere and technique of the forgotten 80’s horror films and perfected them. It stops being an homage when you surpass, and make no mistake about it Mr. West, surpass them you did.
I cannot think of a single movie from that era that performs this strong across the board. Some who might read this will mistake what I’m saying, but I know you get it Mr. West. I’m not suggesting you’ve dethroned JC’s Halloween or Hooper’s TCM, but you’ve at least earned a spot on the same shelf. There is a long list of imperfect, forgotten flicks out there like House by the Cemetary, 976-Evil, ah, see, I can’t even think of anymore of them off the top of my head. The stuff you’d see on a UHF station at 11 PM on a weeknight in 1988; fuzzed out and edited for content but creepy and disturbing nonetheless. This is the arena you’ve entered and mastered with The House of the Devil and I for one was absolutely fucking mezmerized THE ENTIRE time I sat in my uncomfortable chair at the art-house theatre with my eyes glued to the screen. The acting was top notch, the set design was breathtaking and every little nuance of the camera work, from the wide shots on the house so we could see protagonist Samantha frantically trying to keep the dark at bay to close-ups on the kitchen sink was an integral part of the slow and steady descent into absolute horror you gave us, and for this I thank you. You have a fan for life sir.
Shawn C. Baker
So I had to start this one out with a personalized shout out. Drag Me to Hell is a close contender, and I did LOVE it so, but The House of the Devil was just unbelievably constructed and I have to give it horror movie of the year (decade?).
Let’s tick off the checklist, shall we?
Acting? Check. Jocelin Donahue was FANTASTIC in the lead as Samantha. This was such a great performance because a lot of it was acting and reacting to the House itself, a strong ‘character’ of malevolence and foreboding for many of the key moments of the film. And when she turned on the terror in the third act, she really turned it on. Sent some freakin’ shivers down my spine, I can tell you that.
Tom Noonan, where the hell do I start? The scene at the kitchen table, where Samantha initially turns Mr. Ullman down – the way he started, jerking up out of his seat suddenly into a half-stance as if to grab her by the wrist. WOW! It’s amazing something so simple can be so effective, but it was. I’m still marveling after their chemistry on screen together, especially there. Jocelin’s reaction to Noonan was perfect!
Mary Woronov – Serpentine. That’s all I can say. Serpentine.
And AJ Bowman – creepy as hell with no gimmicks. The lighter scene with Megan – wow.
Next – setting. Do I even need to say how well that house was chosen and shot? I’ll be walking through that one in nightmares for years to come* and all cinematic houses of ill repute will be held to the standard it set. The camera work made special attentions to small things like doorknobs, window frames and faucets and every single nuance added up to a whole – a whole lotta creepy.
And speaking of camera work, I’ve already heard some people say there is an ‘amateur’ technique here. Well, if I ever hear that in person you better believe I am going to walk over and smack the fucking taste out of the naysayer’s mouth. Amateur my arse. What I saw was a return to the simpler, more powerful film making of the 70’s and 80’s. Horror nowadays is shot and cut for the empty-v generation, the video game generation, and the text generation. Flash – Cut – Flash – Cut. Music non-stop to cross-market the soundtrack.** No one can ever just hold on something and let the scene, setting and actors breathe naturally like they would be wont to do in real life. Ti West did and that is why this movie was so goddamn frightening by the end – it literally had my pulse pounding and my senses riveted by the time the climax came in, so I was almost as disoriented and terrified as poor Samantha.
Wow, I could go on all night, but instead I’d rather throw on Confessions of a Knife by My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and think back to the days of the great Satanic Panic. Perhaps I’ll even take a dip in the true crime section (normally gag!) and look for a copy of Satan Says. Ah, the good old days… when evil lurked in the corners of every small town!***
* Partially because it reminded me in some ways of the house where I grew up. Minus the dissected ten year old upstairs and giant pentagrams. Ours weren’t quite so ostentatious!
** And major props to Composer Jeff Grace and Audio Designer Graham Reznick for the sound!!!
*** A selfish statement indeed upon reflection when thinking about the downsides to that ridiculous time – West Memphis Three anyone? How entire towns (states? Countrys?) of people got so ignorant is beyond me. Real life tragedies aside, the era is a great catalyst for lore.