Every once in a while a movie comes along that takes you entirely by surprise because you may not only have never heard of it before, but also because it turns out to be an excellent viewing experience. Ti West's "The House of the Devil" is definitely such a candidate - a serious throwback to 80s horror the film oozes atmosphere and suspense.
College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is about to move into a new apartment to get away from her no-good dorm room mate, but is seriously short of money to pay for the rent. To quickly come up with money for the downpayment she takes a job as a babysitter, answering on an ad she finds around campus.
Outside of town she arrives at the mansion of the creepy Ulman family, only to find that the job is not exactly what she was expecting. Not only is there no child to babysit, there are also these truly weird people giving her the creeps. As Mr. Ulman quadruples her salary she decides to stay for the job despite her own apprehension and against her best friend's advice. What follows is a nightmare that seems to take her to hell and back again as she finds out that she has walked straight into the claws of a Satanic Cult.
Let me be straight for you. I loved "House of the Devil" and I think it is probably one of the most effective horror films I have seen in years. Not one of those posh little modern teenie horror flicks that paint the screen red with blood and gore, and try to be cool by throwing in retarded jokes and one-liners, "The House of the Devil" tries to scare through its truly unsettling atmosphere and a few sparsely placed shocks. The film starts a little slow with a long exposition but starts to build its knuckle-clenching suspense soon enough.
What immediately strikes you as a viewer is the film's look. Every frame looks and feels as if it came right out of the late 70s or 80s, with a muted color palette and set decorations that harken back to those glory days of modern horror. The film conjures up the look of the era so much that I actually had to go back and double-check to make sure this is really a brand new film produced in 2009. I can't even imagine how an independent filmmaker managed to get such a consistent period look, complete with cars, city streets, home interiors, costumes, set decorations and props and hairstyles. Hats off to Ti West and his crew for their hard work to achieve this authentic look that gives the film a very unique look and feel in today's horror landscape.
The movie features a cast that consists of new faces as well as cult icons such as Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov and Dee Wallace, making for a good round-up of characters. Jocelin Donahue, who plays the main character, is the highlight however, as she dances and skips through the film with not a worry on her mind, until she begins the feel the creepiness crawl over her and she becomes a great modern-day scream queen.
MPI Media Group presents "The House of the Devil" in a solid widescreen transfer on this disc. Although a bit grainy at times, it is important to point out that this amount of grain is essential to recreate the typical 70s film look that director Ti West had in mind, and should not be confused with a bad DVD transfer. In fact, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the quality of the transfer as the image is free of compression artifacts of any sorts despite the noise in the image, which is notoriously hard to encode properly.
The film features a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track that makes good use of the surrounds and offers a solid, well balanced presentation throughout, down to the easy going pop tunes resembling the era.
As extras the DVD contains a commentary track by director Ti West and star Jocelin Donahue, as well as a production commentary with Ti West, his producer and cast members. Both tracks are engaging and quite vividly tell about the ambition to make this movie, the impetus to make it such a throwback and how it was all achieved. Very interesting stuff throughout that many fledgling filmmakers should take a page from.
Also included are deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and cast and crew interviews, as well as the movie's trailer.
"The House of the Devil" was complete surprise for me. Upon a recommendation from a friend, I checked out this disc and was lad I did. This is the type of horror film they just don't make anymore these days - or so you thought. It is oozing a creepy atmosphere and delivers solid shocks, toying with the viewer's imagination and then culminating in one breathtaking climax which is so effective, in fact, that it left me speechless for a few moments. This is the fabric of which some of the greatest horror film have bee made of and "The House of the Devil" easily fits in with them. Highly recommended!