October 30, 2009
Jocelin Donahue as Samantha
Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman
Mary Woronov as Mrs. Ulman
AJ Bowen as Victor Ulman
Dee Wallace as Landlady
An amazing horror film doesn’t simply linger in the chambers of the human memory bank; an amazing horror film will force a knot in the abdominals and inundate one’s memory with random flashes of terror that cannot seemingly be evaded. Greatness doesn’t simply dawdle, it lives forever: it thrives. Ti West, a talented young filmmaker from Delaware has already uncovered a recipe to howl over, and The House of the Devil is just one platform with which he’s showcased his acclaimed procedure.Like many other filmmakers, Ti West incorporates qualities exhibited in the works of monumentally influential artists, modified with subtle personal style traits. In West’s case, it’s not too challenging to spot the Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and Bob Clark influences; the dim lighting, heavy reliance on suspense and symbolic camera angles all serve as dead giveaway’s, though not for one moment does West’s work feel the carbon copy, this is quality art built on self-established ability and sound knowledge of filmmaking.
The concept of The House of the Devil doesn’t step too far from the restraint of the box, but what it lacks in general originality, it makes up for with pure multiplicity. The story of financially strapped college student Samantha who, on the eve of a full solar eclipse, walks straight into a satanic ceremony as the star attraction taps the strengths of the finest 1970’s and 1980’s shockers. The picture emits a sensation that I’m having difficulty articulating, but I’d unquestionably liken it to a few bona fide classics… in fact it’s almost as if Carpenter’s Halloween met with Fred Walton’sWhen a Stranger Calls, had a few too many drinks and made Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.The House of the Devil runs a total of 95 minutes, and every last one is gripping and quite nostalgic.
The casting work here is solid, and definitely aimed at dedicated genre fans, as horror staples Dee Wallace, Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan all appear, as does the surging standout of the macabre, AJ Bowen. While these faces serve as further hat tips, a few also tackle significant roles, and shine while doing so. Tom Noonan is absolutely spine tingling in his portrayal of Mr. Ulman, a man with a few too many idiosyncrasies to chalk up to simple awkwardness, and from a fan as well as viewer’s perspective I’ve got to say this is one of the more unnerving performances I’ve seen on screen, ever. Woronov offers the same promise initially, but is ultimately a tad underused, as is Wallace, who basically embraces a mere cameo; Bowen does what he does well, look creepy, talk creepy, accost and slaughter. As for Jocelin Donahue, our easily identifiable survivor girl, well, she’s astounding: especially under the pressure of carrying a geographically confined picture on her back. She’s also gorgeous in a (unique by today’s standards) natural sense, that aids as a firm reminder that a bucket of E.L.F isn’t a necessary requirement to achieve physical perfection.
If high tension and gratifying finales grasp your fancy, The House of the Devil is a mandatory watch; if you happen to hold a dear affinity for vintage horror, it’s a guaranteed A+ winner. The story is told in straight forward fashion, but never once shows a lack of respect for the viewer in taking shortcuts or exhibiting laziness, and that is deeply appreciated. The 16mm print is a pictorial marvel and uninspired post production is never once a factor: this film is technically genius on all fronts: even West’s editing totes a personality of its own, and it’s one that jives with the mold of this picture flawlessly.