An innocent babysitter gets her redwings the hard way in The House of the Devil.
The House of the Devil an exercise in '80s PTSD that somehow works
by Sean "bad movie knight" Hanson
EXPECTATIONS: There's a lot of hype surrounding The House of the Devil, with some calling it the horror movie of the year and others calling it the horror movie of the decade. With an innovative distribution plan, hitting On-Demand and XBOX Live before the multiplexes, perhaps The House of the Devil will surpass in quality Trick 'r Treat and Paranormal Activity, two other horror flicks that also found mainstream success through unusual publishing schemes.
REALITY: Buying Magnetic Poetry: '80s Horror might be the wisest thing Ti West has ever done with $20. In The House of the Devil, West combines a few nouns from that set -- babysitter, Satanic ritual, rotary phone -- into a screenplay that generates a modicum of tension on its way to an unsatisfying conclusion.
Maybe I'm too progressive to enjoy retro callbacks, but West's frighteningly accurate, straight-faced resurrection of the rhythms, aesthetics and components of '80s horror is a dubious achievement at best. After all, those of us who remember the kind of films West is channeling in The House of the Dead also remember they weren't very good, with nary an unqualified success in the bunch.
After all, West isn't channeling The Thing or Re-Animator; he's channeling minor-leaguers, the endless series of direct-to-VHS babysitter-in-peril flicks that were only worthwhile when nothing interesting was on SelecTV.
It's fitting, then, that The House of the Devil isn't an unqualified success either. While he breathes new life into genre elements from way back when (setting a horror flick in the era of landlines is a masterstroke, circumventing the need to disable the characters' cell phones in some trite and tired way), it's all build-up with little payoff.
The climax is too short to be filling, a tantalizing gory chase scene that leaves questions unanswered and the viewer hungry for more -- why bother going into fifth gear at all if you're about to hit the brakes?
Surprisingly, the one virtuoso scene in The House of the Devil that lingers after the credits roll is devoid of any horror elements whatsoever: An extended montage of our babysitter dancing through the house while "One Thing Leads to Another" plays on her Walkman, an homage of sorts to a similar scene from The Breakfast Club and a painfully accurate reminder of what it was like to be young and bored in the '80s.
Don't let the lukewarm review fool you. The House of the Devil may be imperfect and lopsided, and Ti West makes a huge misstep in eschewing the technical progress horror has made in the last two decades for warts-and-all mimicry of a certain filmmaking style, but there's never a dull moment, and...well, the montage is better than anything else set to "One Things Leads to Another."
Yes, it's the perfect form for surviving a car crash. But it's also the perfect form for so much more, like surviving the trauma of reading any news headline in 2016.
It's just a little confusing, is all.
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