Well, I’m home alone and will continue to be alone all night. It’s dark. And it’s very nearly a full moon.
I guess it’s time to start watching horror movies again.
Sadly, I think my expectations might have been a bit too high.
Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is hired by creepy people she doesn’t know for a babysitting job out in the middle of nowhere. Things go badly.
1. The House of the Devil is set sometime in the 80’s — early 80’s, most likely, going by the still 70’s influenced hair — and Ti West does a pretty phenomenal job of making the film look like it was actually made in the late 70’s/early 80’s. If you were just flipping around TV one day and found this movie on HBO, you’d definitely think it was about thirty years old.
2. And if you’re going to do an 80’s horror movie, you might as well commit with your cameos. Case in point: Dee Wallace.
Of course, Dee Wallace’s four minute character is probably the most ridiculous part of the whole movie. Or I don’t know, maybe things were really different in the 80’s — my memories of the decade are fuzzy, only having been alive for half of it — but were landlords really such naive bastards that they would not only forego the whole security deposit thing but also not bother to check if their new tenant even had a job? Seriously? Where the hell is my time machine? I could probably put up with shoulder pads and Tears for Fears for landlords like that. (I kid. I like some Tears for Fears songs. Not shoulder pads, though. Those are hellish things that should go back to the fiery lands from whence they came.)
3. While I generally like that Ti West truly commits to the genre . . . did there really have to be a based on true events slapped onto this movie? Really? I sighed out loud when I saw that.
4. The House of the Devil has a pretty slow build, but I knew that going in, so I was mostly all right with it. There were a couple of shots that I felt were a bit unnecessarily long, but for the most part I was pretty okay with slow slow slow SHOCKING VIOLENCE slow slow slow slow . . .
5. As a horror fan, I liked this movie because I could see what Ti West was doing and I thought it was very skillfully handled. It’s actually pretty creepy at parts. At one point in the movie, I decided to switch sides on the couch so that I actually had my back to the wall instead of towards the staircase. That’s a decent indication of the eeep factor.
Once the film ended, I was very much, “Okay, well, now that’s over . . . so . . . who wants Pringles?” You know? I connected to the film on an intellectual level but not really an emotional one. Certain shots were definitely creepy, but there was no lingering sense of dread when the film ended. Samantha is an adequate protagonist, but I wasn’t particularly invested in her, either. The ending wasn’t bad, exactly, but it was just sort of eh — not original, not masterful, just there. So, I liked it well enough while watching it, but I was ultimately disappointed by the time the credits rolled, and I don’t have a lot of interest in seeing it again, either.
6. There’s a point in the film where Samantha is dancing around the house with her gigantic walkman. She opens the door to the basement, glances down at the creepy staircase, and then immediately shuts the door, clearly thinking, Fuck that. Narrow staircases and creepsome basements don’t belong anywhere near my fun dance montage.
I don’t know why, but that might have been my favorite part in the whole movie.
Mostly everything else I want to talk about includes spoilers, so if you don’t want to read what happens in the film, go away somewhere else for awhile.
Actually, here’s a funny thing related to almost nothing at all. Occasionally, I’ll keep my notebook open and jot down a few things if there’s anything I want to remember to put in the review. At one point during the film, however, my notebook was awkwardly shoved to one side, and instead of just moving it like a normal person, I decided to write down the words eye, hair, bathtub, and creepy with my left hand. I am decidedly not ambidextrous, and at best, these words look like a particularly young child wrote them. At worst, they appear to be the mad scribblings of a serial killer.
Anyway. The movie begins with some stats about how many Americans believed in Satan-worshipping cults in the 1980’s, letting you know where the movie is headed from the get-go. Also, it tells us that the story is based on true, unexplained events which . . . ugh. I already bitched about this. Moving on.
So, Sam rather improbably finds a new house to live in. She really wants this place because living in a dorm with the messy girl who has bad phone skills and is constantly having sex can be kind of annoying. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t actually have a job to pay for this new house, either, which makes me wonder how she was affording the dorm in the first place, but whatever. She answers a skeevy babysitter flier and takes the job, even after Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) stands her up once when he’s supposed to meet her and then later tells her that there is no baby — she’s actually there to watch the grandmother who, mysteriously, never leaves her room and isn’t to be disturbed.
Sam’s best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), thinks this is a shitty idea and tells her so repeatedly, but Sam is desperate for the money. Megan drives off and stops to smoke in her car. A guy pops up out of nowhere to offer her a light, and instead of driving away at once, Megan decides to accept it. At least she’s clearly creeped out. Still, this is why you don’t stop near cemeteries to smoke . . . because when strange men realize that you aren’t the babysitter they’re waiting for, they just pull out a gun and abruptly shoot you in the head.
Poor Megan. I mean, we all knew she was going to die . . . she’s a best friend and she smokes? Please. Still, she was likable, and you feel a bit bad for her. It’s a good death scene, though, and timed particularly well, since the next actual bit of violence won’t happen for another half hour at least.
So, Sam pokes around the house for awhile and eventually gets pretty creeped out when she finds a photo of some random family in front of the Ulman’s car. She instantly goes for the knife (which, cool, proactive) and looks around some more, although she doesn’t go inside the grandmother’s room, which is too bad since we find out that there are three dead bodies in there. She does find huge chunks of dark hair in the bathtub that are surprisingly creepy — I mean, there’s no blood on them or anything; it’s just hair, but it’s still one of the most original shots in the whole movie, I think, and is fairly disturbing for no real reason at all.
At some point, the pizza Sam ordered is delivered. The delivery boy is the guy who killed Megan. Also, the medium sized pepperoni pizza is eight dollars. Seriously, where is my damn time machine?
Of course, the pizza is drugged, which is nicely foreshadowed in a couple of different ways. (The pizza Megan’s eating earlier in the film is bad, and Mr. Ulman pushes the pizza delivery number on Sam three times before he leaves.) Sam runs around and eventually passes out, and when she comes to, she’s tied to the floor in the middle of an inverted pentagram. Mr. Ulman, Mrs. Ulman, and Stranger Guy (who might be their grown up son, but I’m not sure about that — it didn’t occur to me until after the film was over) are in their Official Satanic Robes looking down at her. Also, there’s this charming woman:
. . . who is, I don’t know, Satanic Priestess Lady? Deformed yet surprisingly wrinkle free Grandma? Mrs. Satan? Anyway, she’s a bad guy, and she goes through this whole ritual, forcing a lot of blood down Sam’s throat. Sam escapes because satanic cults are apparently not as prepared as the Boy Scouts, and their knot-tying abilities suck. (I kid, but it actually bugs me a little, how easily Sam breaks free of her bonds the moment the plot needs her to.) On her way out the basement door, she stabs Mr. Ulman a little. Good for her.
Forced to run upstairs like any proper horror movie heroine, Sam runs into Stranger Guy first. He shoots her, but she manages to slice his throat open when he gets close to her. (This is a lesson people with guns never seem to learn. You have a long distance weapon, you assholes. There’s no need to get within kissing distance. Shoot her again from five feet away, and you won’t get turned into a Pez Dispenser. Why is that so difficult?)
Sam fails to pick up the gun as she runs further upstairs. Bad Sam. She doesn’t get very far because she keeps having hallucinations of Satanic Priestess Lady/Mrs. Satan, which admittedly can be a little distracting. Mrs. Ulman catches up to Sam while she is collapsed on the ground. Admittedly, Sam’s not looking in good shape at this point, but Mrs. Ulman turns her back on Sam so that she can pray, and for fuck’s sake, people. Doesn’t Lucifer want smarter disciples than this? Sam manages to recover long enough to stab Mrs. Ulman in the back, which is cool — Sam certainly takes initiative, which I approve of — but these people are sort of ridiculously inept, and that takes away a little from Sam’s awesomeness.
So Sam runs out the door, stopping to pick up the gun this time (yay) and gets all the way to the cemetery before wounded Mr. Ulman catches up to her. She threatens to shoot him. He’s like, go ahead, cause the eclipse is here, and you can’t stop what’s happening to you now, and I’m just a messenger, and blah blah blah. (Oh, yeah, there’s this whole eclipse thing. It’s kind of important. Whoops.) So Sam takes the gun and shoots herself in the head. Like I said, the girl has initiative.
What she apparently doesn’t have is aim. Now, I know people can fuck up blowing their own brains out — it’s the primary reason that I wouldn’t ever choose to commit suicide that way — but still. The fact that she survives just annoys me for some reason. It feels . . . I don’t know, convenient? Even though it’s not really a happy ending, it feels contrived somehow.
We see Sam in a hospital bed, unconscious, with half her head bandaged up. A nurse comes in, giving her an injection of something or other, and tells Sam not to worry, she’ll be just fine. Then, patting Sam’s belly, the nurse adds, “Both of you.”
And . . . fin.
Clever, creepy, well-made homage to late 70’s, early 80’s Satanic horror movies. . . but I wanted it to be more than that, to be its own movie and do something cool by the end. I’m not so sure it delivered.
Smoking kills. And Satanists, apparently, are quite stupid.
10 thoughts on ““Do You Remember the Game Plan? The Game Plan Was if They’re Weird, We Leave. This is Beyond Weird.””
“and you won’t get turned into a Pez Dispenser”
I enjoyed this movie a lot, but I agree with a lot of your points. The movie is best from an aesthetic standpoint. Like you said, if someone didn’t know when this movie was made, they would think it came out in the late 70’s/early 80’s. It does a great job of capturing that look, from the style of the film to the wardrobe to the soundtrack. I thought the film also did an excellent job of steadily building the suspense until it became almost unbearable. The ending fell a bit flat, however.
It’s a great homage/love letter to that era of horror movies, but it would’ve been nice if the film had been a bit more ambitious.
Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly how I felt about it. As an homage/love letter? Very successful. But I just wanted something more.
LOVED House of the Devil and bummed you didn’t LOVE it.
The creepy wrinkle-free satanic grandma is the devil. It’s the House of the Devil after all.
I read somewhere, but I can’t find it now of course, that West slapped the “true events” thingy on because that’s what they did with so many horror movies in the 80’s, but then he also said(this one I remember because I just saw it in an interview a few days ago) that the movie is not an homage to the 80’s at all but is simply set in the 1980’s, so I don’t know how accurate the “true events” info is.
That’s interesting about Ti West saying that The House of the Devil is not an homage to the 80’s because that’s really how I see the film as being successful. If it’s only set in the 80’s and not meant to be a love letter . . . well, my inclination is to actually lower my tentative grade because on its own, I don’t think the movie holds up as well.
I’m sure we’ll find a horror movie we can love together someday 🙂
Uh oh, well I can’t remember if he said why he chose the 80’s but it might have just been because he’s an 80’s kid and he loved movies that were 80’s or something. He mentioned something about how people were surprised there was no nudity and gratuitous boob shots, and that’s when he explained it wasn’t meant to be anything other than a period movie.
You probably noticed this and I am just an unobservant moron but somebody just pointed out on livejournal that Claire’s ghost is visible at the end of The Innkeepers. I was skeptical and checked it out and indeed her ghost is peering out the hotel window and then looks right at the camera. I’ve seen the movie twice and never noticed. It’s very subtle but I’m curious how subtle. Did you notice this at the end? When the camera takes us into Claire’s room I just focused on the lamp and then darted around thinking that something would move and didn’t even notice Claire standing there.
I can’t remember if you’ve talked about this but you must have: 28 Days Later? I LOVE IT and I assume you do to so there’s one.
Um. Haven’t actually seen The Innkeepers yet.
But regarding 28 Days Later, yeah, I loved it. It’s one of my favorites.
“Poor Megan. I mean, we all knew she was going to die . . . she’s a best friend and she smokes? Please. Still, she was likable, and you feel a bit bad for her.”
I don’t mean this as a knock on Sam, because I did like her okay, but I really wish these movies would switch the Final Girl and Best Friend roles sometimes. I think it’s so much easier to make a character enjoyable when they’re allowed to be funny and to have moments of misbehaviour, and it’d be nice just to have the change. I suppose maybe Final Girls are meant to be a little blank, so the audience can imagine themselves in their place easier (plus, you know, they’re not sinning like all their liquored-up, pot smoking, sex-having friends, but I find that punishing-the-sinners aspect of horror movies weird and creepy, and not in a cool way) and I can see why the filmmakers would want to do that. But still, wouldn’t it be fun to have the occasional Final Girl who was a right snarky bastard?
Actually, although Claire from The Innkeepers isn’t a Final Girl, she is the type of character who you’d usually see as the fun comic relief friend instead of the protagonist. And I really liked Claire, so yay on Ti West for that one.
It would be great if we had more survivor girls that were right snarky bastards. I’m all for heroines having personalities. Virtuous heroines are fine, too, but it doesn’t seem like people know how to write for a woman that is a) a good girl and b) funny. I’m not certain that the two qualities are virtually incompatible, but most screenwriters seem to think they are.
I’m also okay with non-virtuous heroines too. I just really want survivor girls that are interesting. I also wouldn’t mind if a best friend lived on occasion. (I can think of one, but I don’t offhand remember her being especially snarky. It was a long time ago, though, and I barely remember the movie at all.)
I think a lot of comedy is based off making fun of people’s shortcomings and oddities, so it’s harder to make a character funny when they don’t have so many. You could still make them snarky, but maybe writers feel that goes against the good girl thing.