House of the Devil (2009, Ti West)

I was under the mistaken assumption that this would be a great movie. I remember everyone talking about it because it’s shot on 16mm in the style of an early 80’s horror movie, promos were sent out on VHS and it has a retro-looking poster. But I guess people get excited over anything that references the 80’s, and under all that excitement lay a blandly average horror movie.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue of The Burrowers) is a starving college student with no apparent knack or affinity for anything besides her walkman with orange-padded headphones. Is it just me, or do the period-specific details of movies set in the recent past always seem like they’re trying to be funny (I’m thinking Donnie Darko, The Big Lebowski, etc)? Obviously a college student in 1983 might have that exact walkman, but to me it automatically feels like a gag. I wonder if that’s how people who were my age in the early 80’s felt watching films set in the 60’s. She also wears oven mitts as gloves, but I don’t remember that part of the 80’s. Maybe I wasn’t cool enough at the time. Anyway, Sam rents a room from Dee Wallace (The Howling, The Frighteners) to get away from her sex-crazed dorm roommate, then answers a babysitting ad so she can begin to be able to pay for the room. Her less-poor, patient, understanding friend Megan (mumblecore star Greta Gerwig of Baghead) gives her a ride, then is shot in the head Harry Brown-style by a creepy Zach Galifianakis lookalike (AJ Brown of The Signal).

Hallo, Greta:

At the spooky house (on the night of a lunar eclipse – the most boring kind of eclipse), Sam meets friendly, old-fashioned Tom Noonan (Wolfen, Robocop 2, Frankenstein in Monster Squad) and wife Mary Woronov (TerrorVision, Warlock, The Devil’s Rejects). Tom gives her $400 and tells her the job is really to watch the house and make sure his aged mother upstairs doesn’t get into trouble. No baby no problem… except that Tom, Mary and Zach are a satanic-cult family who poison her pizza and tie her up in their pentagram-decorated attic. She kills two of ’em with a knife, tries to shoot herself in the head, but ends up alive in a hospital, impregnated by the devil.

Mary and Tom:

I suppose Ti West (who later made Cabin Fever 2) perfectly captured the spirit of the original Halloween, wherein fuck-all happens for the first 75% of the movie. I just didn’t expect that Harry Brown would be a better Shocktober movie than House of the Devil – it was more tense, bloodier and even funnier.