The House of the Devil
Hey guys, you know how I like bad movies and I’m usually pretty nice when they’re bad? Yeah, well fuck that, because I just watched The House of the Devil. It received undue praise. It was in the Halloween Favorites section of Netflix and earned 3 stars. Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 86% score and IMdB gives it a 6.5 out of 10. How? Why? Who thought this was a good movie? I’ve read reviews from critics calling it Hitchcockian and a stylish throwback to 80s horror films. I’ve read reviews from IMdB saying it slowly builds suspense to a thrilling conclusion. Did I watch the same film as these people? Please tell me I’m having a Twilight Zone moment and it’s not just that a bunch of movie critics don’t know shit about horror movies and average viewers have their heads up their asses. It’s not a thriller that slowly builds tension. It’s a movie with a combined 15 minutes of horror and 80 minutes of filler.
The story is as follows: young woman is recruited for a babysitting job and she really needs the money; she goes to the house and finds out that she’s really looking after an old woman, not a kid; she explores the house; it turns out the couple who hired her are Satanists (maybe?) and the old woman is a witch (or something?) and they need her to birth the antichrist? I’m just guessing at this point. I don’t usually lash out at films. I am a patient man, more patient than anyone has the right to be, but I shouldn’t be waiting an hour and ten minutes for something scary to happen only for the finale to completely fail to frighten, titillate, or even explain what’s so damn important about the lunar eclipse, some creepy people in black robes, and a monster woman who shows up for several minutes. The film had enough plot for a short film, not a very good one mind you, but it would have avoided long stretches of film where the main character putters around, not doing much in particular.
What really annoys me is not that I wasted my time but that somebody had the gall to praise the film. The most damning thing I can say about this film, perhaps the worst thing you could say about any horror film, is that it’s tepid. I liked the part where the main character’s friend is suddenly shot in the face. It surprised me. I liked the monster woman. She’s not the best, but she deserved a little screen time. However, I did not appreciate the fact that two of the scares were a telephone ringing and clumps of hair in a drain. There’s a family lying dead on a pentagram, but I don’t feel any hint of suspense because it doesn’t seem like there’s any risk of the main character stumbling upon them. In fact, the film does nothing to build up suspense because there’s never any risk of the main character being in danger, no audio or visual clues to suggest that something’s lurking in the shadows or that she’s not alone in the house. She gets suspicious when she notices family pictures that do not include the couple who hired her, suggesting they did something to the owners of the house, but she doesn’t do anything about it because she’s drugged with a roofie pizza. When the film finally gets to the conclusion where the main character is tied up, lying on a pentagram, surrounded by three evil cultists or whatever and a demon/monster/old lady, I couldn’t care less, because every moment that preceded it was spent focusing on a practically mute character who wasn’t in any danger and there was nothing to prepare me for or explain what was going to happen, other than the title of the movie, The House of the Devil.
If you like The House of the Devil, I apologize for shitting all over the movie, but it’s not a slow-burning, Hitchockian thriller with interesting characters and an 80s flavor that eschews the emphasis on blood and gore of modern horror movies. It’s slow-burning, but it has no payoff whatsoever; the ending was the equivalent of saying ‘boo!’ and didn’t explain anything about anything. The director has a fair hand with the camera, but it’s nothing to get excited about and certainly doesn’t deserve to be called Hitchcockian; I’d like to see more of Ti West’s work because I’m hoping that The House of the Devil was just a bad day for him. It’s not a thriller because there is no sense of mystery or tension. I liked the main character well enough, but I can’t even remember her name and I get no sense of who she is from the various mundane things she does in the middle of the film. It’s not an homage to the 80s or 80s horror movies, no matter how much you wish it was. Yes, it has the hairstyles and clothes, a walkman, and a TV news program that are all reminiscent of the 80s, but it’s a fairly shallow depiction of the 80s; not one person said, “gag me with a spoon,” or went back to the future. The idea that this is a throwback to 80s horror seems especially wrong when I think of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg’s respective films from the 1980s. What goads me the worst is reading various critics’ insistence that the film is good because it eschews the modern ultraviolent mode. Perhaps I shouldn’t fault movie critics for being behind on the times and not knowing jack shit about what makes a good, suspenseful horror movie. It’s not like horror films ever moved on from Saw clones. It’s not like horror is a multifaceted genre that accommodates various tastes and levels of gore at any given period of time. That’s crazy talk.
Alright, I’m done riding on my high horse. I’ve spent enough time ranting about a boring movie. If I ever get like this again, feel free to tell me to take a deep breath and watch some Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s bound to calm me down.