Monday, November 2, 2009


October has passed, and that can only mean one thing: If you're still reading this blog, you're no Johnny-come-lately to horror and Halloween; like me, you're a lifer. So while we can all bow our heads in a moment of silence for our dearly departed Halloween season, which is sure to rise again in a mere 363 days or so, I have good news for you: There is a fantastic new scary movie for you to seek out - and no, it's not Paranormal Activity, which I'm sure you've already seen (and formed your own opinions about). This one is somewhat more obscure, but - in my estimation - even more effective at generating those atmospheric, slow build scares. It's called The House of the Devil.

Last week, I read an article in the L.A. Times that described this film as the kind that "transforms the mundane into the macabre, and when...[it] finally takes a step into the supernatural, it comes as even more of a shock because of the muted atmosphere that precedes it." This is exactly how I like my scary movies: Long on atmosphere, short on cheap thrills, and painstakingly paced. From the very first frame, I had a feeling I would love it. To begin, it's set in the early 80s, but not in the spoofy, played-for-laffs way that most movies set in the 80s present the decade; no one is dressed like Pat Benatar or wearing garish neon colors. Instead, the colors are muted, the hair is softly feathered, and the jeans are high-waisted - in other words, authentic. The protagonist is a reserved, thoughtful college girl named Samantha, as portrayed by Jocelin Donahue, who calls to mind a young Margot Kidder far more than she evokes overly toned and styled modern-day starlets like Jessica Biel.

We learn that Samantha desperately wants to move out of her dorm and into an apartment of her own, but she doesn't have enough money for the first month's rent, and there are few available job prospects. Then she is presented with an intriguing opportunity to babysit for an eccentric couple in a sprawling Victorian mansion in the country. Despite her reservations about the creepiness of her employers and their shady bait-and-switch when it comes to the particulars of the job, Samantha accepts - and that's when the real fun begins.

If you're looking for an action-oriented horror flick, stay away from this one; about three quarters of the movie is spent entirely on building anticipation and heaping on the tension. When is the axe going to fall? When are the Satanic rituals going to start? What's with the lunar eclipse that everyone keeps mentioning?! From the opening credits to the lingering closing shot (and even the promotional posters that I found online!), everything about this movie is eerie, unsettling and meticulously true to the period without crossing the line into camp. If you fetishize late 70s/early 80s horror movies as much as I do, this is a must-see. Director Ti West knows his shit when it comes to the era - and I can say that this is easily my favorite new horror film of the year so far.

The House of the Devil is currently in theaters in limited release, in addition to being available for viewing OnDemand.

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