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Babysitting for Satan: House of the Devil (2009)

"This one night changes everything for me..."

I remember when horror used to take it's time. Before MTV and seizure inducing editing, a story was allowed to unfold at its own pace, take its time to build up atmosphere and characters. Older films did this with fantastic payoffs; which brings us to the most interesting “Retro” film of the past few years, Ti West’s House of the Devil.

Shot on 16 mm film, House of the Devil captures a time when true horror was at its final peak. A time when horror was tenon filled, apprehenon built, and violence was realistically brutal.

Set in the 1980’s, the film opens with the grainy introduction of our heroine, Samantha Hughes, played by Jocelin Donahue, admiring the view from an apartment she hopes to rent from a kind landlady (Dee Wallace). Samantha secures the apartment, but needs to make $300 within a week to pay the first month’s rent on move in. Desperately searching her college campus’s bulletin boards, she comes across a babytting job and figures she can earn some quick, under the table cash.After a botched first meeting, we are introduced to Samantha’s best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), at a local pizza joint. Megan is a rough around the edges, party girl type, who takes down all of the babytting fliers to ensure that Samantha will get the job (Thanks pal!)

Megan then proceeds to drive her to the isolated Victorian home where she will presumably spend a few hours watching a child for $100. Once they arrive, they are met by the oddly desperate Mr. Ulman (the uniquely creepy Tom Noonan), who informs Samantha that she has been regrettably duped. The babytting gig was in fact a ploy to obtain a tter for his wife’s elderly mother, as they have a special engagement to attend this evening. Samantha inst that she is the wrong girl for the job, but is lured to stay when an extra $300 is thrown on the table. $400 plus a $20.00 for pizza, SOLD!This is where things go wrong. Megan leaves under protest, but promises to be back later. Her fate is as sealed by leaving as Samantha’s is sealed by staying. After a gruesome and brutal murder, the tenon mounts at a slow but effective pace. This film takes it’s time to remind us that the house is not always a home and that the elderly are not always kind, but exceptionally evil due to their years of practice.

We know that there is something evil in the house; we know that she is being watched, and that knowledge is what drives the film. Even though the onscreen actions seem mundane at first, we become uncomfortable as she ts, watching news of the impending eclipse, by an open window, or as she climbs the staircase into the darkness above where the elderly woman lurks behind a locked door. Ti West doesn’t rely on cheap scares or constant bloodletting, for him it’s all about atmosphere and the art of the slow burn.

Like his first film, The Roost, West shows an affinity for early eighties style horror and a respect for the films that built that foundation. One only needs to look at the several posters created for promotion to see his intent. Another great throwback brought into service is the freeze frame credits sequence, which, combined with the grainy images and excellently retro score really loses you in the experience. To quote Reservoir Dogs: “Let’s talk about the details, because it’s the details that sell your story”. I owned one of those cumbersome Sony Walkmans that would always end up getting dropped and every girl I knew had one of those ugly, puffy windbreaker jackets. There is nothing in that film that feels false and that is part of what sells the terror. It is exactly the kind of film I would have rented and watched on a rainy evening and for that I am grateful. This is not the pizza party and beer kind of film, let me stress that opinion. It is a film for a couple or two to enjoy in the quiet dark, where your imaginations can go crazy in the late hours and make you apprehenve about having to trek down that long hall for a middle of the night bathroom run. It will play on your mind when you order pizza from a “mom and pop” pizza place, are stopped by a stranger in the middle of the night, or hear strange noises in the dark of your own home. A film that will still have you looking over your shoulder after you’ve turned on the light.
sinful Celluloid Tuesday 6/26/2012 at 10:56 PM | 93936
House of the Devil is an excellent film. I love the attention to detail of the time period. Great write up.
aceofspades70 Tuesday 6/26/2012 at 11:56 PM | 93942
Agree Lee, an excellent film and one that gets a lot of flack for its "slow burn" scares. I am sorry but I am in love with Ti West and The House of the Devil is really what sold me and had me so excited for The Innkeepers which as many of you know did not let me down.

The House of the Devil was best wrapped up for me by Joe of The House of Horror Podcast in that the title of the movie is "The House of the Devil" but somehow Ti West leaves you shocked at the end when you find out that it really is....The House of the Devil. It's like it came out of nowhere and I was shocked that these people belonged to a cult.

Shows just how amazing the film is. Great write up as usual Chris!!!!
Horror Domain - Cursed Evil Overlord Wednesday 6/27/2012 at 12:23 AM | 93945
Cool read Christopher. And to all of you guys, which do you think is a better slow burn, this or the innkeepers?
Blades Wednesday 6/27/2012 at 12:58 AM | 93946
Thank you all. As for the better slow burn. Hmmmmm. I like the Innkeepers, but I think I'll have to say this film.
sinful Celluloid Wednesday 6/27/2012 at 01:00 AM | 93947
Thank you all. As for the better slow burn. Hmmmmm. I like the Innkeepers, but I think I'll have to say this film.

I'd love to hear you do one of these in depth reviews for the innkeepers nful celluloid!
Shakelford, J. Rusty Wednesday 6/27/2012 at 01:08 AM | 93950
on it's way :)
sinful Celluloid Wednesday 6/27/2012 at 02:50 AM | 93952
Was just going to post a second to Rusty's post but you already took care of it Chris! Amazing Innkeepers review:

Horror Domain - Cursed Evil Overlord Wednesday 6/27/2012 at 10:19 PM | 94005
I'll have to find a copy of The Innkeepers. Sounds interesting.
aceofspades70 Thursday 6/28/2012 at 01:01 AM | 94021
I'll have to find a copy of The Innkeepers. Sounds interesting.

Lee I think you'll love it man! I have heard that it's at Red Boxes right now....
Horror Domain - Cursed Evil Overlord Thursday 6/28/2012 at 01:44 AM | 94024
truly a solid flick!
sinful Celluloid Thursday 6/28/2012 at 02:35 AM | 94026
I love Ty's style of shooting and what I now know is called "slow burn". I think we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg with Ty and I cant wait to see what he brings to the table next. Favorite part of House of the Devil is when the best friend gets shot, I know its coming but it makes me jump every time! Gotta love moments like that!
allycat2488 Saturday 6/30/2012 at 09:08 AM | 94163
House of the Devil is ealy one of my favorite horror movies and Ti West goes up there with my favorite directors as well. Such creative writing as well as powerful storytelling just get to me. I admire that strength of creativity. I envy it, in fact.

Haha also, like how most of my comments make me sound uppity and stuff? I'm kind of a language freak.
nolifefan Sunday 7/01/2012 at 11:22 PM | 94195
I just watched "The House of the Devil" last night for a 3rd time and wow did I pick up a lot in my subsequent viewings. I can't stress enough how much I enjoy this film although I still hold "The Innkeepers" a notch above. I will say I can understand how people don't get into Ti West films but I also think people don't tend to give these "slow burns" the proper chance.

Anyway, I watched this with a friend who hadn't seen it. They loved it and a big thanks to Chris for doing this review and getting me back in the mode to watch it. Just a stellar movie!
Horror Domain - Cursed Evil Overlord Monday 7/02/2012 at 09:34 PM | 94227
Thanks brother. You're welcome. Glad that great movies like this are getting some love here. Keep spreading the word.
sinful Celluloid Tuesday 7/03/2012 at 01:56 AM | 94261
Thanks brother. You're welcome. Glad that great movies like this are getting some love here. Keep spreading the word.

Amen brother, will do!
Horror Domain - Cursed Evil Overlord Tuesday 7/03/2012 at 02:48 AM | 94264