DVD REVIEW: The House of the Devil – Old School Thriller!

The House of the Devil opens with a graphic card that claims seventy per cent of American adults in the ‘80s believed that there were Satanic cults that abducted and sacrificed people – and that thirty per cent believed that we didn’t hear about because of a government cover up. So, we know going that this a particular type of horror film.


Samantha [Jocelin Donahue] is a college student who needs to come up with a lot of money to cover the rent of an apartment – which she needs to get away from her slutty, slobby dorm roommate. When she spies a flyer on one of the various bulletin/flyer boards on campus, she thinks she’s got it made – despite some good advice from her best friend, Megan [Greta Gerwig]. The circumstances surrounding the babysitting job are peculiar to say the least – and the couple who hire her are beyond odd. But, she needs the money – and even an impending lunar eclipse can’t sway her.

The House of the Devil is set in the mid-‘80s and is shot in a Hitchcockian style that perfectly suits the material. The film opens with a long, slow zoom moving through an apartment until it comes to rest looking over the shoulder of a young woman. It’s creepy and intense and yet the mood dissolves when Sam turns around with a big smile on her face and says she loves the place.

There’s another shot, once Sam has been left in the home of the Ullmans [Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov], that is focused on a doorway and Sam moves in and out of the shot as she explores. Again, the shot is creepy and fascinating. As the film progresses in its deliberate fashion, we are drawn into the situation and our focus sharpens – setting us up for the first moment of brutal violence.

Writer/Director/Editor Ti West clearly loves both Hitchcock and the genre films of the ‘80s. He knows how to set a mood and understands that the most fun part of such a film is the building anticipation as things slowly devolve into the weird. He also understands that the use of casual violence, seemingly out of nowhere, only works if we are invested in the characters – and ties in with later events.

Donahue’s Sam is an apparently bright young woman, but her need to be out of her dorm room is such a priority that she ignores signs [mostly, but not all subtle] that she’s embarking on a dangerous course. Gerwig’s Megan is a classic best friend: a bit too loud, a bit too obnoxious, but utterly well-meaning. Noonan and Woronov make a balanced couple. His understated creepiness balances her campier menace to produce a unique threat.

Jeff Grace’s score, with its soft, minor key themes could have been plucked from any ‘80s horror film – it’s that authentic.

The House of the Devil is a genuinely creepy, more than occasionally scary film. West gets the time period – right down to the style of credits – but this isn’t really an homage to ‘80’s horror films. It’s more of a period piece that gets it right while occasionally referencing other genre films.

Features: Audio Commentary with West and Donahue; Audio Commentary with West, producers Larry Fassenden and Peter Phok, and sound designer Graham Reznick; In The House of the Devil – a home movie from behind the scenes; Behind The House of the Devil – cast and crew interviews; Trailer, and three Deleted Scenes.

Grade: The House of the Devil – B+

Grade: Features – A

Final Grade: A-