Monday, November 16, 2009

The Sick-Making Thrills of House of the Devil


I didn't include a capsule on House of the Devil in my previous review post. I watched it On Demand the other night, alone in my apartment and cowering in fear. It's not for everyone, and it relies a lot on a sloooow build of tension with very few payoffs until the end. For me, I was on the edge of barfing in terror from the moment the girl went on her ill-fated babysitting job until almost the very end.

So, given my gastrointestinal terror, and given the fact that I was recommended the movie by my good friend Jason (he of the New Plaid Pants), I figured he should feel my pain. Immediately. Almost by accident, an email exchange ensued that touched on all the reasons we both loved the movie. Let's hear it for repurposed content!

NOTE: There are spoilers in these emails; some redacted, some not. This movie is available on On Demand. Right now. Watch it tonight. Then read this post.

Dear Jason,

I just watched House of the Devil. You now owe me money for therapy. I think at this point, Synecdoche, NY might even be a bright beam of sunshine. Clearly, my world is not right.


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Joe --
Wait, what does that mean? Did you like it? You know, "like" as in appreciate it, think it good. It's probably another time when "like" is relative I guess.

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I thought it was terrifically scary; my whole torso was in a knot for that whole middle hour. The end I did think was slightly underwhelming, but definite thumbs up.

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Totally agree about the end, but I've thought about it a bunch and I just can't really figure out what else there really was to do. Well not the exact ending, I love the final few minutes, but the lead up to that, the entire ritual part, I mean there really is no way to escape that being slightly silly. Because in real life it would be silly, and ridiculous. And horrible, obviously. So I've reined in my eye-roll at it with time, even though while watching it it seemed underwhelming.

But yes! So much of the mid-section's so freaking well done! The scene where she's dancing around with her headphones on almost made me crawl outta my own skin. And [REDACTED]! "You're not the babysitter?" UGH! I jumped the fuck right out of my seat, and that's the boyfriend's job. I just really remembering vividly thinking as the two girls drove up to the creepy house, "Oh my god, I really like these girls! I don't want them to go to this place!" And you know how infrequently that happens in these sorts of movies. For that lone the film made me so happy. Or you know, "happy" by way of feeling fucking awful. ;-)

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Oh, I totally don't know that you could do anything differently once the whole devil business started happening. But I feel like maybe it could have been crafted better? I dunno, all I can say is that my entire body was in one pukey knot and the second (that very instant) that she fully woke up in that attic, about 50% of that tension just went away. And obviously, that's the payoff, the tension is supposed to get released there, but I feel like it should be released into screaming of jumping or crawling up into the back of your seat. With this movie it really felt like a good bit of it just evaporated and went away. And it's frustrating that I can't explain why.

Not that I want to dwell on the bad stuff at all, because this movie really made me so scared, sitting alone in my living room hiding behind not one but two pillows, mumbling "don't open that door, don't open that door." I love the way the camera always lingered another second or two (or five or ten) every time Samantha left the frame. Anticipatory shit like that kills me. Also, did you recognize the girlfriend as one of the girls from Baghead? That took me a bit but I got it.

AAAAH! The more I think about it -- how weirdly desolate the college campus was; creepy [REDACTED]'s face (!!); or that awesome '80s song playing in the car as they leave for the house [NOTE: "The Breakup Song" by the Greg Kihn Band]! The more I think about it, I'm getting creeped out again in broad daylight.


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It's def. been a grower for me - I mean I really enjoyed it a lot while watching it, a lot, but it's one of those ones that just hasn't let go of my brain. Random bits from it pop into my head all the time and I'm dying to watch it again. Just a nice simple old-fashioned reliant-on-atmosphere horror flick that we don't see often enough. I wish the studio hadn't gone and fucked with whatever he (the director Ti West) was doing with the Cabin Fever sequel - supposedly he started taking it off into this weird not-what-they-expected direction and judging from what he's shown himself capable of here I bet it probably was gonna be great, or at least way more interesting than the usual low-budget straight-to-DVD sequel, but they stole it away from him and apparently hacked it to ribbons. A shame; I'm dying to see what he does next.
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