BY: DEEP RED RUM
Nobody likes to feel left out, even curmudgeonly people such as myself. Occasionally when my horror loving brethren out there are going all fanperson on a movie, and said movie leaves me cold, I feel like I’m really missing a good party. Just like when I taste a McRib, or listen to a dubstep track, I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. Seldom has this hit me more strongly than it does with Ti West’s 2009 mock-80s movie House of the Devil.
Spoilers will follow, obviously.
First of all, there’s the concept that House of the Devil was supposed to be a throwback to the 80s. Yes, the title card appeared on one side of the screen, and Dee Wallace Stone appeared soon after that. The main character has a Walkman, and she’s stupid enough to think she’s gonna get enough to make a rent deposit off of one night of babysitting, and stupidity is an essential characteristic in an 80s horror character. And her much brighter friend does have flybacks in her hair.
But there’s one thing that 80s horror had that the h-words making this movie could not, and that is the fact that 80s movies were not self-aware. It’s a quality that can’t be duplicated in this era. Naivete and sincerity have died, and won’t come back until we’ve gotten completely conservative again, then had another cultural revolution, and then decided that didn’t work but we’ve now snorted too many puffy rainbow stickers to care. Until then, trying to make an 1980s product in this century is just like a soulless clone, no matter how much neon you dress it in.
Next, you have an entire movie where nothing happens, and this is supposed to pass for suspense. Well, not when you take a dance break to listen to the entirety of “One Thing Leads to Another.” They paid for that song, and they were gonna play every last note of it. Also, your whole buildup rests on a shot of a dark room that may contain the butchered bodies of the former occupants of the house, and the fact that those people left some stuff behind. I’ll admit it was unexpected when Flybacks got shot in the face, and when protagonist found her faceless body in the kitchen and started slipping in the blood, I thought, “Hold on now, here we go.” But here we did not go. We got the main character shooting herself in the head, and then a nurse saying “Both of you will be fine” to a comatose? babysitter/possible devil incubator. Did Ti West leave out a reel too, as a throwback to Tarantino’s throwback movie Death Proof? How did she get a devil baby in her, if she was great with child, and was she in a regular hospital, or a devil hospital? I need to know these things to know how upset I should be. Ambiguity is one thing, I mean, I love Session 9 and Fulci’s Unholy Trilogy, but ambuguity does not mean “I’m gonna omit some details just for the hell of it.” Furthermore, as a fan of both Lake Mungo and The Innocents, I’ve got nothing against movies where nothing happens. Honest.
And speaking of devil babies, would it have killed West to have included something supernatural? I’m not asking for girls doing backbends, but a cross turning upside down would have been helpful. I don’t even know if Tom Noonan and company were even connected to the devil, or if they were just idiots who thought they were, and that impairs my ability to be sufficiently horrified as well. Being kidnapped and knocked up is bad, yes, but being the conduit through which fire and brimstone and a thousand years of darkness and daytime TV are going to be unleashed, well, that is real horror. And I see no evidence of the actual devil in this movie. Without him all you have is the ending of The Hills Run Red, which really was shit.
Before you say that I am hating on Ti West (or worse, that I am just jealous of him), I am not. I love The Innkeepers, and I thought that while it had a great ghost story, its real triumph was in making the viewer feel what it is like to be alone at work at night with co-workers with whom you form a special bond you can only form with co-workers you work at a shit job at night with. Those were characters I cared about greatly by the time the movie was over. These House of the Devil folks were not. And that is perhaps the only way in which West succeeded in replicating the 80s horror experience: I didn’t give a shit about anyone in the movie, and I looked forward to their deaths. Yes, I do know that taste is subjective, and I admit that House of the Devil is not a paintball splatter shit on the wall of a public restroom that you can just back away from but for which you pity whoever has to clean the stall not to mention your own bladder which has to wait for the next place you can find to stop and pee. But in a way, it’s worse. It’s the shit you step in while you’re outside walking in the crisp fall leaves, and you don’t realize it’s on the sole of your shoe until you’ve walked back into the house and all across your carpet. Only at the end of the film did I realize how let down I was.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one thing I LOVE about SHITFEST – look at the diversity here. I, personally, LOVE this movie but The SHITFEST isn’t about me – it’s about YOU! Love it!)