Isaacs Picture Conclusions

SHITFEST 2013: FALL ~ THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL

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BY: DEEP RED RUM

DRR

HOUSEDRR

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!)

34 comments

  1. Great, great, writeup. I am mixed on Innkeepers, I found it flawed but thought West showed a hell of a lot of promise as a director of suspenseful moments.
    Your write up made me want to see House of the Devil despite being 95% sure now that it is the type of horror movie I loathe. I’ve never understood filling a movie with people you are supposed to want to die. I know that a segment of the audience seems to enjoy that, but it’s just not my bag.

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    • GaryLee828

      John, the protagonist is likable. The characters weren’t the problem with this movie; it was the stupidity of the 3rd act. Generally a movie this well executed doesn’t belong on the shitfest list, but that 3rd act did this one in. Some don’t mind the 3rd act and like the movie regardless. You should just watch and determine for yourself if you like it. If you can get over the 3rd act you may like it, or even love it as many other horror fans do. But I cannot forgive the 3rd act. All the good that came before was ruined IMO.

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      • Sounds like it is worth seeing. It’s funny how subjective a third act can be. I’ve always felt like taking a big chance in the third act can only be effective if you’ve really got your audience with you. I think Innkeepers is interesting in that way, for one. Some people are with it, and some people think it is pointless.
        But sometimes, if a movie is laying a particular turd, a third act is just bad no matter how good the rest of the movie is.

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    • Thanks! I am not sure if people put unlikeable characters in films on purpose, or if horror movies just seem to be fraught with bad writing because people think it’s an easy genre to profit from (and it used to be, once upon a time) but there are just too many cases of it for it not to be some kind of a pattern. I knew this was a risky entry into the Shitfest, so you may like the movie if you see it.

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  2. GaryLee828

    This movie was great until the last act it totally fell apart by the seams; one of the stupidest 3rd acts I’ve seen in a horror movie. It proved to be more comedy than horror. Like when the protagonist was laying on her back down on the floor, and the son was STANDING over her, and she reached her arm up and stabbed him IN THE NECK! lol. Go-go gadget arms! And when the mother was in the bedroom with the main girl and the girl had a knife, and what did the mother do? TURN HER BACK to stare out the window so the girl could easily stab her! lol. Sooooo stupid!! I was so disappointed by the 3rd act b/c the build-up was masterfully executed by West and Noonan’s subtle, but effectively creepy performance.

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  3. Oh, I have to respectfully disagree with you here. I LOVED House of the Devil. As drawn out as the middle of the film was, it had a real Grindhouse feel to it. I liked the character, I liked the set-up, I liked the conclusion.

    I hated The Innkeepers – threw it in the ‘shit’ pile immediately after watching it – then read a couple of good reviews – watched it again… then destroyed the disc and used the shellcase for a different movie. I’ve had boring jobs in my life but they are not worth making a movie about 😉 Of course, this is just my opinion, results may vary.

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  4. I’m with you, Erin, I hated this one. I was bored to tears – where’s the suspense, the fear? Oh wait, nowhere. I found The InnKeepers better but still meh. And I have no issues with movies that are slow with little action either – one of my fave movies is a Hungarian movie about a man that hiccups that has no dialogue – clearly slow buildups and the such aren’t a problem, lol. Great review, great entry!

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  5. Holy shit, I just now noticed that when you click from the main page of this site onto this article, the corresponding picture that you click on to get here is a picture of Franco Nero with nunchaku from Enter the Ninja! It just so happens that I watched that last night, and it is stupendous! This serendipitous thing makes me very happy.

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  6. They have a big Satanic ritual towards the end in which the Mother she was babysitting turns out to be some sort of demon woman and during the ritual the baby is put into the babysitters body. That’s why they were rubbing bloody and chanting demonic incantations on top of her body while she was tied down practically naked dead center in a pentagram.

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  7. I cannot like this post hard enough. I hope you’re getting this like, because I am seriously doing it as hard as I can.

    ‘Ambiguity does not mean “I’m gonna omit some details just for the hell of it.”’ That–yes. This. This SO MUCH.

    I actually remember kind of liking this, but it’s been awhile and I forget most of the details. But your criticisms are the most delicious things I have read today.

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  8. You’re hating on T.I. West.

    I could only make it through 30 minutes of this because I wanted to drill a pentagram into my skull out of sheer boredom. My fondest memories of those 30 minutes are when she walks around a lot and eats pizza. I also seem to recall that she does some laundry.

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  9. I was kind of planning on watching this so not sure if I should read this. But feel I should before I can vote. 😉 I believe Eric actually kind of recommended this as I liked The Innkeepers. Seems not everyone did!

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  10. I’m with you on this one. One of the most boring movies I’ve seen. I didn’t mind The Innkeepers though. That’s probably because I fancy Sara Paxton, and find her very watchable!

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