31 Days Of Horror (Day 1) – The House Of The Devil (2009)

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Things go bump in the night, others will devour your soul, some will slice, dice eat your heart with a nice glass of Chianti. October has now arrived which can mean only one thing 31 Days of Horror has now arrived again. For the next 31 days, we will dive deep into the catacombs of horror to pick you a movie. Every day will be different ranging from the classics to the weird and wonderful. Many you might have heard of, some will be new to you. There will be personal favourites that you may like, others you may hate but they all will unleash those emotions that make us love horror.

2017 countdown will be started by our sister site Cinehouse co-editor Sandra Harris with The House Of The Devil

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. (2009) Written and directed by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Dee Wallace, Lena Dunham, Tom Noonan, A.J. Bowen.

This is one of the best horror films I’ve seen this year. Maybe the best, along with a film set on an abandoned council estate called THE FORGOTTEN by Oliver Frampton. Yes, I know that THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL‘s not a new film, haha, but it’s new to me, so there.

And believe me, I’d prefer to come late to this particular party than never to have been invited at all. It makes my blood run cold to think that, if I hadn’t wandered into a certain charity shop to kill time while a friend shopped in BOOTS, I might never have come across it all.

The film is set in the ‘Eighties when some of the best horror movies were made. They had no annoying CGI back then and no even more annoying mobile phones or stupid selfies, so obviously the film reflects this, which gives it a leg-up straightaway in my opinion.

Trust me, when what seems like a million teenagers wielding those idiotic selfie sticks are blocking your path to Tesco every day so they can take a million stupid pointless photos of themselves for Facebook, we’ve officially reached ‘stupid-phone saturation point,’ people.

I’m sick of bloody modern-day technology and I was more than happy to take a step back in time to a simpler age, where people listened to music on personal cassette recorders and used rotary dial telephones nailed to the wall. Sigh. Sometimes I actually miss those days.

Samantha Hughes, brilliantly played by Jocelin Donahue, is a beautiful young American college student who desperately needs the cash to move out of her shared dorm room on campus. Her room-mate is a sex-mad slob, that’s why. And that’s why, as well, she accepts a babysitting job for a strange man she’s never met before who lives in a huge creepy old house miles out of town…

The first shock comes when Samantha’s told by Mr. Ulman, her employer for the night, that he and his wife don’t actually have a child. That’d be a deal-breaker for most folk, but Sam’s got a new apartment picked out and, when Mr. Ulman offers her four hundred bucks to ‘babysit’ his wife’s elderly mother for the night, she accepts.

She’s creeped-out by the whole situation but the lure of easy money is too much for her, as it would be for most people. So she stays in the silent old house, while outside the world is preparing for a rare lunar eclipse and upstairs, a hideous presence lurks unseen. For now…

Even though the film’s climax and pay-off are fantastic and don’t disappoint, I think the real scenes to be commended here are the super-atmospheric ones where Jocelin is wandering around the terrifying old country mansion on her own, poking around the bedrooms and bathrooms, peeking into cupboards and using the loo and so on. The tension and sense of mounting horror build up slowly and beautifully, just like they do in all the best fright-flicks.

The spooky incidental music doesn’t intrude as Sam opens doors and looks around corners and up and down corridors, but every time she turns a different way you fully expect to see something horrible, like you might if you were in the PSYCHO house from the 1960 film or the haunted country mansion in superb 1976 horror film, BURNT OFFERINGS.

The film is a magnificent and much-needed throwback to brilliant old horror movies like these. It looks so genuinely authentic that, if you didn’t know in what year it was made, you might easily mistake it for a made-in-the-‘Eighties movie. It’s also the best ‘babysitter horror film’ since the utterly unforgettable WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979). The director should be immensely proud of himself.

Greta Gerwig is great as Samantha’s concerned mate who thinks she’s barmy to take the job of ‘babysitting’ for the creepy Ulmans. Old Lady Ulman is even creepier than her husband, and don’t get me started on her mother. I mean it, don’t get me started or there’s no telling where all this will end, haha. The spectacular house deserves a credit all of its own and there isn’t a false note anywhere to be found in the entire movie.

This film is f***ing terrifying. I was scared stiff from the moment Samantha was left ‘alone’ in the house to the very last frame. That hasn’t really happened to me in a long time so I felt like I’d uncovered a real find in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. If Ti West has made anything else of this calibre, then I absolutely have got to get my hands on it. And you guys go straight out and find this
gem of a film. You’ll love it.

I’ll leave you with some pearls of wisdom from Frank and Betty Spencer from the hugely funny and successful ‘Seventies sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM. In this particular episode, they’re discussing how there aren’t any films on in the cinema at the moment that they’re bothered about seeing. It’s obviously around the time that THE EXORCIST was released because here’s the exchange that follows, as far as I can remember it:

Betty: ‘The Satanic frightens me, Frank.’

Frank: ‘I know what you mean, especially the bit where it hits the iceberg…!

Basically, Betty was bang on the money. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. I know I’ve added in an extra ‘very’ there but, believe me, in this case, it’s warranted. Warranted, I tell ya…!

Sandra Harris ©

Originally Posted at Cinehouse