I can’t believe this month is almost over. But, unlike that scrooge-y jerk Christmas, we get a whole month of it here in Salem. Though, I’m so greedy that I have to expand the offerings of this month-long Hallowe-en-a-thon that I am still sticking to this challenge. 21 official movies (plus a few more here and there) and counting!
Today’s movie (I’m still a wuss about seeing any potentially super-scary movie at night, so it was an early evening viewing for me) was The House of The Devil, directed by emerging, buzzworthy horror homage-ist Ti West. I’d already seen The Innkeepers, and had a sense of West’s extremely slow-burning, skeleton crew-cast style, but the Hippie hadn’t seen any of his films before.
The movie follows Samantha (Jocelin Donohue), a young college student who’s a bit of a germaphobe (my Hippie: “pretty sure they didn’t have that term in the ’80s”), and looking for some extra dosh so she can pay her rent. Happening upon a babysitting ad, she plays phone tag with the advertiser and ends up meeting him at his house. He’d like her to babysit his mother, who is “able-bodied” and “very private”. It all sounds weird to her at first (even her friend begs her to drop it), but Samantha decides to stay the course when Creepy Babysitter Requester Man ups her babysitting fee from $100 to $400. He introduces the wife, they both leave her pizza money as they head out, and things start to promise to get possibly almost weird.
When the ending does finally come, it packs a wallop, without wavering at all in its nostalgia for ’70s and ’80s horror conventions and style. But it contrasts so starkly with the first two acts that it feels like it wandered in from the set of another movie, got lost and started attacking the score, cinematography, editing, acting, and, well, everything else. There’s
a little bit of gore, including a scene in which there’s so much blood from a previous kill that the protagonist actually slips and struggles to regain footing. Reviews of this and The Innkeepers have cited the excruciatingly slow pace as a kiss of death for a horror film, but I think it actually does it credit, providing you know roughly what to expect in terms of the horror element, and can suspend your disbelief about plotholes masquerading as nonsensical plot devices.
I’d already looked up the synopsis and was aware of what this movie’s horror element entailed (a throwback to the “satanic panic” of the ’80s), so it made the super-slow-slow-burn slightly less super-slow, but it’s true – a lot of the movie is spent waiting for something to happen, with only the protagonist on screen, tediously wandering from room to room, doing mundane things like ordering pizza or popping to the loo.
So while it’s lucky that Donahue is capable enough to hold the screen (and Ti West’s numerous close-up body shots of her clearly instil his confidence in her assets), what really drew me in was the camerawork – gradual zoom-ins (manual rather than on a dolley), slow pans and chunky yellow fonts in the credits. While I’m not old enough to remember the style of horror movies (or any movie) of that period, I can appreciate the attention to detail regarding the clothes, hair, cars, and props (everything from a portable 8-track to a rotary phone with a super-long cord). It all made for a good, old-fashioned yarn; a nice trip down memory lane, when it was harder to get out of your typical horror movie’s sticky situations. Also: this movie made me want to eat a lot of pizza.