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The House of the Devil (2009)

Dark Sky Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/2/2010

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/3/2010

With Grindhouse, the double-feature film which included Deathproof and Planet Terror, filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez attempting to re-create the feeling of seeing a movie from the late 70s or early 80s. But, with these two involved, things went too far. The inclusion of CG effects and recognizable stars immediately let the audience know that the films were new, despite the "Hey! Look at this old movie!" scratches on the film, pops on the soundtrack and missing frames. Director Ti West took a far more subtle approach to his film The House of the Devil. If you showed this movie to an audience and told them that it was a "lost" movie from 1982, they would readily believe you.

Jocelin Donahue stars in The House of the Devil as Samantha Hughes, a college student. Samantha is a very tidy person and she's at her wits end with her slovenly roommate, so she's decided to get her own place. She finds the perfect house, but she doesn't have the money for the rent, and she turns down a loan offer from her best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig). Samantha notices a flier for babysitting and being desperate for money calls it. That night, Megan drives Samantha out to the country, where they find the looming house belonging to the Ulmans. Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) is a soft-spoken, but hulking man who seems somewhat nervous, but is very grateful that Samantha could come on such short notice. Mrs. Ulman (Mary Woronov) is prying and forward. Megan and the couple leave, and Samantha finds herself alone on the first floor of the very large and quiet house. She tries to find ways to pass the time, but as the night wears on, she begins to suspect that all isn't as tranquil as it seems. Could this have anything to do with the eclipse which is occurring?

Up and coming horror director West made his debut with The Roost, an odd little movie which transcended the boundaries of its "strangers stumble across an old farm" story. The House of the Devil received a lot of hype, and thus, I was a bit wary going in. One thing that I'd heard about the film is that it's slow-paced and for once, the reports were accurate. This movie is very slow, and rarely will you see a movie with such deliberate pacing. While the story and characters are introduced at the outset, nothing truly interesting happens for 37 minutes. And when this event occurs, it is truly shocking and jarring. But, then the movie settles down again and there isn't a significant event again for another 21 minutes. During the last 15 minutes, there is some action, but the violence is fairly tame for a modern independent horror movie.

We'll get to how this pacing effects the overall quality of the movie in a moment, but for now, let's discuss how this little movie was able to do what two of Hollywood's heavy-hitters couldn't -- The House of the Devil not only appears to set in the early 80s, but it looks as if it was actually made at that time as well. The music, the costumes, the cars and the locations give the movie the 80s look and little details such as the cassette Walkman and the rotary dial phone solidify the facade. Also, unlike Grindhouse, which was made to look as if it had been played over-and-over, The House of the Devil shows just enough of a grainy and washed-out look to make you think that it was shot on a low-budget years ago. The other aspect of the film which is very authentic is the fact that not much happens in the movie. In the late 90s, when a slew of early 80s horror movies were released on DVD, I had a shocking wake-up call -- all of the R-rated movies that I'd watched as a 12-year old and that I swore were great, were mostly boring, talky movies with very little action.

As for the movie itself, your enjoyment of The House of the Devil is all going to depend on your patient level. Some are going to think that this is the most boring movie ever made, and they would be justified in taking that stance. Others are going to appreciate the "slow burn" and applaud the fact that West saves all of the action for the finale. I can appreciate this view as well. As for me, I'm somewhere in the middle. I did find my mind wandering at times as I watched Sam search the big house. But, I also got caught up in the anticipation, as I assumed that something had to happen sooner or later. In the end, I feel that the "slow burn" went on for too long and it reached the point where I wondered if the low-budget prevented anything from happening in the film. I also had some issues with the sparse script. Even when the film is over, we never have a clear picture of what has just happened and we are left to speculate. But, unlike other movies of this ilk, there's no urge to discuss the movies with others -- we simply let it go.

So, I applaud West for having the guts to make such a divisive and unique movie so early in his career. He certainly gets points for nailing the historical aspects of the film. However, in the end, his attempt to make a movie which is 90% atmosphere left me wanting a lot more.

The House of the Devil does an embarrassing dance to The Fixx on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Dark Sky Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is nicely sharp and clear. Again, the image shows grain, but this was intentional, as West let the natural film grain through to give the movie an older look. Still, this grain isn't intrusive and there are no defects from the source material. The colors look good, although they are slightly washed out at times, as reds and yellows appear pale. The image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows a nice amount of detail. The Disc holds a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For the most part, this is a very quiet film. However, when Samantha is in the house, the audio mix shines. There are nice stereo and surround effects which demonstrate where the sounds are coming from in the house. These show great speaker placement and stereo separation. The finale offers some nice subwoofer effects.

The House of the Devil Blu-ray Disc has several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Director Ti West and actress Jocelin Donahue. There is then a second COMMENTARY with West, Producer Larry Fessenden, Producer Peter Phok, and Sound Designer Graham Reznick. The Disc contains 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. The bulk of this is taken up by a phone conversation between Sam and Megan. In an odd move, we get two separate scenes showing each speaker going through the scene...so, in essence, we sit through the scene twice. "In The House of the Devil" (14 minutes) is simply on-set video showing various stages of filming. There's no narrative or interviews here, just a look at the actors and crew at work. "Behind The House of the Devil" (5 minutes) offers comments from West and the cast who discuss the story and their views on horror films. The final extra is the TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long