The Cynical Optimist – 5/3/2010


Back in the ’80s, the horror genre nearly imploded with the brain-splattering proliferation of slasher films. Films like “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Friday the 13th,” and “Halloween” turned the horror genre into an industry of franchises.

The once adolescent audience, which feasted on the blood and morbidity of the previous decade, grew up. The replacement audiences for films of an imaginative nature were being captured instead by an upsurge of science fiction and fantasy films. For all intents and purposes, the horror film was dead.

To re-connect with its audience, horror became more self-mockingly ironic and outright satirical, especially in the latter half of the ’90s. Wes Craven’s “Scream” featured teenagers who were fully aware of, and often made reference to, the history of horror movies, and mixed ironic humor with shocks and scares.

“The House of the Devil” is a return to the classic horror films of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Ti West’s film does not use satire or irony to convey the story, but rather flawlessly recreates the style of horror movies from that era – shot in glorious, grainy16 millimeter film.

Set in the ’80s and based on true, unexplained events, “The House of the Devil” stars Jocelin Donahue as cash-strapped college student Samantha Hughes, who takes a babysitting job at a secluded mansion.

She’s desperate for money and the pay is good, but something doesn’t feel quite right. As a lunar eclipse darkens the night sky, Samantha finds that her employers-cult favorites Tom Noonan (“Manhunter”) and Mary Woronov (“Rock and Roll High School”)-don’t have a baby at all, but something truly terrifying in store for her.

The less you know about this film before seeing it, the better. I will simply say it is, without a doubt, one of the most intense and unsettling horror pictures I’ve ever seen. There’s “The Exorcist,” “The Shining,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and then there’s “The House of the Devil.”

At one point I found myself reaching for my Blu-Ray player’s remote control to view the time remaining on the disc, as the suspense and tension was almost unbearable at times. I kept saying to myself, “I’ve only got 25 minutes left…”