Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Film Appreciation - Baby $itter Needed

This week, Jay Burleson takes Film Appreciation through a tour of The House of the Devil!

The House of the Devil (2009)
Directed by Ti West
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, and Mary Woronov

This film is obviously a new favorite of mine, with it only being released back in 2009, but House of the Devil is set in the 1980s and conjures up a wonderful '80s feel. I'd be willing to say that it's also much more satisfying as a horror film than most of the ones that were actually made back in those days. Ti West does a terrific job of not only creating that vibe, but also in ratcheting up the suspense.

Not a whole lot happens in "Devil", but when things do start happening, they are pretty damn eventful. The film follows young college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) as she tries to track down some extra money to pay for her new apartment. She replies to a babysitter ad that she discovers on her school bulletin board and, after some confusion, is given the job.

Upon her arrival she finds out that she won't be babysitting a child but instead looking after an elderly woman who is asleep upstairs. Mr. Ulman, a desperate man who seems to be at his wits end, keeps throwing more money at Samantha until she finally agrees to take the job. With the amount of cash she's making now, things seem too good to be true, and it doesn't take long for things to go from too good to very, very bad.

Tom Noonan appears as Mr. Ulman and really steals the show. His performance is so scatterbrained in the beginning and it's one of my favorite parts of the entire film. He seems so lost in his plans yet so devilish at the same time. I mostly remember Noonan for his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster in the '80s film The Monster Squad, but it was great seeing him in this role and I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off like he did. Mary Woronov is equally creepy as Mrs. Ulman and The Signal's AJ Bowen pops up a few times as well. Anyone reading who wants to see Bowen in a much meatier role should be on the lookout for A Horrible Way to Die, which will be available this year from Anchor Bay. Bowen is creepy here, but in a much different way than the aforementioned actors. Mumblecore actress Greta Gerwig plays Samantha's friend in a few scenes and has a very memorable encounter with Bowen in a cemetery. This scene really lets us know that this film isn't playing around.

Samantha is played by Jocelin Donahue, a young actress who I had heard of before seeing this film, but had never actually seen at work. She turns in a really super performance and is flawless in the role. As much as the film looks like an '80s movie, Jocelin's Samantha feels like an '80s movie character, and it works extremely well. To me, Samantha comes off a lot like Laurie Strode in the original Halloween. She's a really likeable character and easy for the audience to identify with. I never wanted to see anything bad happen to her, but knew it would, which makes the middle section of the film that much more tense.

Speaking of that middle section...

The middle portion of THOTD plays perfectly for me. It builds everything up to the boiling point, which finally spills over to complete chaos for the last fifteen minutes or so. Samantha is now alone, in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere, the only person around is the sleeping old woman upstairs. Or so she thinks, at least. Samantha makes herself at home as she wanders around the house. It is here that the house itself becomes such a major player in the film, and let me tell you, it's an awesome house. The set design team are on top of their game here and the mood is pitch perfect. One of the review blurbs in the trailer compares the suspense to the work of Roman Polanski, and I can agree that there are some shades of Polanski's work here.

The last few minutes of Devil display the perfect payoff for the hardcore horror fans who mustered enough energy to last through the suspense-building middle section, and it's a hell of a payoff. For those of you who enjoy a nice balance of blood and suspense, you are in for a treat when it comes to The House of the Devil. It's also worth noting that horror actress Dee Wallace makes a brief appearance at the start of the film as Samantha's new landlord. You can view THOTD yourself on Netflix Instant View or if you really want to see it in its intended '80s atmosphere you can pick the film up on VHS at Amazon.com.


  1. Excellent Review. Thought House Of The Devil was a winner. Also loved the 80s feel to it.

  2. This flick had some great retro vibe!