Ti West was a young horror director with old-school sensibilities when he made his name with The House of the Devil (2010), a film that seems to come from another time, specifically the boom of the early eighties.
Jocelin Donahue (who recalls a young Karen Allen) is well cast as the small-town college girl, future Oscar-nominated filmmaker Greta Gerwig provides the right attitude as her brassy best friend, and Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov give off appropriately creepy vibes. There’s a babysitter, an isolated house in the middle of nowhere, and devil worshippers but, title aside, this simple but effective little thriller is less splatter movie than mood piece with real shivers. Imagine John Carpenter hired to make a drive-in knock-off of Rosemary’s Baby. It favors tension over spectacle while delivering a palpable sense of helplessness.
West shot in super16, which gives it the grain of an earlier era of filmmaking, but the whole style evokes late-seventies/early eighties low-budget horror, from the austere set decoration and muted colors to the Carpenter-esque score and period songs to the directorial restraint and style of lingering takes, moving camerawork and well-tuned zooms. Not to mention the freeze-frame credits with John Carpenter’s trademark typography.
West followed with more more horror films, numerous episodes of TV, and a terrific western (In a Valley of Vengeance with Ethan Hawke) before returning to big screen horror with the acclaimed X and Pearl (both 2022) with Mia Goth, affirming his place as one of the most interesting American horror directors.
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The House of the Devil [Blu-ray]
The House of the Devil [DVD]
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The DVD and Blu-ray include two commentary tracks (one by director Ti West and actress Jocelin Donahue, another by West with the producers and production designer) where West talks about evoking the texture of an early eighties horror film, a decent making-of and a short promotional featurette.