Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: The House of the Devil (DVD)

Verdict: 3.0 out of 5

If your fondest horror movie memories take you back to the early 1980s and movies like Halloween, you'll want to have a look at The House of the Devil, which meticulously recreates the look and feel of horror cinema of that era. Directed by Ti West, whose resume includes such nuggets as Cabin Fever 2, it also indulges in the nearly lost art (at least for the horror genre) of the slow burn, taking its sweet time to get to the payoff.

College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), desperate for cash to pay her first month's apartment rent, snags a phone number for a babysitting gig from a bulletin board on campus. When she gets the job and shows up at the middle-of-nowhere address, she finds herself in a dark, cavernous old house with a mysterious old couple (the briefly seen but effective Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) who would have fit right in with the Rosemary's Baby crowd. Samantha is then left to her sitting duties, and the movie finally begins to amp up the tension with a few bump-in-the-night noises and … well, not much else, really, until the climactic scenes, which center around a lunar eclipse and a rather unconventional ritual.

To be such a long time coming, the denouement is neither original nor particularly compelling, but that's also not the point in a movie that gives you Dee Wallace (the mom in E.T.) as the landlady and a soundtrack that includes The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" played on cassette through a Walkman. Satisfying as those nods to elder horror fans may be, it's equally disappointing that the movie mostly squanders the frightful opportunities of Samantha wandering tentatively around that big scary house — it's a slow burn that never reaches a boil.

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