FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Aug 23, 2017

Horror Without People: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL

Boy I tells ya, all the recent eclipse business has sure got me thinkin' about horror movies that feature eclipses. It's not a connection everyone would make, obviously, but what can I say? Outside the box is where I live.

Anyway, I started thinking real hard about The House of the Devil. It had been a dog's age (is that a saying?) since I'd last seen it, and it occurred to me that it would be a terrific excuse to bust out a Horror Without People entry...and here we are, that's absolutely everything that's happened in the last 16 or so hours.

Here's the thing, though: The House of the Devil makes for but a mediocre Horror Without People entry! "And you're forging on regardless?" you say, to which I reply "Girl, is this your first time on my site? 'Mediocre' is my bread and oleo!"

In my memories, this film was an overwhelmingly atmospheric, creepy experience owing to dark shadows and long corridors and the such. And it is that kind of experience, but watching it again, I realized it manages this without...well, without much artistry, if that makes sense. Despite the fact that it's largely set in a huge, creepy house, many of the "without people" shots are perfunctory establishing shots rather than moody flourishes. Director Ti West keeps the camera focused mostly on Samantha as she explores the house and it works well. However, it does result in a bit of the ol' "diminishing returns" problem. That's true of every horror film, of course, but in The House of the Devil it's almost that knowing what's coming (or when Sam is actually in peril, or if anything'll happen in the wonderful Walkman sequence, or Megan's fate) really deadens the experience.

But! I still love this movie, even though it did kick off the sort of retro craze in modern horror. (Hopefully It Follows is the peak of it? Sorry man, it's starting to make me cranky. We get it, we all love John Carpenter's Halloween and its iconic score, okay?) So much of it just works and I really appreciate its simplicity: you think the Ulmans are creeps and there's hinky shit going down in their house and there is! Done and done, no fuss no muss. That said, Ti West–who traffics in mood more than anything–could do with some visual pizzazz. (Hmm, I wonder if The Innkeepers fares any better in this regard? It's also been a while since I've seen that, and that's a friggin' haunted house scenario....)


CashBailey said...

Some people call this movie boring, and that makes me sad.

Lathos Tainies said...

This is the only Ti West movie I like. I've only watched it once but I'm afraid that if I watch it twice, I won't like it anymore.

Stacie Ponder said...

I love The Inkeepers as well, but I haven't been as enamored with any other of his films so far. But I like the two I like enough that I look forward to whatever he does next!

matango said...

I am in the same boat. I loved his first two. I didn't care for the ABCs of Death. I was okay with the Sacrament though. The Roost was bad though.

I think the Witch was the high point of retro horror. Cuz it's set in like 1630! Get it!

Patrick said...

Loved House of the Devil the first time, but the second time was not as great. The Innkeepers holds up to better, the story has more meat on its bones and the characters have more character. Not happy with anything other than those two, but still I hope for more greatness.

Also, first time long time here. Glad you're back on it recently.

Anonymous said...

Horror without people -- this is a great insight, and an interesting way to think about a lot of horror movies, and now that I think about it, very possibly describes a lot of my own favorite horror movies.

I enjoyed seeing those screenshots too. For me, Ti West's movies (the ones I've seen anyway -- House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and Second Honeymoon) sort of deal with people who are isolated or trapped. There's a loneliness to them. They wander around trying to understand what's bothering them. I really like his vibe.