THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) Reviews of Ti West’s retro horror classic

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‘Talk on the phone. Finish your homework. Watch TV. Die.

The House of the Devil is a 2009 American horror film written, directed, and edited by Ti West (The Sacrament; V/H/S ‘Second Honeymoon’; The ABCs of Death ‘M is for Miscarriage’; The Innkeepers; Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever; The Roost).

The plot concerns a young college student (Donahue) who is hired as a babysitter at an isolated house and is soon caught up in bizarre and dangerous events as she fights for her life. The film combines elements of both the slasher film and haunted house subgenres while using the “satanic panic” of the 1980s as a central plot element.


Main cast:

Jocelin Donahue (All the Creatures Were Stirring; Dead Awake; Insidious Chapter 2), Tom Noonan (Late Phases; The RoostWolfen), Mary Woronov (The Devil’s Rejects; Frog-g-g!; Night of the Comet), Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen (The GuestThe Sacrament; You’re Next), Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe.


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In the 1980s, after her landlady (Dee Wallace) gives her an extension on the deposit for her new apartment, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) takes on a babysitting job for Mr Ulman (Tom Noonan) and his wife (Mary Woronov).


Ulman asks to meet her but stands her up, later apologizing and offering to pay double the original salary. Samantha accepts and gets a ride to the remote mansion from her best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), who expresses her distrust.


At the house, Mr Ulman pulls her aside and reveals that he does not have any children to be monitored; the babysitting job is to attend to his wife’s ailing mother. Samantha baulks but finally agrees, if he will pay her $400, a significant increase in her pay. Megan immediately leaves, citing Ulman’s lies and peculiar behaviour, but she reluctantly promises to pick up Samantha later. Samantha stays, after accepting the money…


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“…if there’s anything scarier than a haunted house, it’s a possibly haunted house. The film may provide an introduction for some audience members to the Hitchcockian definition of suspense: It’s the anticipation, not the happening, that’s the fun.”

“[West] “has come up with a period pastiche that mimics the low-res vibe and look of early-1980s horror […] Mr. West doesn’t just rise to the horrific occasion, he also revels in its simplicity, squeezing chills by turning on the lights, squeaking the floorboards and, in a heart-thumping scene, sending his heroine up the unavoidable stairs. … After years of vivisectionist splatter, here is a horror movie with real shivers.” The New York Times


“Sure, Halloween made people realize that suburbia isn’t as safe as it pretends to be, but this makes it scary to trust anyone. I just can’t give Ti West more praise for doing what he’s done here. Clearly, he knows the genre inside and out. Every aspect of filmmaking is flawless.” Slasher Studios

” …the bulk of its runtime is taken up by Donahue tiptoeing through the shadows of an empty house to a soundtrack of creaking doors and peculiar thuds. And even if we might titter at our heroine’s high-waisted stonewash jeans and orange, sponge-eared headphones propped over a Farrah Fawcett ’do, the film’s nostalgic design is subtle enough not to dampen the seriously sinister atmospherics.” Time Out

” …an 80s-style shocker which promises much at first – particularly with a pastiche-grindhouse credit sequence that Tarantino himself might admire. But things quickly get silly and unscary … Inevitably, the eerie atmosphere of the deserted house is far creepier than the subsequent gross-out action.” The Guardian

[West] shrewdly uses our entire sense memory of horror movie experiences to bring his seen-it-all audience to a jittery state of unnerving, shoe-dropping anticipation.” The Los Angeles Times


“…Ti West’s latest mimics ’80s horror flicks with a straight face. Its rhythms, dialogue, and period detail are so finely attuned to the style of its chosen era that, were it not for a technical dexterity generally absent from its predecessors, the film might pass as an exhumed relic.” Slant Magazine


“… you start to suspect that the movie is all build-up. Still, it’s great build-up — both an authentically scary turn of the screw and a stunningly meticulous retro homage.” The Telegraph


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“The production is an achievement for the genre in its discipline and restraint, keeping 5/6 of the ride (relatively) bloodless and air-taught, manipulating the audience to a dreadful conclusion that builds from the film’s first five minutes and detonates without mercy. You may not be able to watch this twice, but you’ll certainly remember it forever.” Sean Edgar, Paste magazine




Cast and characters:

Jocelin Donahue … Samantha Hughes
Tom Noonan … Mr Ulman
Mary Woronov … Mrs Ulman
Greta Gerwig … Megan
A. J. Bowen … Victor Ulman
Dee Wallace … Landlady
Lena Dunham … 911 Operator

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