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October 9, 2011

Movie Review: The House of the Devil (Blu-Ray)

I remember going to the drive-in with my father. It was a little place in Brighton, MI that has, of course, been closed for quite awhile now. The last time he was allowed to take me to the drive-in without matriarchal supervision was an epic night. The double feature was Friday the 13th 3D and John Cassavettes starring in Incubus. I was terrified and perplexed and intrigued all at the same time. Those films at the drive-in in the late seventies/early eighties were magical. The best part of a horror film at the drive-in was that even though you were surrounded by people, you were exposed. Exposed to the elements. Exposed to seeing teenagers in various states of undress. Exposed to the maniacs on that screen that the usher in a theater would stop before they got to you. Not at the drive-in, though. This is exactly what The House of the Devil made me feel again. Exposed.


The House of the Devil is a throwback to a different style of filmmaking. It isn't anything like the current crop of grindhouse redux films that are in vogue for the next couple of years. The House of the Devil was crafted in the same manner those films were in the seventies, straight from script to screen. In most horror films in this century, there is a distinct lack of something very, very important. If you don't watch older films or aren't old enough to experience the former eras in the horror film, you probably can't put your finger on it. Let me help you. What modern horror is missing is sympathy. Empathy. We, as an audience, don't care about those characters on the screen. We don't identify with them and we certainly don't give a damn if they live or die. In The House of the Devil there was a great deal of time spent on developing our main character. She became real to us, in stages like good filmmaking dictates, and when she did finally run into a big steaming ball of danger, we cared if she lived or died. We cared what happened to her at that house. We cared because she was real to us. A living breathing human being with dreams and hopes. Those hopes and dreams are summarily dashed against the rocks of a Satan-worshiping family hellbent (pun intended) on bringing the spawn of the devil to this plane... but I digress.

For some viewers, The House of the Devil will be painfully slow. For those viewers, who probably hate Hitchcock's work as well or liked Rob Zombie's version of Halloween, all I can say is take your meds and watch MTV. What they don't realize is that being involved in the ups and downs, life and death, of a well-crafted horror movie protagonist is called building suspense. The suspense in The House of the Devil is nearly unbearable... which is a beautiful achievement.

The House of the Devil's writer/director, Ti West, has really done something special here, in this day in age. In 1973, the film would be a solid representation of the genre, but now, during our 'smart horror dry spell' that's been going on since the mid 1990s, The House of the Devil is a fine addition to my Blu-Ray shelf. The Blu-Ray transfer itself is gorgeous. Every pop and crack of the film and every camera move are executed with exacting detail to give the impression we are no longer in 2010. Special features include some great commentaries and deleted scenes, but these pale in comparison to the experience of the film itself.

In an interesting side note, when this film was originally released, the distributor, MPI, released a limited edition VHS in clamshell. That's classic.

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