Sunday, July 25, 2010

Final Girl Film Club: 'House of the Devil'

Writing about this movie is going to be difficult because I kept falling asleep. Each time it happened I would jolt awake a few minutes later, see unfamiliar stuff happening onscreen, sigh with irritation and rewind the movie to the last thing I remembered. This was a tedious exercise but, I imagine, not quite as bad as watching "House of the Devil" straight through without interruption. I'm grateful not to have seen it in a theater, where I would have had to sit upright. This movie is a snooze and I'm afraid director Ti West is a frightful bore.

This is the first film I have watched for the Final Girl Film Club that I have energetically disliked. It will be very interesting to see what the other Film Club Coolies have to say! My friend Jason adored it. I read a bajillion favorable reviews when it came out. But -- I have nothing good to say about "House of the Devil." It is without redeeming qualities.

Everyone's favorite thing about this movie seems to be that it's set in the 1980s and made in the style of the era's brilliant horror movies. And how could you not love that idea? A babysitter, a synthesizer score, a friend with a crazy flip hairdo -- these are great accessories for a horror movie. But they're accessories. You need something real at the core. The movie needs a scary idea, and "House of the Devil" hasn't got one.

Heroine Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) lives in a college dorm and really wants to rent an off-campus apartment from landlady Dee Wallace (tribute! tribute!). To help pay her first month's rent, she accepts a babysitting job from weirdo Tom Noonan ("Manhunter," "Monster Squad") and his weirdo wife, Mary Woronov (the friendly scientist from "Night of the Comet" -- and OK, I did get excited about that). But the house is dark and it's creepy! It might even be the house of the devil! Whatever will Samantha do?

Well, she plays some pool. She listens to her Walkman. She orders a pizza. She watches some TV. She walks around the house. I woke up and skipped the DVD back and she obligingly did it all again.

The problem with this movie is not so much that it's slow -- it's really not that slow -- but it gives your brain absolutely nothing to latch on to. The characters are impossible to understand. How come Samantha needs this apartment SO badly? So she gets sexiled by her roommate. Who hasn't been through that? How come the couple is so weird about pretending they have a kid, and then pretending instead they have an elderly mother who needs looking after? How come they don't even show her the upstairs of the house before leaving her alone? How come she puts her Walkman on? What if the "elderly mother" called out for her? Who's after whom? What's going on? I just sat there getting irritated, and after a while I just quit caring and let my eyes close.

Unfortunately, West's "The Roost" had exactly the same effect on me, which is really a shame because I love farm horror and I love bats and I love zombies. But "The Roost" never quite coheres -- it creates an atmosphere, but it isn't intelligent enough to create a mood. "House of the Devil" is the same. A scene doesn't automatically become interesting because the heroine is using a rotary phone instead of a cell phone. The fact that this is all West has got -- I find it kind of insulting. Come back when you have something to say, dude.

But Mary Woronov! That's pretty sweet. God, do I love "Night of the Comet."


The Floating Red Couch said...

You have to give it to West, he knows how to find the people you haven't seen in a few years to be in his movie.

I have a little problem with one thing in major particular tha tI have been stewing on sinc eI saw this: Jocelin what's-her-name has a voice like a fat Russian bartender in LA, when it came time to scream (finally) she sounded more like Barry White at the beginning of "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" than she did Jamie Lee at the end of Halloween.

I am personally in favor of the shrill high-pitch screamers.

But, hey, she knows how to dot hat weird 80's mod dance know.

CWL said...

Oh dear! I recall loving this (and gushing to my friend about how "nothing happens! Isn't that great?"). If memory serves, a lot of the movie's appeal derives from the authenticity of its eighties setting. West REALLY did a great job at nailing it. I don't know if I'd be as enthusiastic about French Country House of the Devil, set in 2008, or something. But I grew up in the eighties, so the peripherals (and rotary phones) won my heart.

And you cannot deny that this is a swell thing --

AE said...

I really did want to like it! I wanted to like "The Roost" too and thought maybe it had just caught me on an off night. But there just needs to be a little sense tying it all together. I mean, how come Sam is desperate for money? How was she planning to pay the rent in the first place? Why doesn't she get a normal job? Oh, I'm getting all upset again.

Greta Gerwig's hair was amazing. So was her death scene, actually. There, two redeeming qualities!