Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The House of the Devil

First off, sorry about the break in posts this week. If it's any consolation I've been catching up on some movies I missed in recent years: Terminator Salvation, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and The House of the Devil. In all, it's been a pretty frustrating week of movies.

Terminator Salvation had everything it needed to work and still managed to fail miserably. It was almost an experiment in anticlimax, with each scene building without anything resembling tension or a payoff. It was a nice looking movie (though more sunny than I would have imagined a post-apocalyptic world would look) with a great cast, and even sprinkled in a lot of novel ideas. None of those ideas ever blossomed into anything more than just ideas, though.

Bad Lieutenant was equally frustrating. Not only did it not have a payoff, but it never seemed to be heading anywhere. The film just meandered from scene to scene, buoyed by nothing more than an OK Nick Cage performance. For a movie that was supposed to be bugnuts crazy, his performance in Ghost Rider was more unsettling. And fun.

Which brings me to The House of the Devil, a film I just finished watching a few minutes ago. Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know I'm no fan of summarizing  movie plots, so let me post a trailer in case you need to catch up.


The House of the Devil rubbed me the wrong way from the movie's first frames. More than 70% of Americans believed in the existence of Satanic cults in the 1980s, the movie warns in an opening scroll. As someone who grew up during the stupid "SATAN'S COMING FOR YOUR BABIES" bullshit of the '70s and '80s, I found the opening scroll to be a reminder of the kind of ignorance I'd thought we put behind us. I'm sure the majority of folks in 1492 believed the world to be flat, but that doesn't make it fucking true. Was I going to need a tinfoil hat to appreciate this movie?

By the time the credits began to roll I came to the conclusion that The House of the Devil was going to be nothing more than nostalgia fetish. It looked less like a love letter to horror movies of the 1980s than a love letter to Quentin Tarantino's fascination with dated cinematic styles. After watching the movie I still didn't have a real grasp on when it was supposed to take place ... I guess it was the 1980s (a song by The Fixx was a tip off, as was the walkman that actress Jocelin Donahue awkwardly handles like a piece of alien technology) but it's really just a collection of things that scream OLD! For example, here's the title card, which looks like something from a 1970s TV movie:

There wasn't much care put into the selection of clothes and haircuts, which are all just non-specifically bad. The women are all saddled with Farrah hair years after the fashion had passed, and the few men in the film ... well, check out the screencap to your right of an '80s TV anchorman wearing a wig that would look fake at a Rocky Horror screening.

The few period songs used in the movie don't serve any purpose beyond reminding the audience that the movie is set in the '80s. And why was the movie set in the 1980s? I have no idea. This movie had less to do with '80s horror (which only needed some nudity, a minor body count and a masked killer) than it did the proto-slasher films of Bob Clark and John Carpenter, not to mention the TV movies of Dan Curtis.

The House of the Devil is also erratically paced and has absolutely no forward momentum. When there's a shock in the movie it's usually surprising only because SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENED (which is one way to create suspense, I guess.) None of the characters are asked to do much more than appear on screen and talk. The audience is never given an idea of who the badguys are or what they want, though you can make an educated guess during the final minutes of the film. And no offense to director Ti West, but I don't need to actually watch his movie in order to make guesses about a movie's plot. I can do that without his help.

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