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House of the Devil

[Rating: 2/5]


“House of the Devil”  tries really, really hard to look, feel and act just like horror movies from the ’80s.   It seems to do a very good job– I’m a pretty bad judge, as I was 12 in 1990 and thus not allowed to watch many horror films in the ’80s, and few of them have shown up on my “must watch” list.    This is not an attempt to revive the successful horror chain films of a previous era, like the recent Nightmare and Texas Chainsaw films.   This is, or appears to be, an attempt to go back in time and recreate the era itself.   Nothing about “House of the Devil” is updated, nothing is played for irony, nothing winks or smirks.   If you stumbled across this on cable some insomnia-ridden night, you’d be convinced it was made in 1983.

And I suppose a certain amount of respect and admiration must be paid to director Ti West.  He certainly possesses an eye for detail and has encyclopedic knowledge of ’80s horror movies.  But what, exactly, is the point of making a movie in 2009 that plays exactly like it was made in 1983?   It wasn’t exactly a golden era of moviemaking.   Is he saying something about the bankruptcy of the current Hollywood culture, perhaps saying that the best, most creative thing he can do is pretend he’s living in another era?   If he is, I’d have to disagree.  A lot of great films have come out the last few years;   it’s not inconceivable that someone would make a movie in 2030 that looks exactly like it was made in 2009.     Watching “House of the Devil” is like watching one of those artists to draws pictures from photographs;  yes, it’s technically very accurate and impressive, but where’s the personality?  I’d like to see what he’s able to do when he’s not imitating someone else.

As a movie, it does some things well and others…not so well.   It is an hour and a half of creepy buildup and red herrings – startling moments that turn out to be nothing but pans clanging or the pizza guy at the door.  That’s the good part, the fun part.   And then it’s a half hour of horror/slash payoff, and that’s the disappointing part.  The last half hour, which needs to be the best and scariest, feels hastily assembled and cheaply produced;  it’s barely better than the silly slasher sequences you might have filmed at home with your friends, some candles, and a boatload of ketchup.

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