Below are two Lewis University students’ perspectives on the 2009 horror film The House of the Devil.
Get Your Paper Bags Ready
House of the Devil takes you on an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. You start by comfortably strapping into the relatable college environment, listening to the deafening, upbeat ’80s soundtrack, and awaiting the thrill. Once you’re secure and devoted without an exit, you begin by slowly traveling into heightened suspense and elevated anxiety as you become aware of the climactic drop that is inevitably in front of you. Once you reach the top, you get a few short moments to gasp and take your last breath before you’re consumed by the full-speed terror, teased without knowing what twists and turns may come next. Finally, you’re abruptly halted as the ride has come to a stop.
Did you bring that paper bag I mentioned? Because, House of the Devil leaves you to stagnate with echoing screams, recurring images, and a new sense of lingering, hyperventilating horror. Although released in 2009, the filming techniques and styles used here beautifully capture the atmosphere of classic ’80s horror flicks. For a college student like myself, this film truly puts into perspective the setting of a ride-bumming, bored-eating, clutter-filled-dorm-room-living, hopeful college student who only wants a quick fix for cash so she can pay her first month’s rent on a new apartment.
The subtle, childlike demeanor of the main character’s best friend Megan engages the audience in some comedic relief amid the suspicious circumstances of Samantha’s new babysitting gig. Low-angle shots and bottom lighting personify the Ulman’s house as a powerful and frightening menace, similar to the cannibal’s house in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Bates’ mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
From the moment Megan is driving Samantha to the Ulman’s house, viewers are sinking in their seats, preparing for the expected and cliché jump scare. House of the Devil is the first, and hopefully last, film that left me feeling like I was crawling out of my own skin, and that my heart was pounding against my chest, begging for escape. In that moment, I was completely and utterly haunted.
You can also visit Courtney’s own blog at Horror Film Mondays.
A Classic Feel with a Modern Spin
From the moment we are brought into this film, it is obvious that Ti West’s The House of the Devil is going to include a reemergence of the classic ’80s stereotypes we have grown to know and love. Ti West does something extremely smart when placing the opening credits over freeze frames of our main character, Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), because it allows us to automatically feel connected to her. It also reminds us of the films we have watched over and over. However, with this being a horror film, West also creates an atmosphere that makes the viewer slightly uncomfortable. The dulled sounds and grainy edits, something that we have become accustomed to when viewing films made 30 years ago, is somehow out of place when viewing a movie that came out in the last decade.
The feeling of nostalgia that viewers experience is almost misplaced, and it begins the sensation of terror in their stomachs for the anticipation of what may come next. This feeling of dread compounds throughout the movie when little oddities begin to occur, such as Mr. Ulman’s peculiar phone habits, strange appearance, “off” mannerisms, and unusual interactions with his own wife, whom Samantha engages with as well. Everything adds to this dreadful feeling.
So, commence the white knuckles on every viewer, as Samantha is left alone in this Hitchcockian house. The suspense builds, and the misè-en-scene alone is enough to make a viewer go mad. Although there are moments of relief placed strategically throughout, the anticipation for the modern day, fast-paced gore we have grown used to is immense.
The lull in the movie, which is preceded by the abrupt and gory death of Samantha’s friend Megan, allows a viewer’s imagination to run rampant. The yearning for questions to be answered grows exponentially with every passing scene as Samantha slowly explores the home.
I commend Ti West’s use of these elements that build suspense, similar to the ones that the great Alfred Hitchcock used thoroughly himself. When the film is over, the viewers are left with a feeling in the pit in their stomachs that is never quite resolved… much like Samantha.
Heather Ray is a junior studying physics with a computer science minor. She loves to travel and go to concerts. One of her passions is art, including doing DIY projects. When it comes to music, she’s very diverse in her tastes, but pop-punk never fails. Her favorite animal is a ring-tailed lemur, and she’s determined to one day own a pug and a hedgehog.
Courtney Dial, a senior at Lewis University, is majoring in biochemistry with a minor in biology. She is moving on to graduate school next fall with the hopes of eventually working with infectious diseases. Although science is a major passion of hers, her interests also lie in music, books, and — of course — horror films. If she isn’t relaxing at her house, invested in a good book or watching a terrifying film, you can find her jamming out at a concert of her favorite punk-rock, post-hardcore, or alternative band. You can read more of her horror film reviews at her blog Horror Film Mondays.