JFR’s Managing Editor Weighs in On a Frightful Classic: “The House of the Devil”

Recently, we featured reviews from two students on the 2009 film The House of the Devil. Below is another perspective on the same film, written by Jet Fuel Review Managing Editor Sam Gennett.

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For film fans who are nostalgic for the ‘80s but are tired of re-watching Halloween to get their retro-horror fill, Ti West’s The House of the Devil (2009) is a refreshing rejuvenation of late ‘70s and early ‘80s horror. Shot on 16 mm film, this movie seems to have been teleported from the ‘80s into the 21st century. With the grainy film look, dim cinematography, and use of Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart,” West brings viewers back to the good ol’ days of flannel, indoor ashtrays, and Satan worship.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), desperate for money, takes a babysitting job, but didn’t we all learn what happens when you babysit after watching Elizabeth Shue in Adventures in Babysitting (1987)? Clearly, Samantha missed that film because she coerces her friend into driving her to a house in the middle of nowhere. They pass a cemetery on their way there, and the shot is briefly superimposed over the establishing shot of the house, effectively foreshadowing events to come.

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After Samantha is left alone to “babysit,” she turns on her Walkman and dances around the empty house like Tom Cruise in Risky Business (1983), a moment of brief loudness in an otherwise quiet film. West effectively creates a quiet and tame atmosphere for most of the film, which causes the grand finale to be even more discombobulating.

Tired from all her dancing, Samantha decides to order a pizza. The pizza boy on the other line of the phone jokingly asks her if she wants “extra anchovies,” paying homage to Joan Micklin Silver’s Loverboy (1989). Samantha declines the anchovies, but she will definitely be receiving much more than pizza that night. Unfortunately, it won’t be Patrick Dempsey.  

West’s film contains a hefty amount of intertextuality, referencing countless films from the ‘70s and ‘80s. It is also incredibly postmodern, as it takes on one of postmodernism’s main mantras: to recreate/re-see history. In this film, West gets away from the generic slasher formula that was trending toward the end of the 20th century and creates a film that deserves recognition as it highlights why people tend to and probably should fear strangers.

Nothing about The House of the Devil is hokey or overdone, instead acting as a beautiful fusion, showing present-day concerns through a kaleidoscope of the past.

— Sam Gennett, Managing Editor

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