Found below are three reviews of the 2009 indie horror film, The House of the Devil, written by Lewis University students Alec Pace, Kayla Carson, and Gabrielle Vasilevskis.
The House of the Devil is a methodically structured film that highlights the monstrosities of the human psyche. Although the film’s slow-paced narrative may seem daunting to a viewer’s attention span, the director’s elaborate storytelling and strikingly visual ending make the viewing worthwhile. From the beginning, we are placed in Ti West’s homage to the 1980s as Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) walks back to her dorm room while listening to her Walkman. This is not the film’s only relationship to the 1980s as it was shot on 16mm film, which gives it a similar grainy look as many vintage films did in that era.
These retro elements of the film present feelings of nostalgia and intertextuality to films such as Halloween 1978, especially in relation to voyeurism. From the beginning, it seems that Samantha is being violated when Mr. Ulman stands her up at the school and lies to her about the details of the babysitting job. By this point in the film, Samantha is already the victim, before even confronting the two demons of the house. As Samantha’s stay in the Ulman’s house continues, she is forced deeper into a dark pattern by uncovering insightful clues on who the owners of the house really are. By halfway through the film, Samantha is already helpless; every time she comes closer to the truth of why she’s there, there is already someone one step ahead of her. That person is Victor Ulman, who we share the perspective of as we see Samantha sitting on the couch through the window. Not only does this first-person shot share elements to the opening scene of Halloween 1978, but it also puts the audience in the shoes of the violator.
As we watch Samantha wander around the house throughout the film, we become the violators of the film, and by the end during the satanic ritual, we have become participants. This is a detail that Ti West and his crew are able to create that increases the tension as the film reaches its climatic end. What makes this horror film a unique and innovative experience is how it is able to make ordinary horror elements and amplify their effect on the audience. Not only does the use of low-key lighting present an ominous tone in the film, but it also draws reference to the darkening shadow of the moon from the lunar eclipse. And most importantly, the sharp high-tone soundtrack amplifies the intensity of the already-appalling moments in the film. Ti West does not recreate the pallet of horror films, but merely polishes it to construct a pleasing experience for its viewers.
Who are you running from? The psycho with a chainsaw? The masked slasher? The flesh-eating zombie? At least you can see what you’re running from. What about running from someone/something you cannot see? In The House of the Devil, there is a battle royale between the doings of the Devil, and the vulnerable college woman. This slow-paced film builds an incredible amount of suspense by leaving viewers chilled by the thought of such a devil worshiping horror that does exist.
Ti West places viewers right up close and personal with the film’s characters, utilizing many close-up shots to enhance the terror he is trying to provoke (like the face of the grandmother and the stone-cold killer son). We as an audience feel Samantha’s vulnerability to the dark and demented phenomenon blanketing the beautiful Victorian home. Between the strategically placed jump scares accompanied by eerie music, and the overall sense of the unknown displayed throughout the movie, we are just as surprised as Samantha is when she discovers the Ulman son’s body in the middle of a pentagram on the floor. This instance contrasts so immensely to the beginning of the film when Samantha calls for the babysitting job (or as she calls it, the “sit in the house, eat pizza, watch Night of the Living Dead, get paid $400, and then be sacrificed to the devil himself” job).
Overall, The House of the Devil captures aspects of the horror genre, such as silence, suspense, jump scares, and an evil villain (literally), and compiles them into one film. I definitely thank Ti West for teaching me NOT to become a babysitter no matter how broke I am, or how much a tall creepy man will pay me to do it.
The House of the Devil is a love letter to classic 80s horror films that timidly hides among modern horror films. This film manages to capture the true essence of the 80s: the nostalgic hits, the grainy camera, and the prominent fashion marked by big hair and high-waist pants. However, The House of the Devil really shines through in its purposeful callbacks to 80s horror elements. Unlike modern horror films, this film does not spoil or desensitize the viewer to a marathon of gore and nudity right at the get-go. Instead, this film takes its time by building up the horror and suspense through elements of mise-en-scène, such as the lightning, sound, and the recurring colors of white and red that leave the viewer submissive and vulnerable to the plot by sitting on the edge of their seat thinking, “When will this go bad?”
Director Ti West manipulates our emotions with sound as the film creates an illusion for the viewer that a jump scare will happen soon, only to find out it was a false alarm. Ti West allows the audience to soak up the mise-en-scène in this film by placing the camera in a seemingly casual spot as if we are to watch something horrific unravel behind the curtains — or behind the couch that Sam is sitting on — yet we are actually examining the house and the environment, searching for clues just as Sam is doing herself.
The recurring colors of white and red are evident through the placement of specific lamps, as they are foreshadowing the splashing use of those colors later on. Low-key lighting is used to cast a shadow of the stair railings on Sam’s face to indicate that she is trapped, also foreshadowing events to come. Ti West explicitly incorporates these techniques which may be familiar to 80s horror fans. The film shares intertextuality with Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and John Carpenter’s Halloween, as both films also utilized sound and lighting techniques to frighten its audience.
Alec Pace is a senior majoring in Psychology. He is highly interested in several topics of the field of Psychology, specifically those pertaining to psychopathology and social psychology. Before Alec began studying Psychology, he studied Film Studies for three semesters. He learned about several topics in Film Studies, ranging from studying the history of world cinema to gaining hands-on experience in the filmmaking process. Some of Alec’s favorite films consist of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Raging Bull, Se7en, and Tombstone. Away from school when he is not working, Alec enjoys relaxing and watching all types of sports, as well as staying up to date on new T.V. shows and films. Alec has lived in Illinois for about fourteen years, after moving from Colorado, a place he misses very much. Alec lived in several different states before moving to Illinois (Washington, Oregon, and Arkansas), and he would like to travel to as many places as possible once he can afford to.
Kayla Carson is a Theatre major and Film Studies minor at Lewis University. She has been involved in Theatre since she was thirteen years old and it has become her life and the reason she wakes up every morning. She is blessed to say that she has been given the opportunity to voice act for a video game, star in a short television series, and perform on the stage of the Philip Lynch Theatre. She recently declared her Film Studies minor, and is excited to continue her studies with it. She aspires to pursue stage and/or film acting within the next five years. She knows that Lewis will give her any resource needed to succeed and she cannot wait to see what the future holds for her, along with her fellow students.
Gabrielle Vasilevskis is a graduating senior finishing her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Lewis University. This fall, she will begin her Clinical Psychology doctoral program at Midwestern University. She serves as the President of the Lewis University Psychology Club and is a research assistant in the Psychology department working under the supervision of Dr. Edmund Kearney. She works as an academic tutor at the university’s learning resource center. During the summer, she frequently travels to visit family in western states and Europe. Her hobbies include binge-watching Netflix TV shows, watching movies, and playing videogames.