House of the Devil

A summary of House of the Devil: nothing happens for the first seventy minutes, and then holy shit. The plot riffs off the Satanic Panic of the early 80’s, involving a babysitter, a total eclipse of the moon and a ceremony to Say-Tan. This is a movie meant to throw you off your game. For instance: the halfway scare is important in horror films, the point halfway through the movie when you can count on something fucked-up happening. The halfway scare in House of the Devil happens fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. It’s just one of the things that’s off about this movie, and I mean off in a good way.

College-student Samantha (Sam) wants to move into her own apartment. She doesn’t get along with her roommate, who is a slob and maybe even a sex-addict. Sam finds the perfect apartment but needs cash for the first month’s rent. Luckily, she finds a Babysitter Wanted flyer hanging on a billboard. On the phone the guy seems weird, but Sam needs the money.

Sam’s friend Megan drives her to a house in the middle of nowhere, where the creepy Mr. Ulman reveals there is no child for her to sit. He wants Sam to watch his wife’s elderly mother and offers her four hundred dollars to do it. Mr. Ulman is the family member who interacts with Sam because he’s the best at imitating a normal human being, and he’s not too good at it. Megan thinks her friend is nuts, and tells her so, but Sam needs the money. I mean, she’s stuck in a house in the boondocks without a car, and the people pretending to own the house are probably related to the Manson Family. What could possibly go wrong?

Supposedly inspired by the horror films of the early 80’s, House of the Devil has more of a 70’s vibe. Sam looks like a combo of Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith on Charlie’s Angels. Despite wearing mom jeans for the whole movie, Sam is very attractive. She’s also…I don’t know what you’d call it. Naïve? She’s not stupid. Sam catches the house’s bad vibes right away. As the movie goes on the sense of wrongness grows, and pretty soon she’s peeking around corners armed with a butcher knife.

House of the Devil will either scare or bore the crap out of you. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and this movie foregoes the usual practice of having nameless somethings lurking out of the corner of your eyes. The third act of this movie pays off, big-time, but it all depends on whether you think the ride is worth the wait.

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