The Scariest Things Episode CXXXIII: An Examination of Ti West’s Masterpiece: The House of the Devil (2009)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Jocelin Donahue is Housesitting in The House of the Devil (2009)
You might have noticed that there is an episode gap in our Podcasting roster. Well… we skipped an episode. What happened to Episode 133? Whoops! But we will not leave a hole in our Podcast schedule, oh no! We have decided to do something a little different, this time: A single film analysis. We look back at one of our favorite independent horror films of the last 20 years: The House of the Devil (2009), by Director Ti West. It’s a near-perfect exercise in horror story development and execution, and you can hear our rationale in this bonus podcast episode!

A number of films have emulated the nostalgia train of the late seventies and early eighties, but none perhaps as successfully as The House of the Devil. Everything from the film stock, to the cars, the art direction, the clothes, and the FEEL of the movie just screams 1981. In a way, it sets this up as a pre-ironic movie, free from the notions of having to try and provide easter eggs and knowing winks to the audience, while at the same time delivering all of the essential elements that evoke the grimy dread of that era.

The film’s wonderful protagonist Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is a female lead who has perfect motivation for her decision-making, willing to take a few small risks, but not knowing the enormity of the situation she has been placed into. Samantha isn’t a character who develops, so much as that she is fully rendered from the beginning, and since the situation is a one-night event, the amount of time we get to spend with her in the first act of the movie is essential viewing as we get to know her and develop a serious empathy for her.

The story also manages to be an homage to Rosemary’s Baby, going so far as having an odd elderly couple as the eccentric villains (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov as Mr. and Mrs. Ulman, your analogs for the Castavets). Fortunately, the cards are slowly revealed though, so as not to spoil anything. It unfolds at exactly the speed that it should.

Unlike many of the ’80s movies in the time period that this is set in, this has a small cast of all essential characters. The fact that this isn’t a high-body-count movie does not discount how absolutely scary this film is. The violence and horror when they do come are surprising and sudden. In the way that many of the more winking ironic films that came from the Scream era, this film manages to place the jump scares when you don’t expect them. It’s smarter horror construction.

I feel that in many ways, this film is more like Hereditary, The Lodge, and Goodnight Mommy in its execution. Some might call it a slow burner, as it follows a familiar narrative structure, but is punctuated with events that disrupt your normal sense of timing and expectations, and that’s where the horror grabs you. That, and you get terrific acting performances from all.

There are three of us, however, doing the review, and for me to expound much further would take away from the terrific conversation we all had regarding this seminal film. We normally don’t do podcasts about single films, but if you enjoy this format let us know, and we’ll look for more films to analyze like this in the future.

This episode did remind us, however, that for some crazy reason, The House of the Devil did not make our top 100 Horror movies of all-time list, and it really should have. So, you may be interested to know that we will be returning to our top 100 Horror Films of All-Time in 2022. We had 35 jurors in our last selection committee, and for 2022, we would like to get many more. When the time comes, and you would like to be one of the jurors to submit your favorite movies, become one of Patreon patrons, for as little as $2.50 a month, and we will include your movies as part of our canonical list!

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy our discussion of the fantastic film that is The House of the Devil.

Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) goes upstairs to investigate a mysterious noise in The House of the Devil (2009)

A couple of fun post-note casting tidbits: Oscar winning-director Greta Gerwig plays Samantha’s best friend Megan. Emmy nominated Actress/Director Lena Dunham gets a tiny voice-over role as a 911 operator. Horror veteran actress Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo, Critters) plays the landlord at the beginning of the movie.

Not a bad cast!

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