A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?” For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep. The House of the Devil 2009, USA. Written and directed by Ti West. Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig. Ever heard the one about the girl who takes a babysitting job in a scary old house and bad stuff starts happening? Of course you have. It’s a staple of some of the best urban legends and probably half of the horror movies of the ’80s. A couple of the scariest moments in slasher flicks are with Jamie Lee Curtis in HALLOWEEN and Carole Kane in that first twenty minutes of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. You could almost go ahead and throw Ti West’s 2009 thriller THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL in with this fine company. The babysitter is kind of the horror film’s feminist hero. She’s a youngish member of the supposedly weaker sex, who is nonetheless entrusted with the welfare, sometimes the very lives, of the children of responsible adults. These are the same adults who go ahead and leave for a party while there’s some crazy axe-maniac on the loose. The babysitter’s role frequently ends up dovetailing with that of the Final Girl, the oft-discussed survivor of these cinematic killing sprees. Since about 1974, the last man standing has almost always been a female. She is the one who discovers the mutilated bodies of her friends. She is the one who is chased, wounded, terrified, but doesn’t make the same stupid mistakes that the other campers, trick-or-treaters, or students do. She alone is the one to look death in the face and find some way to survive, if not turn the tables and off her own would-be killer. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is a throwback to those ’80s flicks and to the babysitter survivors that populated them. More or less. It opens with the kind of almost believable claim of being ‘based on true events’ that was prevalent in old-school scarefests like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. The true event, in this case, is that there was once a college student who was broke and willing to do damn near anything for a little chunk of change. Against her better judgment, Samantha agrees to meet Mr. Ullman about a babysitting job. Apparently he and his wife are planning to go observe a lunar eclipse that night, which doesn’t sound sketchy at all. The creepy old dude stands her up the first time, but then apologizes and offers to pay her double. Her friend Megan, who might have also been a pretty good Final Girl in another movie, expresses her distrust to Samantha. “People who hire babysitters are usually Satanists,” she says. But Samantha really needs the money, so her friend gives her a ride to the rambling primeval mansion way out in the country. As soon as the girls arrive, Ullman pulls Samantha aside and tells her that he doesn’t really have a child. His son is now grown. Her charge for the evening, he says, is actually his wife’s elderly mother. She’s in a secluded room upstairs, in very bad shape, but don’t worry, you probably won’t even see her. No way, creepy dude, not happening. This whole gig just shrieks of cult activity. Samantha is ready to leave, but then Ullman offers her $400 for just a few hours work. Four hundred dollars . . . hey, you have a microwave, right? How about cable? Before long, Samantha has ordered a pizza and is dancing around the house with her headphones on, trying not to think about the mysterious old woman upstairs. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, right? This movie is so well done, every note in its symphony of tension played to such perfection, that you might almost forget that it’s been done about a million times before. I believe the French call this an homage, when a cliché is expressed better than much of the stuff it’s copying. I’m guessing this is why the movie is set unnecessarily in the ’80s. For good measure, there’s also the presence of a couple horror movie veterans, which make it even more obvious to the audience that the Ullmans are bad news. Tom Noonan is the big-creepy you’ve probably seen most often, from such movie greats as MANHUNTER, THE MONSTER SQUAD, ROBOCOP 2, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, and a memorable appearance on THE X-FILES. Mary Woronov has had a career going all the way back to 1969, with roles in NIGHT OF THE COMET, TERRORVISION, CHOPPING MALL, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (the one about the nurses, not the one about Santa), ROCK n ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. If they don’t make a babysitter’s warning bells go off, then I’m not sure what will. While she makes a few mistakes, Samantha can stand proudly among her babysitter predecessors, if not toward the back, maybe a little bit off to the side. Kind of like this well-done little horror flick. See larger image The House of the Devil [Blu-ray] The Horror Film of the Year available on Blu-ray. Sam (Donahue) is a pretty college sophomore, so desperate to earn some cash for a deposit on an apartment that she accepts a babysitting job even after she finds out there is no baby. Mr. and Mrs. Ulman (cult actors Noonan and Woronov) are the older couple who lure Sam out to their creaky Victorian mansion deep in the woods, just in time for a total lunar eclipse. Megan (Gerwig) is Sam’s best friend, who gives her a ride out to the house, and reluctantly leaves her there despite suspecting that something is amiss. Victor (Bowen) at first seems like just a creepy guy lurking around the house, but quickly makes it clear that Sam will end this night in a bloody fight for her life… 2009 Top 10 List Selections:TimeOut New YorkThe OnionAMCtvSound on Sight New From: $18.99 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.