While inducing massive cringes about real estate is no big feat during this ongoing national foreclosure crisis offscreen, perpetrating true effective horror fare continues to elude most filmakers. In other words, in a genre where less is best rather than excess, characters can be bullied into a state of major fright, but audience members are another matter. And Ti West’s The House of the Devil is just that sort of old school vintage terror yarn that comprehends how horror rules when simmering to a slow boil, as opposed to an overcooked brew.
Jocelin Donahue is Samantha in The House Of The Devil, an anxious rural college coed with money troubles. This is the typical movie campus where nobody ever attends classes or cares about grades, and the student body tends to be more into pizza instead. In any case, fed up with a sex junkie roomate who seems to be majoring in mating, and who habitually locks Samantha out of their dorm room to do the nasty minus any interruptions, she sets her sights on an off campus house that the strapped for cash student can in no way afford.
So when a notice for a babysitter catches her attention despite warning signs that there are fairly mysterious scary circumstances attached, including a forboding male voice on the other end of the phone line, Samantha eagerly pursues the gig. And though second thoughts seep into her mind after Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), the owner of the creaky old mansion next to a graveyard, confesses that there is no baby but rather his elderly daffy mom behind locked doors while he and his weirdo spouse (Mary Woronov) step out to catch the imminent lunar eclipse, his offer of hundreds of dollars in payment calms her more than well grounded fears.
The House Of The Devil simultaneously fools around with audience expectations as well, alternately teasing and spooking out the audience, while taking its time lulling viewers into an ill-advised comfort zone as Samantha in typical teen mode, playfully snoops around the house and gets much too nosy about its contents for her own good. All of which renders The House Of The Devil a well told yarn and not just a kneejerk reaction slice-em-up, percolating in its own solidly crafted narrative juices until it’s more than ready to unforgettably scare the heck out of you.