The House of the Devil is one of the best feature debuts that I have ever seen. I’ve heard reviewers compare this film to the early work of Polanski, and I would have to agree. If you took the isolation and the paranoia of Repulsion and the satanic horror of Rosemary’s Baby, put them in a blender and poured out the contents, you’d probably get something like The House of the Devil.
The House of the Devil tells the story of a young college student named Samantha (in a near-perfect performance from Jocelin Donahue) who is in need of some quick cash, so she ends up accepting an offer to baby-sit for an extremely creepy old couple (screen legends Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) in an ominous house in the middle of nowhere, much to the disapproval of her quirky best friend, Megan (a hilarious Greta Gerwig). In fact, once she arrives, she soon finds that the couple has invited her over under false pretenses. They have no children to speak of. Samantha is there to look after the old man’s supposedly bed-ridden mother. Naturally, Samantha immediately wants to leave, but the old man – named Mr. Ullman – offers her four hundred dollars to stay. Desperate for the money, Samantha reluctantly decides to stay. The Ullman’s leave the premises, as Samantha settles in to this strange place.
As the night progresses, Samantha makes several disturbing discoveries and begins to realize that everything is not what it seems. She may be in real danger. However, the film does not arrive at this conclusion quickly. Director Ti West lets the sense of dread build for a good solid hour of the running time. This does not detract from the film, but only adds to the creep factor. The House of the Devil is drenched in mood and atmosphere. The house that Samantha inhabits for the majority of the film is as much of a character as anyone or anything else. The audience is alone with Samantha in this house, and as she explores, we are sitting on pins and needles. You’re never quite sure what is going to be around the next corner, or in the next room. The film has a retro-eighties feel that I really enjoyed – in the tradition of Tarantino’s Grindhouse, but less extreme. The opening credits sequence is worth the price of admission alone. The score, composed and conducted by Jeff Grace, is heavy on the strings and incredibly effective. As far as scares are concerned, you’ll never forget the last fifteen minutes!