Although not much actually happens in it, “The House of the Devil” is one of the better horror films to come out of 2009. Barely released in theaters, writer/director Ti West’s ’70s-style shocker is sure to carve out its own little cult on DVD.
Set in the early 1980s, when Walkmans were the size of bricks, the movie actually apes the spate of suspensers birthed by the success of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Its opening credit sequence alone does an excellent job of passing for a period piece “ frozen titles, zoom shot and all.
Appealing newcomer Jocelin Donahue is the flick’s anchor, as economically depressed college student Samantha. Eager to move out of her dorm room, which she shares with an inconsiderate roommate, she rents a quaint little house, despite being short on funds. Opportunity to make up for that deficit arrives when she spots a flyer reading, “BABY $ITTER NEEDED.”
A couple of creepy phone calls later, and on the eve of a lunar eclipse, Samantha shows up at the door of the Ulman family for the job. They’re played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, so right off the bat, you know Something’s Up.
Mr. Ulman admits to hiring Samantha under false pretenses, as they don’t have a child. The gig is really sitting for his wife’s elderly mother while they’re out for the night, and they’re so desperate for a warm body and watchful eye, they pay our coed $400 in cash.
What happens next is how “Devil” earns its due. I won’t breathe a word, but suffice to say, I wish West didn’t give away the secrets with the prologue card. Skip it “ and especially the trailer “ if you’d rather be surprised. Tension builds at a purposeful pace, thick and reliable, paying off in several unnerving moments. While this is not West’s debut, it is his highest-profile gig yet (at least until “Cabin Fever 2” hits DVD later this season). And it is impressive, doing a lot with very little.
Extras include behind-the-scenes footage, which is nothing special, and a production featurette, which is worth a look. The three deleted scenes are correct to have stayed deleted. Oh, and if you’re of the type who enjoys playing drinking games while watching, take a shot every time Greta Gerwig, as Samantha’s friend Megan, licks her fingers. You’ll have alcohol poisoning in no time. “Rod Lott