Friday, February 5, 2010

Damn, It Feels Good to Be a B-Movie Babysitter -- Reflections on "The House of the Devil"

My best friend, Jason, has a sizable collection of and affinity for B-Horror movies. Not the Roger Corman stuff of the 60s, or the Hammer movies in the 70s. No. Jason loves the B-Movie fare of the 80s. Shit like C.H.U.D., Piranha, Creepshow, and the classic Frogs. This is, of course, one of the things I love about him – he provides me with no end of jokes and goofs at his expense.

So, as I watched Ti West’s movie, The House of the Devil, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jason. This movie is up his alley. It’s campy, cheesy, and exploitative. But one thing separates it from the shit he’s been trying to make me watch for the last 13 years.

It’s really good.

The House of the Devil is set up and executed like an 80s horror film. It’s about a college girl named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who’s trying to get out of the dorm she shares with her messy, irresponsible, sex-crazed roommate, but needs $300 to make the first month’s rent before she can move. Her prayers seem answered when she discovers a flier posted requesting a babysitter. Sure, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), the man who needs the sitter, seems a little weird and desperate, but he and his wife (Mary Woronov) really want to enjoy the evening’s lunar eclipse; they just can’t do it from home. So, Sam goes into the job and enters the House of the Devil (as if the title didn’t give that one away).

Like all 80s horror movies, you can see that this will not end well. It sucked being an 80s babysitter. There just wasn’t enough training for these girls to deal with the onslaught of psycho killers, demon children and satanic cults they had to face. The babysitter horror story singlehandedly destroyed the business for teens and young college types forever. Seriously: how many parents actually still pay teen girls to watch their kids anymore? Babysitting has become an inbred industry – there is no longer outsourcing to people from other families. I blame Halloween, When a Stranger Calls, and Child’s Play for this.

What makes this film super good, though, is they way it builds suspense. It doesn’t cater to the incessant need of modern gore-porn to throw blood, mutilation and torture at every turn. Instead, the movie plays like Chinese water torture, each moment another drop that doesn’t feel very strong initially, but by the end has you in agony. This is done through the simple, yet killer characters. Sam is all doe-eyed naïveté and classic scream queen beauty. Her friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), is cynical yet caring, and has some of the best lines in the movie. But the film belongs to Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman, a peculiar man, whose voice sounds equally reasonable and ominous, and whose behavior and measured movements send chills. This is not the type of man you want answering the door to give candy on Halloween night.

I’m looking forward to watching this one again with Jason – he’ll be in B-Movie heaven!

DVD case tagline: “It’s Rosemary’s Baby meets Halloween! You’ll never want to babysit again!”

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