Sophomore student Samantha (Jessica Harper look-a-like Jocelin Donahue) finds her own apartment but needs cash to make the first month’s payment. After taking up a babysitting job at the remote country home of an elderly couple, the Ulman’s, she is stunned to learn she will actually be looking after their elderly mother instead.
When Mr Ulman (Tom Noonan, aka Frankenstein in The Monster Squad) offers Sam $400 for the night, she accepts the offer – much to the displeasure of best buddy Megan (a brilliant PJ Soles-like Greta Gerwig).
What follows is, in the best tradition of 1980s horrors like When a Stranger Calls, a night of sheer terror as Sam comes to realize that something sinister is afoot and that she is the key to a terrifying satanic ritual.
Drawing heavily on Roman Polanski’s chillingly perfect psychodramas Repulsion and The Tenant, director Ti West has done a masterful job with this period psychological horror.
He has even successfully pulled cult favourite Mary Woronov out of retirement (a feat in itself according to the director) to lend her dark presence as the mysterious Mrs Ulman. In fact, so great is her mystique that when she made her grand entrance, even John Landis (who I was seated next to at the UK premiere at FrightFest) gasped in excitement. Now that’s an honour. Meanwhile, Howling actress Dee Wallace makes a decent cameo as Sam’s landlady. Too bad we don’t see more of her, though.
Thanks to a dedicated art department, the film faithfully recreates a 1980s feel in this house of the devil, right down to the brown flock wallpaper, terrible furniture and wall phone (which plays an essential role). Even the soundtrack and credits look like they were of the period.
The House of the Devil perfectly captures that horror staple of the era it evokes – Satanism. In fact, the movie opens with real statistics that 70% of Americans believed devil worshipping cults existed, while the other 30% believed government cover-ups prevented people from knowing about them.
If you like your horror served slow roasted with a dash of fright rather than a series of kills for thrills then The House of the Devil is just for you.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray, 29 March