I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record when complaining about horror movies that have excellent concepts but somehow manage to screw it all up when it comes to the execution. The House Of The Devil is another sad example of this, it’s not a total mess or anything but it could have been much more. In fact, it’s mainly the final third that I have issue with but unfortunately this act usually tends to be the most pivotal of all and the difference between whether or not a movie is memorable or truly forgettable.
The first thing you’ll notice when watching The House Of The Devil is that it begins with a few lines of text that claim it is based on a true story which as we all know is a terrible way to begin any film that isn’t actually based on a true story. The second thing you’ll soon realise is how closely it resembles a film from the 70s in just about every way. It’s stylized so well that I forgot I was watching a movie that came out in 2009 at times due to just how good of a job it does of paying homage to the classics of the era.
In the 1980s, after her landlady (Dee Wallace) gives her an extension on the deposit for her new apartment, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) takes on a babysitting job for Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) and his wife (Mary Woronov).
Mr. Ulman pulls her aside and reveals that he does not have any children to be monitored; the babysitting job is to attend to his wife’s ailing mother. Naturally Samantha is put off by the idea but finally agrees. Well, only if he will pay her $400, a significant increase in her pay. Megan, her friend who drove her to the house immediately leaves. She uses Ulman’s lies and peculiar behaviour as reasons to leave. She reluctantly promises to pick up Samantha later. Samantha stays, after accepting the money.
On the way home, Megan stops in her car to smoke a cigarette. When her car lighter will not work, a stranger (A.J. Bowen) suddenly appears out of nowhere, startling her, and lights her cigarette for her. When Megan reveals that she is not the babysitter hired by the Ulmans, she is abruptly shot and murdered by the stranger.
After ordering a pizza, Samantha dances around the house while listening to her Walkman. She accidentally breaks a vase in the process. This was my first huge issue with the film. Samantha acts completely unrealistically considering her scenario. She isn’t alone in the house and she knows this. All she has to do is sit and watch the TV and pass the time but she doesn’t do that at all. Instead, she goes from room to room slamming doors. rummages through many of the Ulmans private items and just generally being extremely disrespectful. Yes, their request was undoubtedly odd.
Still, it’s no excuse for her to act the way she does whether she is suspicious or not. As far as she knows, there is a poor old lady in the room upstairs who has to listen to her stomping around the place being a total annoyance. I get it, watching her sit and do nothing wouldn’t make a very interesting movie. Still, I could have thought of better reasons for her to explore other than her being a complete tool.
Anyway, While cleaning up the mess, she discovers a cupboard filled with old family photographs. In one photograph a different family than the Ulmans’ stands next to the Volvo she and Megan saw upon pulling up to the house. An additional peculiar detail is that the family in the photograph has a young son. This seems unlikely as the Volvo is a new car and Mr. Ulman stated that although they had a child he was now grown. Samantha draws a rash conclusion that Ulman has possibly murdered the original mansion owners and stolen their car. In a panic she dials 911 but eventually manages to calm herself down.
The pizza is finally delivered by the stranger who had killed Megan. Drugs in the pizza cause Samantha to pass out, just as she discovers activity behind a door leading to the third floor. When she comes to, she finds that she has been bound and gagged in the centre of a Pentagram. That’s right; the Ulmans are part of a satanic cult!
As a lunar eclipse darkens the night sky, Mr. and Mrs. Ulman, along with the stranger, who is actually their son Victor, begin a bizarre ritual. Mother is revealed to be a grotesque, witch-like figure. As part of the ritual she slices her arm and pours the blood into a goat skull. She uses the blood to draw occult symbols on Samantha’s stomach and forehead, and forces Samantha to drink her blood from the skull. Can Samantha survive? Has she been bound so poorly that she will easily wriggle free? Will she kill some of the cult members in unintentionally hilarious ways? Are these the dumbest devil worshippers ever? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out for yourself.
The House Of The Devil really disappointed me because it had me thinking I was watching something special until it threw it all away. The first 20 minutes or so are left feeling really redundant by the time the movie ends because it’s just Samantha going about her boring life and guess what? It’s boring to watch.
The film really picks up when she makes it to the house; your mind begins to race with the possibilities of what might be happening. Just what the intentions of the Ulmans truly are. The moment Samantha is alone you immediately feel the tension beginning to rise. This is due to some very clever camera work. The creepy atmosphere that the huge house creates kicks into to overdrive. I felt genuine dread every time Samantha went around a corner at what she might see. Sadly, these are actually “fake out” scares ultimately.
My next issue is with the Ulmans plans as a satanic cult. Their entire plan depends on them using a girl to birth some kind of demon on this particular night. This is due to the eclipse which obviously happens rarely. Why didn’t they just kidnap a random girl off the street instead of going through the effort and difficultly of getting a babysitter? Mr Ulman even explains that he had great difficulty in getting anyone to call for the position at all so why even bother? They almost miss their deadline due to such a pointless charade.
Next, what if Sam had just taken the money and left the house at any point during the night? What if she had wandered into the mother’s room and seen the many bodies that were stored there? What even were those dead bodies about? And did the entire plan depend on her calling for pizza so she would get drugged? It’s far too complicated man; just make it easier for yourselves you silly cultists. Why was the mother so ghoul like? Mrs Ulman was pretty damn old; Sam didn’t question how her mother was even still alive? I have more but I’ll just end by letting you know that it ends on a cliff hanger that will never be resolved, yay.
The House Of The Devil