If nothing else, Ti West’s retro “Satan rules!” thriller The House Of The Devil gets the look and tone of early-’80s horror schlock exactly right. West shoots on grainy, muted color film, and relies a lot on low angles, slow dolly shots, and a spare, creepy score to build tension during the long stretches of the movie when absolutely nothing is happening. Most of the action takes place in a big, spooky old house in the middle of the woods outside a small college town, and The House Of The Devil is set in 1982, at a time and place where the modern still seemed not too far removed from the ancient, the primal… the arcane.
Jocelin Donahue plays a college student fed up with her dorm-mate and eager to earn money for an off-campus apartment. She answers an ad from a couple looking for a babysitter, but after her best friend drops her off at a creaky Victorian manse, Donahue discovers that the couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) doesn’t have a baby at all. Instead, they have an aged parent who needs monitoring, and though Donahue protests that she has no experience with eldercare, Noonan insists that Mother mainly takes care of herself, and that all Donahue will have to do is order pizza, watch TV, and collect $400. Then the pizza guy shows up, and the night takes a very bad turn.
The House Of The Devil is paced at a crawl, and outside of one early shock, it takes more than an hour for anything even remotely resembling “horror” to occur. (The final 20 minutes is intense, though.) The deliberate style may be a deal-breaker for those who come to The House Of The Devil expecting an outright gorefest. This is more a movie for genre cultists, who want to immerse themselves in all the throwback details: the feathered hairstyles, the spiral phone cords, a thesaurus-sized Walkman blaring a song by The Fixx, and so on. From the opening statistic about documented instances of devil-worship, West aims for a mix of the plausible and the ridiculous, revisiting a world where a knock at the wrong door at the wrong time could end with a person pinned to a pentagram and covered in sacrificial blood.