Monday, September 28, 2015

"The House of the Devil" by Jeff Grace and Graham Reznick

If someone played Ti West's "The House of the Devil" for me and told me it had come out in 1980, I don't think I'd have any reason not to believe them. If I had been watching carefully I might have noticed that it probably looks a little cleaner - it was presumably shot digitally ** - and instead of film grain, they use noise (which is just like tiny semi-transparent dots that randomly pop in and out for a millisecond, sort of like an old TV that isn't getting a signal at full strength.) The titles, the music, the sound design, are all authentically late 70's, early 80's.

Jeff Grace's score and Graham Reznick's sound design are impressively authentic, and beyond that, very satisfying, putting us in the creaky old Victorian house in the middle of nowhere where the majority of the film takes place. Atonal strings bend in and out of pitch, the obligatory old piano plays an unsettling tune, monastic drones a la "Hellraiser" add to the ritualistic atmosphere, and low drums add sporadic punctuation to the more intense scenes. Great work.

A few notes, some of these you might consider spoilers depending on how picky you are. 

- It takes a very long time for anything to happen. There's about 30 minutes left in the runtime of 95 minutes before there's anything that could be considered scary going on. When something does happen, it's not particularly scary, but one could argue this stylistically appropriate: when we go back and revisit classic horror from the 70's and 80's, the era this film is emulating, those movies are not that scary by todays standards. West seems to have set out to make a film using only the technology that was available during the era it stylistically emulates. The makeup is pretty archaic looking; there's no noticeable CGI, etc. If you dig horror movies from the 70's and 80's for the style and the great scores and nostalgia of it, as I do, you'll love this. It must have been really fun to make. However, if you watch a horror movie with the express purpose of getting scared, "The House Of The Devil" is not for you. 

- A couple more nit-picky things; in once scene Jocelin Donahue, who plays the main character Samantha, is ascending a stairwell toward an offscreen muffled noise when suddenly the doorbell rings very loudly, making us jump; however the doorbell is nowhere near the shot (at least as far as I could tell). 

- One of the songs Samantha listens to while she dances around the house is "One Thing Leads To Another" by the Fixx, which came out in 1983 - this film looks to be stylistically emulating an era at least a couple years before that, even though otherwise the song is a great choice for the scene, from a nearly forgotten and underrated band.

Apropos of nothing, I have a new project which is duo called Jake and Elizabeth, you can buy/listen to our first EP here:

** Graham Reznick tweeted and let me know the film was actually shot on 16mm film, so there goes my theory!