Back in the 1980’s, you couldn’t throw a sacrificial goat without hitting a Satanic cult. At least that’s what most Americans thought, according to the statistics provided in the prologue to The House of the Devil. And they may be onto something. Thanks to a single 20/20 story on Satanism, Phil Donahue’s expose on the Mark of the Beast hidden amongst the Procter and Gamble logo and a prevailing belief that Dungeons and Dragons bred teenage Devil-worshipping minions, cults were everywhere you looked—even though hardly anyone ever actually saw one. Of course, some of the craziest myths make for intriguing films. Take, for example, the aforementioned House. It plays up the Satanic-menace-next- door theme, but stylizes it with enough nostalgia to give it a charm for vintage horror devotees. And who knew you could make Satanism charming? But does it establish a foundation for Christianity? Join us dear Screamers as we explore inside The House of the Devil. Come on in and make yourself at home…
In 2009’s throwback thriller, The House of the Devil, College Co-ed Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) has had all she can take of on-campus housing. Her promiscuous roommate always seems to be “entertaining” males, leaving Samantha locked out and left out. Desperate to move off-campus, she tears a phone number off a bulletin board flyer advertising an opening for a baby sitter. She calls to no avail but is quickly called back by a rather odd sounding gentleman who says he’d prefer to pick her up at the student union, as he is fairly naive about the remainder of the campus layout. He stands her up but eventually reconnects with her, offering to pay double if she is still willing to help out.
Samantha’s friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig) drives her to the remote home for the job on the night of a lunar eclipse, trying to talk her out of it the whole way.
When they arrive, the homeowner, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), reveals that Samantha will actually be babysitting his wife’s ailing mother, who is confined to her room upstairs. He ups his offer to $400, a deal that Samantha can’t refuse, despite Megan’s objections.
But as Meghan prepares to drive away, a mysterious stranger walks up to her car and guns her down. And then things start to get even more bizarre inside the house as little by little, Samantha begins to unravel the mystery of her upstairs charge.
And man is she ever in for a devil of a time.
HOTD is a decent homage to 70’s and 80’s horror films. It shot in a grainy grindhouse palette, complete with retro time-stop titles and fish-eye long shots. And it tries hard to rely on suspense, rather than gore, to deliver its scares. The problem? The credits roll before the scares hardly even start. Once the big reveal comes, we get about five minutes of intensity and then…we’re done. It seems more like an adaptation from a short story than a written-for-the-screen script. And though it officially clocks in at an hour and thirty-five minutes, it feels like it’s over in half that time. With ten more minutes’ footage, it could’ve been genuinely creepy. And maybe we here at ScreamFish would’ve had a little more to sink our Jesus-seeking fangs into. But as they are, things are pretty cut and dry, with a simple story that sets the scene only to find everything swept away and over before the protagonist can hardly realize it.
Welcome to life. If the The House of the Devil teaches us nothing else, it’s that Satan is moving in this world—moving in our lives—and that he moves very, very rapidly. If we are to have any chance against his work, we have to make sure that we keep ourselves away from his clutches and out of range before we fall prey to his schemes, because once we step foot across the threshold of evil, the downward staircase spirals quickly. We must equip our hearts with God’s word and outfit our mind with common sense and the moral sense to know the difference between right and wrong—and how to respond when forced to choose between the two. And we’re not going to get too long to do so, regardless of how many minutes we think we may have.
Jesus is waiting patiently for us to turn toward him. He’s standing at the door and knocking.
And he’s got a much better deal on a great fixer-upper.