Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, Christina Sciongay, Kamen Velkovsky
Written by: Ti West
Directed by: Ti West
MPAA Rating: R for some bloody violence
Running Time: 95
Date: 04/24/2009

The House of the Devil (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Devil' Best

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by Ti West, The House of the Devil takes place in the 1980s, complete with feathered hair and Walkman radios. But it begins like a 1970s horror classic, with a grainy look and some chilly autumn weather, and -- best of all -- a freeze-frame title card. Either way, the new film miraculously manages to avoid most of the formula horror tidbits that have become prevalent in the late 1980s, 1990s and today.

It starts, relaxed and assured, with pretty Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), who wants to get her own place, away from her slovenly, slutty roommate. She has found a great place, but even though the nice landlady (Dee Wallace, from E.T. and Cujo) gives her a break, she still doesn't have the cash. She eats pizza with her best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig), walks around, and looks for a job. She finds a babysitting flyer, and agrees to meet the guy, but he doesn't show up. She eventually gets the job and drives with Megan out in the middle of nowhere to a creepy house.

The owners (Tom Noonan, from Manhunter, and Mary Woronov, from Death Race 2000) inform her that they don't actually have a child; Samantha will have to look after an old lady. But not to worry: the old lady will probably keep to herself. Samantha orders a pizza, pokes around the house and dances to a song on her Walkman. Oh, and tonight is the night of a full lunar eclipse, though Samantha really couldn't care less.

All this takes up roughly three-quarters of the film, and in the eyes of most horror buffs, almost nothing has actually happened. But I was riveted. By showing thousands of feet of supposedly "nothing," West clears the board and makes almost anything possible. He establishes an open-ended set of rules that could be filled by nearly anything. Sadly, the title gives away half the surprise, but the rest of it is still the stuff of a first-rate chiller.

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