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House Of The Devil

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    Ian Jane
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  • House Of The Devil

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    Released by: Dark Sky Films
    Released on: February 2, 2010.S
    Director: Ti West
    Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb
    Year: 2009
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Ti West's much lauded throwback to the Satanic cult films that were popular in the seventies and eighties is, according to its director, set in the eighties for one primary reason - it was the last decade where there could realistically be a communication breakdown. No cell phones, no mobile devices, just regular old analogue telephones kept people in touch meaning that when you were out in the middle of nowhere, you really were out in the middle of nowhere.

    When the movie begins, we meet Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), a college student who has just found the right apartment but is in need of the funds to pay for it. The kindly landlady (Dee Wallace) has told her all she needs to do is come up with the first month's rent by next week and the place is hers. Later that day, while strolling across campus, she finds a job notice asking for a babysitter. She calls the number and the strange man named Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan) on the other end of the phone asks her to meet him in front of a specific building at a specific time only to stand her up. He calls back later and apologizes and after offering to pay her double, convinces her to come out to his remote house so that he and his wife (Mary Woronov) can go out for the night, which just so happens to be the night of a lunar eclipse.

    Sam's best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), drives her out to the Ullman's creepy Victorian home in the middle of nowhere as she's understandably a little worried for her friend, but after talking to Mr. Ullman, who reveals to her that they actually want her there to watch his mother-in-law and not a child, Megan leaves, agreeing to come back and pick her up later that night. The Ullman's leave for the evening, encouraging Samantha to order a pizza on their dollar and to make herself at home, and she does just that but as she explores the house, she finds herself in an increasingly perilous situation.

    First things first, House Of The Devil is a slllloooowwwww movie, intentionally so, but still very plodding in its pace. Very little happens in the first hour or so, and this is bound to put some people off. This isn't an hour filled with character or plot development, this is an hour of a girl wandering around, making phone calls and talking to her friend. It's watchable enough, in its own odd way, thanks to the lead performance of Jocelin Donahue, who is completely believable in the part thanks to a certain innocent naiveté that she brings to the role, but the director could have paced it better. That said, it does really pick up considerably in the last half hour.

    As said, Donahue is very good in the lead. She's cute, likeable, and entirely suited for the role. Dee Wallace is more or less wasted and given very little to do in the film, with Woronov only getting a bit more screen time (though hers is a bit more interesting), but Tom Noonan is great as the key antagonist in the film. If you remember his performance from Manhunter you'll know the guy can do creepy well, and he brings that same unusual soft spoken quirkiness to this role and it works. The finale is predictable, it doesn't take a genius to figure out where it's all going, but the good outweighs the bad here. Despite the slow build up, the atmosphere and spooky finish help to make up for it.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    House Of The Devil is presented in AVC encoded 1.78.1 1080p anamorphic widescreen. The film was shot on 16mm so some grain isn't surprising but there's a lot of it here and you can't help but feel that it's on purpose and that it's been done in 'enhance' the whole early eighties vibe that the movie is going after. Honestly, it's a bit much and to assume that a film is going to be grainy looking simply because it was made in the eighties is an odd assumption to make. Regardless, the transfer on this disc is good in that it replicates the look that the filmmakers were going for. It doesn't have particularly remarkable detail, though some shots are quite impressive, but it's well authored and nicely reproduces the movie's rather subdued color scheme quite well. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts and the disc is well authored, it's just that the source material is sometimes very soft looking and often times quite noisy in appearance.

    The primary audio mix on this disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 track, though a PCM 2.0 mix is also included. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. This is a fairly subdued track when compared to a lot of other Blu-ray offerings out there but it works in the context of what Ti West is going for with the picture. From the opening sounds of the Cars-esque credits music through to the darker orchestral music used in the later part of the movie, it all sounds quite clear and quite good. We don't get the depth or range that better DTS-HD tracks have, and rear channel activity is used very subtly and can be easy to miss if you're not listening for it, but the track is well balanced and easy enough to listen to. The sound effects in particular sound quite good, while the dialogue is always very easy to understand. Noonan's odd speech patterns in particular have an interesting ominous quality to them.

    Writer/Director Ti West is joined by lead actress Jocelin Donahue for the first of two commentary tracks on this disc. This is a pretty informative track in which West talks about his intentions for the film, going about getting it made, locations, casting, sound design, effects work and more. Donahue covers her character, working with the rest of the cast, and pretty much all the other standard bases you'd expect to be covered. It's a good and informative track. The second commentary puts West in a room with Sound Designer Graham Resnik, and Producers Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok for a fairly raucous talk that's not played particularly seriously. They of course cover the origins of the project and Resnik's input on the sound work in the film is interesting but there's a lot of joking around here but there's also some really good information about how they went about creating the specific look employed in the film and it too is worth listening to.

    From there, we get two featurettes, the first of which is In The House Of The Devil (13:34), a collection of fly on the wall behind the scenes footage showing make up and effects work, and the cast and crew going about their business. Some narration or interviews to put it all into context would have made this more interesting than it is but it's worth skimming through. Behind The House Of The Devil (4:40), the only high definition extra on the disc, is an interview segment in which West, Donahue and Greta Gerwig discuss their work on the picture and tell us what it was like working on it. It covers a fair bit of the same ground that the commentary tracks cover, but it's kind of cool to get to see them get excited about the project as they do here.

    Two deleted scenes, totaling 6:42, are included here as well. The first is a phone conversation between Samantha and Megan and the other is some footage of Mother walking through the house. They don't add much, and they're presented here in non-anamorphic widescreen with time code over top. Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the disc are in anamorphic widescreen and in standard definition except where indicated.

    The Final Word:

    House Of The Devil is a pretty solid film given an equally solid Blu-ray release from Dark Sky Films. Despite the film's problems, it gets enough right that it's worth a look, particularly for fans of the 'Satanic Panic' horror movies that it tries so hard to emulate.
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