"House of the Devil" a hellish experience

Mon Oct 26, 2009 6:44pm EDT
 
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By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It would be an interesting experiment: Remove the horror from most horror flicks and what would you get?

No doubt, humdrum scenes featuring bad acting, dull dialogue, static situations and characters whose only interest lies in the fact they will be stalked, terrorized, slashed, murdered or raised from the dead any moment. Or, better yet, rather than go to all that trouble of re-editing films, why not just watch "The House of the Devil?"

This is the perfect illustration of the banality of most scary movies as it's a horror movie without any horror until the last reel when fake blood gets painted on actors. With mind-numbing repetitiveness, the film observes its young female protagonist-cum-victim spend an evening in the titular house, turning the TV on and off, listening to music, wandering through its rooms, going upstairs and going downstairs, ordering pizza, throwing the pizza away and going upstairs and going downstairs again. Oh, she does knock over a vase. If there is a devil here, it's the one that's in the details.

Perhaps realizing there is little theatrical audience for a horror film without any spook to it, Magnet has had the film out on VOD since October 1. Wise decision. That title really is its only come-on. It opens in select cities on Friday.

The story takes place in the late 1980s for no apparent reason other than writer-director-editor Ty West doesn't want mobile phones to gum up his feeble plot. Pretty newcomer Jocelin Donahue plays a small-town university student, who is so desperate for money she takes a baby-sitting job even though there is no baby.

For $400, she is asked to stay in an old house in the middle of nowhere on the night of a full lunar eclipse to mind an old woman she never sees. Okay, so this is no worse than horror films that begin with a car stalling in the middle of nowhere or other unimaginative set-ups. But West seems resolved to go against the convention of escalating tension and fear.

Other than a brief, shocking murder that happens away from the site, the first hint of horror comes after an hour and 15 minutes. Until then a viewer must accept the occasional sounds of an old house and a low-key music score rumbling ominously beneath the surface tedium as "escalating tension."

The pay-off is as bad as the set-up and, worse, it borrows literally from a well-known horror film made by a guy presently in a Swiss jail.   Continued...