“Watch it! You’ll love it!” they said.
“Scariest movie that was ever scary!” they said.
You guys. I did not love House of the Devil. Also, I am pretty sure that at some point in my life I have seen scarier Kleenex commercials.
I mean, for about the first ten minutes it has a certain retro charm. (“OMG, she’s using a phone booth! How quaint!”) But even quaint needs a good lead character as a hook to hang from, and Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is just. Boring. Wow, is she boring. I couldn’t even concentrate on her long enough to dislike her.
Even if you can get past that, you run into the second problem: the movie is a tribute to 80s movies, and it’s a little too good at it. Some people see that as a plus. I myself do not see it as a plus unless you’re willing to not only suspend disbelief but also pretend that you’ve never seen another horror movie in your entire life.
The problem is that the movie just contains too many elements that it’s impossible to view unironically in a post-Scream world. The characters are not only dazzlingly stupid, they’re dazzlingly stupid in exactly the ways that have been lampooned so many times and so effectively that now they’re just tedious, like a joke that was funny every time you heard it until you heard someone explain it in excruciating detail. House of the Devil really requires you to completely suspend your sense of irony for 95 minutes, but it never gives you a reason to other than “Hey, let’s watch an 80s-style horror movie unironically!” If I wanted to do that, I’d watch an honest to God 80s horror movie. I’m sure there are some I haven’t seen, and a lot of them are probably even good ones.
And speaking of 95 minutes, Judas priest. This was the longest 95 minutes I have ever sat through, including my college graduation and that time I gave birth. Of those 95 minutes, I swear at least 50 are devoted to Samantha wandering aimlessly around the house where she’s supposed to be babysitting (where, of course, there actually is no baby and Strange and Evil Things are going on instead). No, I’m serious. I got so bored watching her wander around the house that I got up and started wandering around my own doing chores.
I went in the kitchen, loaded up the dishwasher, started it running, and came back. She was still wandering around the house.
I shifted a load of clothes from the washer to the dryer, started another load of clothes, and came back. She was still wandering around the house. Oh, wait, now there’s going to be a Tom-Cruise-in-Risky-Business montage where she bops around the house to bad 80s music. Okay, at least I wasn’t bored during the thirty seconds where I was cringing in horrible embarrassment for everyone involved with this movie, but at a terrible price.
I grabbed the clothes from the dryer, folded them, put them away, and came back. Samantha was still wandering around the house I am not even joking right now.
Now, it’s possible that while I was off doing more entertaining things like laundry, things happened that – had I been present for them – would have contributed to a growing atmosphere of creepiness and dread. It’s possible. It’s possible that if you pay very close attention to a wall full of drying paint, every now and then messages from Elvis in the beyond will fade briefly into being and then vanish. I don’t know; I’ve never met anyone who had the patience to actually watch paint dry. I can’t believe in my heart of hearts that anyone has ever had the patience to sit and watch House of the Devil all the way through, either.
The end at least has a faster pace, in that there’s a fair amount of blood and a flurry of activity that would probably be more memorable had I actually had even a modicum of interest in anyone involved, and if I hadn’t already been paralyzed from boredom and Downy inhalation. If I recall correctly, it has one of those ambiguous 80s endings that worked very well in genuinely good movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th, but here just adds to the annoyance.
So what’s the verdict? One star. Yes, I gave House of the Devil the same rating as The Haunting of Molly Hartley. In fact, it should probably have gotten a lower one, because Molly Hartley at least had enough oomph to make me actively want to beat every character in the movie with a claw hammer; but that would have put it at the same rating as Frayed, and no horror movie I have yet borne witness to is as bad as Frayed, or if it is then I’ve repressed the memory.
House of the Devil is an endurance test, the Marathon des Sables of boredom tolerance, surpassing even the tedious Paranormal Activity in the sheer depth of its need to be edited down to a five-minute short like the Pixar lamp cartoon. If you watch it, which I can’t recommend, be sure you’re stocked up with knitting, good books, and Angry Birds on your phone.