Desperate to make some money so she can move into a new apartment, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) takes a mysterious babysitting job. When she arrives at the house, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) mentions a full lunar eclipse and explains there is no child, but that Samantha will be watching his mother instead. After exploring the sinister-seeming house, Samantha soon comes to realize that her employers are hiding a horrifying secret and have plans to use her, dead or alive.
The House of the Devil is a 2009 horror film written, directed, and edited by Ti West, starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, and Mary Woronov. It combines elements of both the slasher film and haunted house subgenres while using the "satanic panic" of the 1980s as a central plot element. The film pays homage to horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, recreating the style of films of that era using filming techniques and similar technology to what was used then.
The films opening text claims that it is based upon true events, a technique used in some horror films, such as The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
In the 1980s, college student Samantha Hughes takes a strange babysitting job that coincides with a full lunar eclipse. She slowly realizes her clients harbor a terrifying secret; they plan to use her in a satanic ritual.
After her landlady (Dee Wallace) gives her an extension on the deposit for her new apartment, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) takes on a babysitting job for Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) and his wife (Mary Woronov). Ulman asks to meet her but stands her up, later apologizing and offering to pay double the original salary. Samantha accepts and gets a ride to the remote mansion from her best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), who expresses her distrust. At the house, Mr. Ulman pulls her aside and reveals that he does not have any children; the babysitting job is to attend to his wifes ailing mother. Samantha balks but finally agrees, if he will pay her $400, a significant increase in her pay. Megan immediately leaves, citing Ulmans lies and peculiar behavior, but she reluctantly promises to pick up Samantha later. Samantha stays, after accepting the money. On the way home, Megan stops in her car to smoke a cigarette. When her car lighter will not work, a stranger (A.J. Bowen) suddenly appears out of nowhere, startling her, and lights her cigarette for her. When Megan reveals that she is not the babysitter hired by the Ulmans, she is abruptly shot and murdered by the stranger.
After ordering a pizza, Samantha dances around the house while listening to her Walkman, accidentally breaking a vase in the process. While cleaning up the mess, she discovers a cupboard filled with old family photographs. In one photograph a different family than the Ulmans stand next to the Volvo she and Megan saw upon pulling up to the house. An additional peculiar detail is that the family in the photograph has a young son. This seems unlikely as the Volvo is a new car and Mr. Ulman stated that although they had a child he was now grown. Samantha draws a rash conclusion that Ulman has possibly murdered the original mansion owners and stolen their car. In a panic she dials 911 but eventually manages to calm herself down. The pizza is finally delivered by the stranger who had killed Megan. Drugs in the pizza cause Samantha to pass out, just as she discovers activity behind a door leading to the third floor. When she comes to, she finds that she has been bound and gagged in the center of a Pentagram. As a lunar eclipse darkens the night sky, Mr and Mrs Ulman, along with the stranger, who is actually their son Victor, begin a bizarre ritual. Mother (Danielle Noe) is revealed to be a grotesque, witch-like figure. As part of the ritual she slices her arm and pours the blood into a goat skull. She uses the blood to draw occult symbols on Samanthas stomach and forehead, and forces Samantha to drink her blood from the skull. Samantha manages to escape halfway through the ritual, killing Mrs. Ulman and Victor, but horrific images begin appearing in her mind. Mr. Ulman chases her out of the house and through a nearby cemetery. There, he tells her she was chosen. Samantha threatens him with the gun used to kill Megan, but Ulman passively accepts his fate, claiming to be a messenger and gloating that shes too late. Instead of shooting him, she shoots herself in the head, to Ulmans horror. The scene cuts to a broadcast about the strange lunar eclipse the night before, which has confounded scientists due to its abrupt ending, as Samantha is revealed to be in a hospital bed, in bandages. A nurse walks in and pats the unconscious Samantha on the stomach, reassuring her that "You will be just fine. Both of you."Jocelin Donahue as Samantha Hughes
Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman
Mary Woronov as Mrs. Ulman
Greta Gerwig as Megan
A. J. Bowen as Victor Ulman
Dee Wallace as Landlady
Lena Dunham as 911 Operator
The film was shot in Connecticut. Taking place in the 1980s, the film was made with 16mm film, giving it a retro stylistic look that matched the decade. Similarly, some aspects of the culture of the 1980s (i.e. feathered hair, Samanthas 1980 Sony Walkman, The Fixxs 1983 song "One Thing Leads to Another", The Greg Kihn Bands 1981 song "The Breakup Song (They Dont Write Em)", and the Volvo 240 sedan) are seen in the film as signifiers of the decade. The cinematography of the film also reflects the methods used by directors of the time. For instance, West often has the camera zoom in on characters (rather than dolly in as is now common in film), a technique that was often used in horror films of the 1970s and continued to be used into the 1980s. Other stylistic signifiers include opening credits (which became less common in films in the decades after the 1980s) in yellow font accompanied by freeze-frames and the closing credits being played over a still image of the final scene.
The United States premiere was at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25. It was made available through video on demand on October 1, 2009. The film was given a limited theatrical release in the United States on October 30, 2009. The DVD and Blu-ray of the film were released on February 2, 2010. A promotional copy of the film was released on VHS in a clamshell box like the ones that many early VHS films of the 1980s came in.
The soundtrack for The House of the Devil was released in November 2009 as a Double Feature with the score of I Can See You, both by composer Jeff Grace.
- Opening (1.10)
- Family Photos (2.24)
- The View Upstairs (1.45)
- Original Inhabitants (3.05)
- Meeting Mr. Ulman (1.12)
- Keep the Change (1.12)
- Footsteps (1.27)
- Mother (3.07)
- Chalice (0.51)
- On the Run (3.45)
- Lights Out (3.04)
- Hes Calling You (1.50)
- The House of the Devil (5.49)
- Mrs. Ulman (2.04)
Tracks from 15 to 26 comprise the soundtrack for I Can See You.
The film has been met with mostly positive reviews, scoring 86% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 83 reviews; the sites reviews consensus is "Though its underlying themes are familiar, House of the Devil effectively sheds the loud and gory cliches of contemporary horror to deliver a tense, slowly building throwback to the fright flicks of decades past." It has also received an overall score of 73 on Metacritic based on 12 reviews, indicating "Generally favorable reviews." Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars, complimenting it as being "an introduction for some audience members to the Hitchcockian definition of suspense." Kevin Sommerfield from Slasher Studios gave the film four out of four stars commenting that the film is "not just a nostalgia piece for director Ti West, one of the best horror directors working today, this is how horror movies SHOULD be made". Oliver Smith of 7films said "as the great horror films of past days, such as The Omen or Rosemary’s Baby, The House of the Devil is a slow-burning horror film".
The film won a few awards shortly after its release. It won the 2009 Birmingham Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival award for Best Feature Film. At the 2009 Screamfest it won festival trophies for Best Actress (Jocelin Donahue) and Best Score (Jeff Grace).