Ti West

The House Of The Devil

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2009

Glass Eye Pix/MPI Media Group

Written and Directed by Ti West

Produced by Josh Braun, Derek Curl, Roger Kass and Peter Phok

I’ve only seen three of his movies but that’s enough. Ti West is now one of my favorite directors and he definitely is my current favorite director of horror movies. People had been telling me for years that I needed to see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL but I just never got around to seeing it. And at this same time last year, I found “The Innkeepers” on Netflix. I must have watched that movie once a day for the next three or four days. And this October I resolved to watch THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL at last. I did. And now I see why people were telling me to see it and that it was Ti West’s best movie. I’m still not sure about that. I still think that “The Innkeepers” is his best movie but damn if THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL doesn’t come thisclose.

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate to get out of her dorm room which is pretty much used as a whorehouse by her slutty roommate. She finds a new apartment and her friendly landlady (Dee Wallace) is more than willing to waive a lot of the standard landlord/tenant business if Samantha can come up with $300 cash over the weekend. Luckily Samantha happens onto a babysitting job. It’s at a remote house some distance from the college. So far in fact that Samantha needs the help of her best girlfriend Megan (Greta Gerwig) who drives her out to the house.

Upon meeting Mr. and Mrs. Ullman (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) Samantha discovers that they misrepresented the job. It’s not a baby Samantha will be looking after but Mr. Ullman’s invalid mother. Mr. Ullman assures Samantha that the job entails her mostly just being in the house and keeping his mother company. Megan urges Samantha to leave but when Mr. Ullman puts $400 dollars on the table, Samantha relents. Megan leaves, promising to come back and pick up Samantha later. Let’s just say that the simple babysitting job is not so simple and that Megan does not pick Samantha up and leave it at that for now.

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Why do I love THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL so much? Okay, here’s the first reason: Ti West set out to make a movie that’s a homage to horror films of the 1970’s and 1980’s and he did it so well that halfway through I was half convinced that this was somehow a lost movie from that era he had found and slapped his name on it. He achieved that 1970’s/80’s flavor by recreating the style of movies made then by not only using only the equipment and film that would be available to filmmakers then but also using the stylistic methods used by directors of low budget slasher/horror films of that error. Ti West is one of a very few directors working today who truly understands what a grindhouse film is and make no mistake about it, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is very much a grindhouse film.

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Second of all, Ti West knows how to sell us the sizzle as well as the steak. He’s not afraid of letting us getting to know his characters before he does horrible things to them. I’ve spoken to people who complain that there are long stretches of his movies where nothing happens. Actually there is a lot happening. It’s called Characterization. Unlike most horror movies where the victims pretty much have signs on them proclaiming what type of character they are and in what order they’re going to get killed, in a Ti West movie there are actual characters that I grew to care about. By the time all hell starts to break loose, I was truly invested in Samantha and really wanted to know what was going to happen to her. And Ti West honestly knows how to use suspense to make a scene pay off. There’s one scene in particular that made me jump and I haven’t jumped while watching a horror movie since 2012’s “The Cabin In The Woods”

The acting in this movie is top notch. Usually in a movie set during the 1980’s actors feel the need to over compensate but Jocelin Donahue and Greta Gerwig look, act and feel like 1980’s girls in a 1980’s world. They’re wonderfully relaxed and comfortable with the hair, the clothes and the slang. And as for Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov…well, they were there, fer cryin’ out loud. So they well know how to play this material. And for a long time fan of Mr. Noonan and Ms. Woronov as I am, I knew that when they showed up in the movie things were going to go south pretty damn fast.

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So should you see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL? Absolutely Yes. If you haven’t yet put together your Halloween movie watching list yet, put this at the top of your list. Along with Ti West’s other movies “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament.” “The Sacrament” is the weakest of the three but still well worth watching. But by all means, watch and enjoy THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.

Rated R

95 minutes

 

The Innkeepers

2011

Glass Eye Pix/Magnet Releasing

Directed and Written by Ti West

Produced by Larry Fessenden

There’s a lot of folks who are horror fans who are not going to like THE INNKEEPERS. And that’s okay. I fully understand that there’s an entire generation that has been brought up on horror film franchises such as “Saw” “Final Destination” “Wrong Turn” and “Paranormal Activity” and while those movies aren’t exactly what I consider horror, I recognize that they have entertained a whole lotta folks. That’s why they’re franchises. And when I’m in the mood I even enjoy watching a “Final Destination” movie myself. Those things are the best live-action Looney Tunes cartoons ever made.

But there’s a genre of horror movie that I don’t see much of today that I love and that’s The Ghost Story. Most of them are also Haunted House movies as well since it’s usually a house that the ghosts are haunting. I’m thinking of movies such as “The Innocents” “Poltergeist” “The Shining” “Stir of Echoes” “The Legend of Hell House” “The Haunting” and “The Others.” And now I can add a new one to that list: THE INNKEEPERS.

The Yankee Pedlar Inn is going to close in a few days and the owner is soaking up the sun in Barbados, leaving his last two employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) to work the place during the final weekend of operation. Both Claire and Luke are amateur ghost hunters and Luke even has a website detailing the history of the hotel’s history of ghost sightings and hauntings. The hotel’s most prominent ghost legend is the one of Madeline O’Malley. She was abandoned in the hotel by a husband who suddenly decided he didn’t want to be married and ran off. Consumed with grief, Madeline hung herself and the hotel owners buried her body in the basement to avoid scandal. Claire and Luke both hope that sometime during this final weekend they’ll be able to make contact with Madeline’s spirit or record her voice.

The hotel’s few guests are an odd bunch. Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) is a former actress who has given up that career to become a professional medium. She’s in town for a psychics’ convention and despite her abrasive personality seems to be the real deal. Or is she just that good of an actress still? There’s a perpetually pissed off woman (Alison Bartlett) with her son (Jake Ryan) who has left her husband and is apparently intending to dump her anger on poor Claire and Luke with ceaseless demands for more towels. And the oddest of the lot is an old man (George Riddle) who insists that he must stay in a room on the third floor.

Claire and Luke take turns manning the front desk and looking out for ghosts. Both of them believe in ghosts and desperately want to see one. And as my grandfather used to say: God answers all prayers so it’s on us to be very careful about what it is that we pray for.

I really enjoyed how THE INNKEEPERS takes it’s time slowly putting together it’s story. The first half of the movie is mostly Claire and Luke doing their jobs and talking about what they’re going to do when they’re unemployed. Through some really clever dialog and the likeability of the two actors they had me convinced that Claire and Luke are co-workers who have known each for a long time, possibly even grew up on the same street and went to school together. Sarah Paxton and Pat Healy are really good at helping to establish the mood and pace of the movie and in the second half where things start to go wrong I found myself really concerned and worried about what would happen to them.

Kelly McGillis was a real surprise for me as I totally did not recognize her and it wasn’t until I was doing research for this review that I found out who she was. The only movie I’ve ever seen her in was “Witness” and before you ask; no, I have never seen “Top Gun” which is the movie she’s best known for. Just based on her performance in this movie I’d really wish she’d do more work in film. Lena Dunham shows up in an amusing scene as a barista who wants to confide in Claire about her love life. In fact, there’s quite a bit of humor in the first half of the movie which makes it all the more horrifying when the haunting begins as I had really grown to like the happy-go-lucky Claire and Luke by that point.

Like any good ghost story, THE INNKEEPERS leaves the ending open to the individual’s interpretation of the events they have just witnessed. Is the hotel actually haunted or was everything in Claire’s mind? Is Leanne actually psychic? What did she see in the basement? THE INNKEEPERS succeeds enormously at creating suspense and a feeling of dread without ever showing you anything for much of the movie’s running time. It saves it’s real horrors for when they’ll count the most, as any good horror movie should.

So should you see THE INNKEEPERS? If you’re a movie goer who demands buckets of blood and decapitated heads flying at you, or tons of gory CGI effects then I recommend you stay away. This isn’t your movie. And for those of you who demand your movies move at Warp Factor Five with quick cuts every thirty seconds, this isn’t your movie.

But for those of you who don’t mind chewing on your horror slowly, savoring a natural escalation of atmosphere and the ambiguity of wondering if what is happening is real or just the result of overworked imagination, combined with some really fine acting, then yes, see THE INNKEEPERS and enjoy.

Rated R

101 Minutes