Seven Seconds or Less: House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009)

When dealing with pastiche, one runs the risk of caving to a certain kind of nostalgia; an enjoyment bred on familiarity. If you’re at all versed in 70s and 80s American horror movies and/or the paradigms of production, style, and story therein, the components of the decidedly retro House of the Devil might not shock you.  However, you might be surprised at how effective writer/director/editor Ti West is at employing certain cinematic techniques, effectively juggling the shlocky thrills of Friday the 13th and Amityville Horror with the assuredly slow pace and terrifying atmospheric chills of Roman Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” and John Carpenter’s Halloween. A rigorous commitment to 1980s period detail gives the film a comfortable sense of place, which is then undercut with high-wire tension and a heart pounding sense of dread you can only get while being home alone in the house of satanists, eventually and inevitably giving way to a brief period of ritualistic insanity before its hugely ironic finale. But make no mistake, this is far from kitsch: House of the Devil may be an imitation, but it is hardly inferior to its trashy forebears and is truly the more-accomplished offspring of its Reagan-era parents, possessing the ability to take us back in time while maintaining its own sense of purpose and integrity. Now, whether that purpose was to put Tom Noonan back in the born-to-play role of a psychopath or to have a beautiful woman (Jocelin Donahue) dance around to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads To Another” is another story altogether, but I’m not complaining.

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