I’d been vaguely aware of the existence of horror specialist Ti West for some time, but since he was (and to some degree remains) one of those filmmakers whose work has failed to gain much in the way of theatrical releases, I’d never encountered his work until one of his films popped up in a package of award season screeners last year. That film—The Innkeepers—was good enough to send me on a trek through his earlier work, which brought me The House of the Devil (2009). This turned out to be a canny exercise in recreating the look and feel of 1980s horror—yet one that worked (well, most of the time) on its own merits. The story is pretty standard fare. Pretty college girl Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) accepts a babysitting job at a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere. The job turns out to be a strange one, since she finds herself in charge of an old lady (whom she hasn’t seen) rather than the child she expected. As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that there’s more afoot than she bargained for. Given the film’s title it’s not hard to guess that our hapless heroine is marked for participation in some kind of Satanic ritual. West makes the story work through the careful building of an atmosphere of dread—punctuated by a mid-way moment of outright shock involving Samantha’s best friend (played by then little know Greta Gerwig). The results are the kind of solid horror picture where you make a mental note to keep an eye on the filmmaker to see what he does next.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The House of the Devil Thursday, June 6, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.