THIS IS WHAT I'm talking about! The House of the Devil is a perfect love note to the suspenseful, old-school horror flicks of the '70s and '80s, complete with the simple setup of a babysitter in an under-lit spooky house. It's a film that builds and builds to the point of jumping when a creaky door opens and dread fear bursts in your heart.
Set sometime in the '80s, The House of the Devil focuses on type-A good girl Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), a college sophomore who, thanks to her slutty, slovenly roommate, has a terrible need to get her own place. While bopping along to her Walkman, cash-strapped Sam finds an ad seeking a babysitter. The creepy man who answers ends up standing her up—but desperate to earn cash, Sam reluctantly accepts the dubious job when El Creepo calls back later, begging her forgiveness. The skeletal Mr. Ulman (B-movie vet Tom Noonan) is what one would charitably call "unsettling" as he explains that he does not in fact have a child to babysit, but rather Sam will be watching his elderly mother while he and his wife go out to watch a full lunar eclipse. So... a college girl alone in a huge scary house with a reclusive old woman during an eclipse? What could go wrong?
From the retro title credits to the amazingly well-crafted buildup to Donahue's excellent performance, director Ti West's homage to a bygone era in horror is devilishly good and frightening. And even if the payoff and dénouement aren't all that one would hope for after such an effective ratchet of rising action, just remember how fucking scared you were for the first 90 percent of the film, thanks to West's slow simmer.