Remember the 1980s? They were well skill weren’t they? With your hightop trainers and body warmer you were probably pretty cool as you skateboarded down to the awesome new multi-screen cinema that opened in your town, hoping you could scope out some well wicked flicks and maybe score with some bodacious babes along the way.
So, you pay your £1.50 entrance fee and find that Tim Burton’s Batman is playing on seven screens, and Back to the Future 2 is on the remaining six, woah! Totally heinous dude! How’s a hardcore gorehound like you going to get his grue-filled kicks when every decent horror movie has been banned by Maggie ‘Milk Snatcher’ Thatcher?!
Well if you were resourceful, you popped down to your local video store/ice cream van, slipped them a tenner and got a dodgy third-hand VHS copy of Evil Dead, and possibly some crap German porn as a bonus. Or you could take the more circuitous route followed by director Ti West; Wait 25 years, then score some ancient filming equipment and film your very own hoary 80s scarefest, with seriously scary results.
That House of the Devil works at all is testament to the resilience of the themes it explores, using the 80s ‘satanic panic’ epidemic as a backdrop, the film may rely on clichés, but it ignores the crutch of irony completely, instead delivering a sharp shocker that will grumble away in the back of your head, replete with jouissant ending for true 80s compatibility.
Plot-wise we’re on familiar if skewed ground, following all-American teen Sophie Hughes (an excellent, fluff-permed Jocalyne Donahue) as she follows up the offer of a babysitting gig at a c-c-c-creeeepy old mansion.
From here on in it’s stock-horror character stupidity all the way, Sophie agreeing to stay on even after the oddball couple who own the place admit they don’t have kids, just a largely unseen elderly relative parked in the attic, and acquiring clues to a darker secret as strange happenings go bump in the night around her.
Fortunately West keeps a firm hand on the tiller, never letting things slip into parody. The whole thing comes off as a superbly thought out pastiche that shows both glowing affection for B-level 80s crud alongside a brave decision to follow in the footsteps of 70s classics like Rosemary’s Baby.
Slow-burn dread with the occasional shocker squirrelled away, House of the Devil offers a genuine return to a genre that Hollywood remakes had all but forgotten how to do. This is taught and fun, the ideal date horror movie.
For more spine-chilling thrills to watch over Halloween, check out our complete 31 days of horror movies list.