The Exorcist

February 19, 2015

The House of the Devil

FUN

The House of the Devil – Fun

Like I mentioned in my review of “The Guest,” I love the 1980s, especially 80s horror, but one genre always kind of eluded me; the devil-worshiping/possession genre. I simply don’t find those types of films very scary or unnerving. This goes double for, get ready for it, “The Exorcist.” I simply don’t get the appeal of what so many people call “the scariest film ever made.” I also think the market has been flooded with these possession/evil house/devil worshiping found footage type films, and while they are low budget, and make a ton of money because we have enough sheep who go to the theater to waste their money with lackluster fare like that. But, every once in a while I’ll take the advice of a friend, or in this case a blog (thanks Slaughter Film) and go out on a limb and watch something I normally wouldn’t, and than I wonder to myself why it took so long to finally get around to this movie. That movie is 2009’s “The House of the Devil.” Directed by Ti West, who has also worked on the anthology series “V/H/S” and directed “The Sacrament” brings to glory of late 1970s and early 80s Gothic horror to life by recreating a film that is suspenseful and a crap ton of fun.

“House” is the tale of Samantha, a struggling college student looking to move out of her dorm room that is constantly being used by her over-sexed roommate. Desperate for money after finding the house of her dreams, Sam calls about a babysitting job the night of a lunar eclipse. After losing hope on the job, she receives a call from Mr. Ulman, the man who placed the babysitting ad. Dragging her friend Megan along, Sam accepts the job and heads to the Ulman residence. Upon arrival, as the viewer, you already have the sense that something isn’t quite right about Mr. Ulman, who is played to creepy perfection by consummate creeper, Tom Noonan. Creeped out, Sam is about to leave, but now desperate, Ulman tells Sam to name her price. She’s seizes the moment knowing that her new house is on the line. The film progresses with Sam exploring the house, hearing noises, and finally learning the secret the Ulmans have been hiding all along. To spoil the third act would be a disservice.

What works so well in “House” is the look of the film. The opening credits are something right out of a Wes Craven film, mixed with Hammer Horror, and a dash of Italian giallo. The hair styles are to the era, the score is reminiscent of something Ric Ocasek. However, even with all of these 80s elements, the film is still very contemporary and can fit into any era.

The one gripe I see that people could have is the pacing of the “House.” There isn’t a whole lot of “action” until about an hour into the film, but just like the films of yore, the build-up is part of the fun of this film. However, in this day and age of instant gratification, jump scares, and found-footage dredge (which is ironic since I actually enjoyed “V/H/S”) it’s refreshing to see a movie like “House” but I”m sure that’s the reason why this film hasn’t gotten much traction outside of die-hard horror fans who have been watching the genre for decades.

Overall, “The House of the Devil” is great and it pains me to think that it took me so long to finally get around to this film. The production design is strong, the acting is believable and likable, and the villains are creepy. It’s everything that you would want in a suspenseful horror film. New school kids beware, this IS your Daddy’s horror film.

Fun Fact: The Church of Satan was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966

October 24, 2012

31 Nights Of Halloween, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

INDELICATE

As I’ve stated before, you gotta bring something different to the table in order for your horror film to pique my interest.  Stereotypical slashers bore me to tears.  Found footage ‘Paranormal Witch Projects’ are just poorly shot films with the same cheap scares as a haunted house visit at Halloween Horror Nights.  And torture porn.  Don’t get me started on torture porn. You want to scare me to my core?  Give me a film that grounds the supernatural element you are playing with in reality.  Write characters that aren’t “Lets go investigate” idiots that I can’t relate to, let alone, root for.  And an occasional loom of the prince of darkness doesn’t hurt either.  The Exorcist was that for me.  It was the benchmark for the best the horror genre had to to offer.  I’d swat away any comers trying to claim supremacy over it like an old man asked to indulge in some newfangled fad.  The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is the newfangled fad the grandson of that old man forces him to try or else he’ll ship him away to a home.  Somewhere an AARP member just sh*t their pants…um…uncharacteristically.

Now films love to slap the “Based On A True Story” label on their films.  Mainly, for the reason I stated before. Ground your film in reality and it immediately becomes much more interesting.  Sometimes, however, it only serves as an unnecessary distraction.  You get so wrapped up in if it is actually true or not. Especially, the more fantastical the film gets.  The Coens caught some flack for saying Fargo was based on a true story when it wasn’t.  The claim distracted critics from the point of how great a film it was.  You can make your film feel real without reassuring us.  But I digress.  The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is a story loosely…and I mean loosely based on the real life exorcism of German born, Anneliese Michel.  See?  I just did it.

The one thing I really liked about The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is that it is a postmortem.  Whatever the traumatic event that happened to this girl has already happened by the start of this film.  We learn about the specifics mainly through flashbacks and testimonials.  This, to me, puts the audience in the mind of the skeptic.  As the film goes on we are put in the position of either being doubtful of what we’re told happened or convinced.  Because make no mistake, this is a film about belief.  An interesting approach to the material that had the potential to make an interesting film.  But what was the operative word I just used?  It was ‘had’.  This film’s INDELICATE, rushed, stomping through the material makes it a marginal effort at best.   A film of this ilk is more effective when handled with more subtlety.  Director Scott Derrickson actually shoots the one exorcism scene in this film more like an action scene, tossing all intensity out the window…literally.

Another miscalculation The Exorcism Of Emily Rose has is the numerous divergences from what makes it good.  The film is mostly set in a courtroom, pouring over the facts of what actually happened during the exorcism.   Was this young girl taken over by demons or did her priest criminally harm her?  However, it tries to slide in some suspense with a pointless subplot involving star Laura Linney being accosted by dark forces.   It feels totally out of place and stops whatever momentum the film has built up.   I am convinced these scenes were jammed in because of studio pressure for more jump scares and exciting moments.  You see, studios hear subtlety and automatically think boring.  Their low respect for the audiences they constantly pander to usually short circuits modern horror films.

Jennifer Carpenter, from Dexter fame, does most of the heavy lifting in this film.  Now, I won’t go into comparisons of scary between her in Linda Blair.  However, I will say I was more impressed by Carpenter’s terrified Emily than her possessed one.  Tom Wilkinson is great as usual, though underused.  Laura Linney is nothing special but is still solid.  The only really poor performance that sticks out to me is given by Campbell Scott.  I’ve seen him before on the television show Royal Pains and a short bit as Peter Parker’s dad in….(Rolling Eyes With A Wanking Motion)…The Amazing Spider-Man.  In those parts, his super stoic delivery, nature, and overall presence didn’t particularly bother me because they’re small.  In this film, Campbell Scott is tasked with carrying a significant part of the film.  He is the voice of the doubters.  He is, in actuality, the secondary villain of the film.  And he has about as much personality as a creaky ironing board.  A great character actor like Victor Garber or John Noble could have put some heft to that part.  Instead, we’re left with a walking talking popsicle stick.

So, yes.  I tried another one of these fads.  But after watching The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, it might have been a better choice to just get shipped to the home.  If the power of Christ compels you…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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