The House of the Devil; or Adventures in Cultist Babysitting

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another weekly review of a random horror film we’ve stumbled upon! Joining you is your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who suggest always taking a sarcastic, comeback spewing friend to a creepy house because who knows when you’ll need someone else to die instead of you in a situation.

This week’s film offering: The House of the Devil

Talk on the phone. Finish your homework. Watch TV. DIE. (A typical Friday night, then?)

Lilly: Imagine you are hard up for cash and want to move into a sweet new apartment, so you decide to take a number from a vague flyer about a babysitting job. Not hard, we’ve all done it. Then you call said number on a payphone, leave a message…and the pay phone rings. Do you even pick it up? No. No, you do not.

But then, you aren’t the lead in The House of the Devil. And a good thing or it wouldn’t have been a film.

Andy: Yeah, ‘naive’ is definitely the word that springs to mind here. It’s a film that deliberately places itself back thirty years but I don’t think that anyone would have fallen for this in the 80s

OR now. Still, if you need the money…

So our young heroine heads off into the back of beyond, displaying some sense in taking her much more suspicious friend along with her, and is offered a ridiculous sum of money to essentially watch TV and eat pizza. Also Grandma’s upstairs, but she’ll be no bother. Promise.

Lilly: So, the creepy guy who called you on a payphone (how did he have the number, ooOOooo) and lives in the middle of nowhere near a graveyard lied about having a kid–so what! Take the money! Think of your decently sized apartment! Take it! You’ll surely live to enjoy it, right? Right.

Andy: And … that’s kind of it for most of the film. She’s in the house, looking around, and slowly, slooowly coming to the realisation that things are not what they seem.

Lilly: It’s a babysitter-gets-menaced piece that definitely delivers, and most importantly, really pays attention to the details of its predecessors in the genre. This becomes evident very early on–in the opening credits, in fact, which feel so eighties you practically come out of them wearing leg warmers and sporting a side ponytail. The shots, the music, the fashion–all of it had the feeling of classics like Halloween. And, uh…Halloween II. Anyway, you get the point!

Andy: There’s a lot to like. There’s no weak link in the cast, but there’s no big ticket stars either, which can be distracting. The biggest is probably, I dunno, Tom Noonan? It’s very, very well put together.

However, it is absolutely glacially paced. It’s the only criticism I have, but it’s a big one if you get easily bored. It stretched right up to the edge of what I could deal with. It’s almost like they didn’t have quite enough plot and just substituted atmosphere instead. But it’s still very good.

Lilly: The pacing was alright for me (she said, having fallen asleep during it but that can be blamed on being tired, not the film) but I was sort of thrown by weird focus’ the film had. Like on pizza. No pizza in this film was good. Like, no one finished a piece and that is really distracting. Also, was the pizza place she called an evil pizza place, or did they honestly want to make sure she didn’t get hungry while babysitting Nana? I have a lot of pizza related questions and the film did that to me. Twice in a film was pizza deemed not good, and that stands out, is all I’m saying.

Andy: The fact that you had time to ponder these things is telling. Even with a nap. Anyway. The soundtrack is excellent.

Lilly: Yesssssss. There is a scene where she is bopping all over the place, dancing to a tune, and I was right there with her. I mean, besides the fact that she bopped right upstairs without thinking of poor Nana who might be napping. Inconsiderate.

Also, I did wonder what it was that turned teens off caregiving for the elderly–was that a thing in the eighties? A sudden wave of creepy elderly folk tricking young people into their homes under the guise of elder care for pay? What happened to those teens? I want to know.

Andy: One final observation – the lead, who is otherwise very good, has the most forgettable face in movie history. Every time she turned away I automatically replaced her with Suzy from Suspiria, and was surprised when she turned back around.

Lilly: I was even thinking that, and I don’t even like Suspiria enough to keep the lead in my mind.  Anyway, for a film made in 2009, I was really impressed by how much of the tone of an eighties film it really captured, with a bit of creep and a bit of camp, and I definitely would recommend this one for a fun movie night treat.

Andy: Sure. Just remember it’s a slow burner. Also, it says in the opening it’s based on a true story, but as far as I can tell that’s a load of dingo’s kidneys.


A Field in England; or What Just Happened?

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another review penned by your beloved bloggers, Andy and Lilly! Apologies for the radio silence, but we’re back with a new review, and are getting ourselves on schedule to return weekly with new offerings!

This week’s film offering: A Field in England

Let the psychedelic imagery begin on the poster, get you ready for it!

Andy: Despite our fondness for the weird, neither of us is really into the truly surreal. I wouldn’t watch a David Lynch film unless you hold a gun to my head. So it was with some trepidation we embarked upon this, an explicitly surreal historical horror about alchemy, repetition, cowardice and friendship.

Filmed on an ultralow budget with one location, the plot, such as it is, involves four apparent deserters from a English Civil War battle, who decide to walk to a local alehouse supposedly on the other side of the field they find themselves in. Of course, some of these people are not what they seem.

Lilly: Shot in black and white and featuring P.O.V. camera work and ‘drug trip’ techniques, it was definitely a mixture of the familiar and the ‘what the hell was that?’ It was both interesting character study and indulgent art-house shots and close ups of Reece Shearsmith’s emoting face. There were times where I just self-reflected on my movie choice. Maybe choosing something because an actor or two (Julian Barratt!) I like is in it isn’t a good idea. Was I being punished with existential crisis suffering Civil War cowards? Is that what was happening? Was the idiot even a coward, or just an idiot? I don’t. Know.

Andy: Yeah, it’s a strange one. The whole thing screams “unreliable narrator”, especially after they sit and eat a load of mushrooms.

Lilly: There are a few ways to read this film, and all of them are grabbed from bits and pieces of evidence rubbed together to hopefully make something stick. Everything from ‘They’re all dead’ to ‘Whitehead (Shearsmith) is a disguise for the master he claims to serve’ float around idly amongst shots and sounds and images that beat the atmosphere out to the sound of the drum track that plays. Then there are the tableaus that give you a moment to go ‘wait…what?’ before the story takes up again. Those were…interesting? I didn’t know what effect was wanted, but they just took me out of the story and gave me a minute to think about whether I was bothered to go get a drink or not.

Andy: The trouble is that the film is both more and less than the sum of its parts. It reaches grandly for all of these different themes and ideas and horror but there’s no substance to hang it on. It’s very difficult to follow what precisely is ‘going on’, at least in a meta sense, so everything just sort of hangs there in space. It’s like a stage play with half the scenes missing, and everything is either too brief or too long. I imagine it’s someone’s favourite film, but there wasn’t enough to it. I guess the term is that it didn’t ‘resonate’ with me.

I suppose the only interesting theme I dug out of it was a kind of Sisyphean disdain for anybody actually achieving anything. No ale is going to be drunk, no treasure is going to be found, and no hole is ever going to be deep enough. Heck, the field itself seems endless. There is no end. Which in itself is a pretty scary idea, but not enough to keep me engaged for 90 minutes.

Lilly: I was intrigued up until the moment I realized that I was never going to get answers for anything I was trying to piece together, and then I was Sisyphus, trying in vain to get some sort of idea of what was happening. Was it a trip? Was it PTSD? Was it some sort of witchcraft, the whole thing? Who knows. For me, it’s a ‘maybe?’ recommendation–it’s not for everyone (it wasn’t really for me) but it does have some interesting ideas, some good acting, and a good use of one massive field in England.

Andy: Yeah, it’s a very tentative maybe from me, which probably means a no. Some people may like it as a surrealist nightmare. I am not one of those people.

The Final Girls; or A Slasher with Heart

Hello and Hallo-welcome to the first in a weekly series of reviews done by your intrepid bloggers, Andy and Lilly, featuring a variety of films from all realms of horror. Stay tuned for ghost stories, demons, vampires, killers, and all that goes bump in the night to be showcased over the following weeks.

This week’s film offering: The Final Girls

Not to be confused with Final Girl, which also has Alexander Ludwig. No, seriously.
Not to be confused with Final Girl, which also has Alexander Ludwig. No, seriously.

Lilly: Welcome back, readers, and welcome back, us, to the blog! We took a week off there, recovering from our month of macabre, but couldn’t stay away–seeing as you’re here, neither could you, so hoorah!

Andy: You’re not getting rid of us that easily, horror fans.

Lilly: This week, we watched The Final Girls, a film about the daughter of a scream queen who finds herself launched into her mother’s most famous frightfest fodder, Camp Bloodbath. She, along with four of her friends, end up in a situation where they have to live through the movie–not the easiest thing in a sexy teen slasher whittle-down film that is clearly taking off Friday the 13th.

Andy: It’s to this movie’s credit that the mechanism by which they end up in the nightmare of living through a slasher film is not really explained at all, but it’s all so breezy that you really don’t mind. Everything’s more brightly coloured and more vivid, but also seemingly shallow. You half expect to see a boom mike most of the time. The characters are the same – compared to our intrepid modern band, the movie characters they encounter are one-dimensional in the extreme.

Lilly: To add to the drama of being thrust into the freaky fictional world full of machete-related deaths and bad eighties fashion, our main character is dealing with the fact that her mother, in real life, died three years prior in a tragic car accident, so having a younger version of her being menaced is that much more stress added on to a pretty stressful situation.

Andy: Except of course, she’s not her mother – she’s her film character – an impossibly sweet girl called Nancy who wants to lose her virginity and play guitar. Talk about a mind screw.

Lilly: For a simple set up, this film is incredibly clever and is everything a horror spoof should be. A real love for the slasher genre is evident, from the characterizations to the musical cues and ‘don’t have sex’ rules being recognized by the poor teens sucked into it. Even Billy, the murderer, is actually terrifying, not just terrifying in the fake film and laughable with the arrival of modern protagonists. It’s actually pretty impressive, how this film forces you to care about the characters that, to our generation of horror fans, are known to be ‘meat on the hoof’ types–the jock, the girl-next-door, the sex-pot, the bad girl–due to them being juxtaposed against modern young people. It gives you a moment of ‘wait, they are people, though’ that you sort of forget, watching slasher film after slasher film. It brings those characters back into sharper focus after, as a viewer, I became almost desensitized to their menace because, hey, they shouldn’t have went and had sex while a killer was on the loose–which is nonsense logic, but something you calmly accept, watching slasher horror.

Andy: It’s such a simple, simple refreshing change to the format. Rather than going full hog into the gruesome (of which there’s surprisingly little) it instead gives us characters we care about. When was the last time you were genuinely scared for a horror protagonist? When was the last time you were emotionally affected by one?

Lilly: The modern teens being trapped in the film is bad enough, and then you have the relationship between Max (the main girl, played by Taissa Farmiga) and Nancy (played by her mother, who is played by Malin Akerman). Nancy is ‘the shy girl with the clipboard and the guitar’ who, in the original movie, gets killed after having sex with the resident jock, but Max, having some issues between drawing the line between reality and fiction (reasonably so, given her situation) wants to change that. Easier said than done, because the film still needs to play out, apparently. There still needs to be one Final Girl (hence the title).

Andy: Another character you don’t come across very often is the horror ‘expert’. Duncan is the world’s biggest fan of Camp Bloodbath and is the only one happy to be trapped there. His sheer enthusiasm carries the early part of the film, as he mimics dialogue as it happens around him and almost squees when he sees the killer for the first time. He’s not like Randy in the Scream movies, dispensing advice on how to survive – this guy’s just happy to be a long for the ride.

Lilly: Something truly impressive about this film is that it handles the relationship between Max and Nancy so compassionately–it feels like you step out of the campy Camp Bloodbath world when they are given time to bond, and you are watching a very well-acted teen girl mourning her mother. It’s painful, and hard, and I just was heartbroken about a million times over for Max. This is a horror film that doesn’t half-ass the personal tragedies that are going on during the massacre.

Andy: It really is very impressive and very well shot, from the absolutely spot-on recreation of 80s slasher films to the visually arresting look when the fourth wall comes up and pokes you in the eye.

Lilly: The beginning of the film pulls you in with Duncan’s enthusiasm and the likeable characters surrounding Max (save that bitchy ex played by Nina Dobrev) and you just stick with that feeling of ‘come on, you crazy kids!’ that deepens as they all grow well past the development you usually get in a slasher. I sort of hope this is a new age of them, where the good and bad of that genre gets mashed together and we get more films like this. Sequel? Yes please. 

Andy: We were somewhat blindsided by how much we liked this one. It’s definitely one for anyone’s watch-list.