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Total eclipse of the moon

09/01/2011

When I had dinner with my family on Friday it wasn’t all good food, alcohol free beer and banter. Oh no, I took the opportunity to dip into my brothers Blu Ray collection and borrow a few, having blown through my own meagre library of high definition titles all too quickly. My brother has had Blu Ray capability for a while and so has built up a respectable collection of films. Its not as if I don’t have plenty of DVDs sitting in my “still-to-watch” pile right now but the novelty of my new Blu Ray player is yet to wear off and borrowing a few off my bro is the easiest way to get my fix of pixel perfect viewing right now.

First up is the tribute to 1980’s horror films The House Of The Devil. If you like surprises please take heed, there are spoilers ahead.

Samantha is a college student eager to escape the misery of dorm living by renting her own place, the only problem being she lacks the necessary finances. She replies to an ad for a baby sitting job and after an aborted attempt eventually gets the job. When she arrives at the client’s house its all a bit odd. She is met by the peculiar Mr Ulman (Tom Noonan on fine and sinister form) who explains the baby sitting job is not what it seems and he in fact requires someone to stay in the house with his elderly mother while he and his wife attend to some important matters. She reluctantly agrees, not realising that the Ulmans actually intend on using her for a satanic ritual during the night’s lunar eclipse.

Its a slow burning tale with a careful, gentle build up culminating in a last act that is tense and startling. Its a pleasure to watch a horror film, particularly an American one, that is not afraid to take its time to build the atmosphere. The girl, seemingly alone in a strange house, uneasy about her predicament but tempted to stay by the promise of money. As her night progresses she realises that all is not what it at first seemed. It soon becomes obvious that there is sinister work afoot when she finds a photo of the family that actually lived in the house (who unbeknownst to her are lying ritually slaughtered in the upstairs bedroom) and it isn’t the family who have engaged her services.

Once the fright genie is out of the bottle the climax is a series of fairly typical but deftly executed slasher style moments. Her struggle for freedom is impressive, her decisions good ones. Especially satisfying is the way her survival instincts kick in and she defends herself well. Her bloody, eye gouging, throat slashing escape manages feels like a victory for the viewer because you somehow don’t find yourself screaming at her not to go that way, or do that. Its a subtle departure from horror convention but a satisfying one.

The whole film has been given a vintage eighties feel with muted colours and post production added graininess to help give it an authentic vibe. It is clearly a tribute to the films of the likes of Argento and Fulci, in both look and feel and in this the film makers have succeeded admirably. The extra grain seems a tad pointless on the Blu Ray though, the effect appearing grossly out of place and looking bizarrely sharp due to the heightened definition. It may well have been more sensible to dispense with it entirely for the Blu Ray transfer but its a minor complaint with an otherwise excellent looking film. There are a handful of minor anachronistic issues over the course of the film too, most notably the sound of a distant, very modern sounding car alarm in the background of one scene which threatens to shatter the illusion but they more or less get away with it and to be honest the story is engaging enough that it doesn’t matter.

Uncharacteristically for an American horror film, the ending is spectacularly downbeat if a tiny touch cheesy but it definitely feels more like a conclusion in the darker European tradition of horror. It works well in the context of the film and is extremely fitting for the story.

Its a refreshing change to watch a decent horror flick from the far side of the Atlantic. Most of the ones I’ve enjoyed recently have been of European origin, the recent output of the USA being largely disappointing. The House Of The Devil bucks this trend (although admittedly due to its mimicry of eighties Euro-horror) and does so with enough style and affection for the genre that it is impossible not to recommend it.

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