It’s the most magical time of the year once again—the month of October, where I commit myself to a solid 31 days of horror movies! One movie a day seems like the most logical approach, but I like to double (or even triple) up on some days, just in case the schedule of my actual life trips me up later on in the month. I’ve got a loose schedule of films assembled, but I’m not holding too tightly to it since I want to make sure I see lots of stuff that’s new to me. I’ve got plenty of ideas though, lots of horror flicks that I’m excited to see for the first time and lots of others that I’m stoked to revisit after way too long. I kicked it off last night with two that I’d seen—one not so long ago, and another that was an old favourite that I was all too happy to get reacquainted with.
The House Of The Devil (2009)
I first saw this one a little over a year ago, and I loved the superslow buildup and incredibly deliberate pacing…although I’m pretty sure said pacing did render me unconscious a time or two during that first viewing. Director Ti West’s leisurely pace will probably not be for all tastes, but if you’ve got the patience for it, The House Of The Devil is a cool exercise in retro atmosphere. Set in the 1980s, this flick combines that era’s fear of Satanic cults and a babysitter-in-peril storyline, very much in vogue in the horror films of the decade. A young college student, Samantha, takes on an unusual babysitting gig when she’s hard up for cash. Arriving at a big spooky house in the middle of nowhere, she is told that there is no baby, but that she’ll be paid several hundred bucks to hang out there while the house’s weirdo owners go watch the lunar eclipse. Sure enough, she soon finds herself targeted for a fate worse than death at the hands of devil worshippers. Maybe more than any other retro-style movie I’ve ever seen, The House Of The Devil feels legitimately of its era—at times, it’s like you’re watching a Canadian made-for-TV movie from 1984. The slow burn of the movie’s first half makes the inevitable scares that much more effective, and the weird feeling of hanging around a stranger’s house late at night is captured perfectly. My favourite scene doesn’t even involve anything scary: when a bored Samantha bops around the big, dark, empty house to the sounds of The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads To Another” on her Walkman, it’s like a great little mini-music video within the film. The House Of The Devil also features supporting roles for genre vets like Dee Wallace (The Howling), Tom Noonan (Manhunter, The Monster Squad), and Mary Woronov (probably best known for Eating Raoul and Rock N' Roll High School, but to me she’ll always be the mother in the video for Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized"). The movie also features a fine, understated performance from the incredibly cute Jocelin Donahue, who’s got kind of a young Karen Allen look.
It had been way too long since I revisited giallo maestro Dario Argento’s masterpiece; ever since I upgraded my home theater system a few months back, I’d been waiting for an opportunity to fire this sucker up, and it was worth the wait. Argento’s tale of an American girl (teeny-tiny Jessica Harper) who discovers that the prestigious German dance academy she’s been admitted to is run by a coven of witches may be thin on plot, but it is one of the most visually striking horror movies ever made. Suspiria is a virtual feast of garish colour, goopy stage blood, and the craziest architecture I’ve ever seen.
Amidst all the operatically-conceived murder, mayhem, and hilariously stilted dialogue (“He’s my nephew, I’m very attached to him”), Suspiria is also notable for having a cast composed of some of the most hideously ugly actors in film history.
There’s no overstating the importance of a good sound system when watching this movie—the wild soundtrack by Goblin virtually fills the room with twinkly piano, booming percussion, and crazy chanting. My friend Alex Kennedy pointed out when we watched this years ago that the movie’s famous tagline—“The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92!”—makes Suspiria sound kinda anticlimactic, but rest assured, those last 12 minutes are still pretty terrifying (the appearance of zombified, mutilated, knife-wielding Sara is always a shocker). Now, when the hell is this gonna finally come out on Blu-Ray?