It sometimes seems like a once-a-year event that a new horror movie starts building buzz as a total throwback to the truly great (and actually scary) thrillers of the 1970s and ’80s.
“No, but this one’s different,” everyone says and, in the end, you wind up disappointed. Ti West’s The House of the Devil is the latest such film. But—like Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever before it—this one is different.
When college student Sam (Jocelin Donahue) can’t pay the rent, she needs to find work—fast! So she reluctantly agrees to drive to the middle of nowhere for a babysitting gig with the Ulmans (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov). When it turns out that the “baby” in question is about 20 years past her AARP requirements, Sam only agrees to stay once more money has been thrown on the table. Except no amount of extra cash can prepare Sam for the satanic turn her night is about to take!
Writer-director-editor West (whose next project is actually Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, the sequel to Roth’s debut) pays meticulous attention to every detail of the film—from the dialogue and clothing to the lighting and camerawork—to seamlessly transport his audience back a few decades and make The House of the Devil feel like a film shot during the golden age of horror and only recently rediscovered.
Here, the newly christened king of horror chats about his love of the genre, but how be would like to break out.
Jennifer Wood (MM): Your filmography certainly attests to your love of the horror genre. What is it that attracts you to horror films—both as a fan and as a moviemaker?
Ti West (TW): I have a fascination with dark and taboo subject matter as well as an intrigue with subcultures. I was always a fan of horror movies and punk rock music because it seemed more genuine. It was rough around the edges, but created with such enthusiasm and passion outside of the system. Some of the most evocative stuff I have ever come across has been in the horror genre.
As far as moviemaking is concerned, it is the one genre that you can really experiment with and explore almost any theme while still entertaining an audience. I like that flexibility.
MM: Who are some of the moviemakers who inspire you most? Both within the genre and outside of it? I can’t help but think you must be a big Dario Argento fan—you certainly seem to have a shared directorial sensibility.
TW: I am mostly inspired by prolific and auteur directors. I get the most excitement out of seeing people who are very hands-on and have a very clear and specific style to their filmmaking. I like when you see a movie and you know that nobody else could have made that film other than that filmmaker. That is exciting to me. Kubrick, Polanski, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Friedkin, Soderbergh, Van Sant, Carpenter, Argento are just a few…
MM: You can’t read anything about The House of the Devil without mention of it being set in the 1980s. Why the decision to make the film a period piece? What were some of the biggest challenges this decision presented to you as a director and to your budget?
TW: Well, being a low-budget movie, it was obviously a financial challenge… But I have a great crew, so we made do just fine. It was important to me to set the film in the early ’80s because that was the height of the “satanic panic” cultural phenomenon. I couldn’t imagine making a satanic film in any other time period. I have always been amazed by the inaccurate craze that swept the nation’s suburbs… It still amazes me. YouTube Geraldo talking about cults if you don’t believe me.
MM: Clearly, it takes a strong collaboration with key crew members—the DP, production designer and special effects artists in particular—to successfully execute this kind of film. How did you “cast” for these key crew members? What were some of the earliest conversations you had about what you wanted the film to look/feel/sound like? Having worked with all of those folks again for Cabin Fever 2, it’s obviously a collaboration that worked.
TW: It was all about authenticity. I am a firm believer in the “if you’re gonna get wet, you might as well go swimming” model. So I wanted the film to be an authentic period piece, not just an homage. We worked really hard at choosing the right color palettes and clothing styles to faithfully portray our childhood memories. As I said, I have an amazing crew, and they really pull most of the weight. They know how obsessive compulsive I can be about little details and they go above and beyond.
MM: I know that you’re in pre-production on The Haunting in Georgia right now. Any idea of what will be after that? Any plans to step outside the horror genre?
TW: Yes, I have plans to step outside… It’s just a matter of the funds coming through. I never expected to make four horror movies in a row, but that is where the money was. I could have spent the last three years sitting around trying to get my family drama made, but I don’t like twiddling my thumbs. Hopefully a project I have been circling for a while comes together and I can try my hat with something new. Other than that, I have a new Web series that began airing on IFC.com on October 26 called “Dead & Lonely.” It is about a vampire who uses an online dating Website to find her victims.
MM: The House of the Devil is being released on October 30. But what movie will be required viewing for you this Halloween night?
TW: Antichrist. MM
The House of the Devil is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and a limited VHS edition.