Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is a financially struggling student who wishes to move out of her dorm and into a proper house, but she's not sure she has the cash to spend. Nevertheless, she agrees to rent a place that seems just right for her, and the landlady (Dee Wallace) allows her special treatment as she trusts her, as long as she can hand over the money by Monday next week. This leaves Samantha till then to gather the necessary funds, though that is easier said than done, but something that may help is a babysitting job that she sees a notice for around the campus. Every little bit helps...
The House of the Devil was a film which divided audiences, who either responded to its gradual build up of suspense or found it unspeakably boring. What the detractors didn't recognise was that this was not so much a horror which fitted into the modern cycle, but one that preferred to take its cue from other sources, and not the ones you might expect. On the surface it paid tribute to the shockers of the eighties, with its setting in that decade and deliberately harkening back to what was in vogue back then in the genre, but more than that this was indebted to arthouse movies where the camera was content to record and allow the viewer to passively observe.
It was as if the film had been stored tipped at an angle leaving most of the stuff you would expect from a horror to settle at one end of the story, allowing the rest of the film to meander as it followed the largely oblivious but slowly catching on Samantha around her day and fateful night. She does get that babysitter's job, after a mix-up that sees her wondering if she's wasting her time, and her best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) does her best to buoy her spirits. So much so that she ensures it is Samantha who secures the position, thinking she is doing her a favour but actually landing her right up to her neck in trouble.
We could have realised that there was something up when we saw who was playing the couple hiring Samantha: Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, both who had a long history of essaying sinister roles and they did not disappoint here. They are Mr and Mrs Ulman, and they confess to the girl that they do not have a child that they need looking after as what Samantha needs to do is make sure that Mrs Ulman's mother is all right for the evening. Megan, who has driven her there, is immediately suspicious, but the student is so well paid in advance that she can hardly say no. Therefore the stage is set for suspense as a lunar eclipse takes place in the sky and Samantha is left all alone in the isolated woodland house.
Well, you're meant to think that suspense is on the cards, but after a while you notice that not really all that much is happening. The heroine wanders around the home, dances a bit, orders a pizza, gets slightly worried when she hears dragging noises from upstairs, and er, that's about it. The idea is to supply a mounting sense of dread, but for much of the time it looks too much like the filmmakers twiddling their thumbs. The main reason you think something bad is going to occur is that caption at the start which spouts some dubious statistics about Satanic ritual panic in the eighties and claims this is based on true story - and the band played believe it if you like. Indeed there is a whole load of mayhem that erupts by the end, yet it's so out of place with what has gone before they might have been better off going with something subtler than so over the top. Music by Jeff Grace.