Ti West was hardly thinking of a hi-def makeover for The House Of The Devil when he made the film. He wants the image down 'n' dirty and thick with low-stock grain and a grubby aesthetic of stripped-down colour. With this in mind, forget all assumptions that the film's appearance in 1080p will be anything resembling sharp, clean or three-dimensional. This is extravagantly grainy, softened round the edges and dark. Finite detail is nowhere to be seen and, if anything, this looks appropriate for the design ethic required. I've seen the SD DVD and there is actually quite a bit of difference between the image quality of the two transfers. The 1.85:1 hi-def picture is better resolved and features deeper shadows and a more consistent contrast, except for the moments when West deliberately alters it - which he does on several occasions. Depth is greater and the picture looks much more solid and robust.
He likes a cold, bleak look so don't expect any vibrant colours to pop from the screen. The autumnal hue is convincing, but the film is also slightly desaturated and the whites purposely boosted. Blood, when it comes, is very dark. Skin-tones are pallid but, then again, this is a deliberate intention. The warmth you might have expected from all that oak-panelling and floorboards and furniture in the house is leached-away. Blacks can be very deep and strong at times, but there are also many occasions when the grain is spiked to a bubbling and noisy degree within them, which lessens their saturation considerably, though, once again, this must surely be down to West's design and not a fault of the encode.
I've said that finite detail has been virtually left off the agenda, but the thing is there is still an element of close-up information in the faces, particularly Donahue's - so no complaints there, then - that stands out quite nicely when compared to the DVD. Even her hair, and the sickening wisps that we see on someone else's pate later on, reveal more separation and clarity. Clearly there has been no aggressive DNR unleashed upon this print, and you won't find any glaring edge enhancement, either. You just have to remember that this film looks quite rough because the makers want it to, and not because the hi-def transfer has botched anything. Therefore, like 300 before it and various other director-skewed images, The House Of The Devil really should be awarded very high marks for its faithfulness to the original source. But, then again, it doesn't look at all like a hi-def image either. So, what do we do?
Well, we give it an official 6 out of 10, but ramp that up a notch or two, unofficially, for some of us purists. That's what we do.
Appreciably, the sound design for The House Of The Devil follows a similar nostalgic pattern. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is not, therefore, going to blow your socks off. But it still offers a decent and reasonably exciting experience, once you have accepted that it has not been crafted with nerve-jangling surround ambience. Having said this, some of the stingers have a real knee-jerking quality that actually works much better than in many bigger-budgeted shockers with more typical all-singing, all-dancing lossless makeovers. And listen out for the room-juddering bass throb during one of the much later sequences when all hell is literally breaking loose. Having heard some mighty bombast through my Onkyo and BK Monolith recently, I was pretty surprised by how powerful this episode sounded. West had obviously lulled the proceedings beforehand in anticipation of catching us off-guard, and there is a real sense of vibration given off that is mighty fine indeed.
But, overall, this “less is more” approach won't really stretch your speakers much. And this isn't a film where I noticed anything particularly stimulating emanating from the rears - which, given that it all takes place in a spooky old mansion, is possibly a missed opportunity for creaky footsteps, slamming doors and hushed whispers.
But then this isn't The Others.
What I will say is that the ringing phone, a few sudden clatters and the thud-thudding emanating from upstairs, as well as the odd gunshot do conspire to wallop out of the mix with suitable clarity and vigour, and, where appropriate, facilitate the requisite leaping from out of the skin. But, predominantly, this is a track that, for better of worse, wantonly embraces the restrictions of the era it seeks to emulate. Dialogue is often low and centre-based, although there are a couple of voices and a cough (or something) that are steered from either right or left. The score, from Jeff Grace, is not demonstrative, instead playing with subtlety and simmering dread throughout, so it doesn't crash around the set-up and doesn't attempt to envelope you. The final stretch is where the music gains strength, though elsewhere we have the dubious addition of some 80's pop to pulsate across the front. These tracks, in fact, come over with some vibrancy and bounce and, aside from that throat-grabbing pulse towards the end, are probably the strongest elements of the mix.
The jury's still out on this one, folks. So, whilst their backs are turned, let's play devil's advocate and give this a 6 - despite that juddering late-on effect.
Ti West gets two opportunities to discuss his film in a pair of commentary tracks, the first of which partners him up with his leading lady Jocelin Donahue and this a fine, though patchy affair that meanders along on reminiscence and anecdote, but is peppered with a few too many quiet stretches. The second track is actually much better. West is now accompanied by producers Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok (who both worked on the recent “I Sell The Dead” - BD reviewed separately) and sound designer Graham Reznick. Here, there is a lot of relaxed banter between West and his colleagues, the track light and frank, and humorous. Although a fair chunk of material is repeated from the first commentary, this is the one to opt for. There is much more fun to be had with the four guys, who discuss various elements that went into the production, from the casting, the locations and the slip-sliding on pools of blood, to some excised moments, the gifts for “playing dead” and the little tiny bits of CG that were utilised for the eclipsed Moon. What you won't get much of, however, is Ti West explaining just what is happening, or has been happening, during the frantic final act. Which would have been nice.
In The House Of The Devil: Behind the Scenes is thirteen minutes or so of rough and ready background material made up of on-set footage from the shoot. It is cheap and cheerful, but we don't get any narrative or focus to help us appreciate what is going on, so this is no substitute for a proper making-of ... which would have been far better.
This release also sports the film's trailer and a couple of rather worthless and temp-tracked deleted scenes which look even rougher than the finished film. Sadly, they offer nothing of any real interest.
And that's about it, folks. Although the commentaries are full of material, they can't help but rake over the same information twice, and the featurette is nothing more than filler - so this is a bit of a damp squib for fans of the film.
Still somewhat overrated, The House Of The Devil is fine horror fare, delivered with measured style and an agreeable sense of the macabre. Forgetting the outrageous, but poor, Cabin Fever 2, Ti West manages to slow-cook his shocker and employ plenty of nostalgic chills. The story is not original, but nor does it pretend to be. The creeps are effective, the jolts impressively wrought and the experience is definitely founded in a great central performance from Jocelin Donahue. Babysitters don't fare well in the movies, especially when there's no baby in the house! But the wackos that poor Samantha finds herself in the clutches of are weirdly compelling without being the out-and-out monsters that, say, Leatherface and his crew, ultimately, are. In this way, West's film tackles the supernatural but fine-hones a ghastly human edge to the atrocities as well.
The disc follows the director's wishes for harking back to the grubby days of 16mm and VHS, producing an image that is gritty and washed-out. It doesn't look like hi-def, of course, but this was never the intention. The audio manages a few effective jolts but, for the most part, echoes the no-frills style of the picture. The extras are severely limited, and although it is good to hear from the filmmaker, I would have liked a proper making-of to delve behind the concept and perhaps have allowed us to hear from Tom Noonan on portraying yet another stand-out creep.
The House Of The Devil will disappoint many in spite of the praise lavished upon it, but I would concur that this is an enjoyably dark and demented little cauldron-boiler that works best during its slow-simmering build-up, reminding you that horror doesn't need acres of evisceration to chill the blood.
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