House of the Devil

A summary of House of the Devil: nothing happens for the first seventy minutes, and then holy shit. The plot riffs off the Satanic Panic of the early 80’s, involving a babysitter, a total eclipse of the moon and a ceremony to Say-Tan. This is a movie meant to throw you off your game. For instance: the halfway scare is important in horror films, the point halfway through the movie when you can count on something fucked-up happening. The halfway scare in House of the Devil happens fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. It’s just one of the things that’s off about this movie, and I mean off in a good way.

College-student Samantha (Sam) wants to move into her own apartment. She doesn’t get along with her roommate, who is a slob and maybe even a sex-addict. Sam finds the perfect apartment but needs cash for the first month’s rent. Luckily, she finds a Babysitter Wanted flyer hanging on a billboard. On the phone the guy seems weird, but Sam needs the money.

Sam’s friend Megan drives her to a house in the middle of nowhere, where the creepy Mr. Ulman reveals there is no child for her to sit. He wants Sam to watch his wife’s elderly mother and offers her four hundred dollars to do it. Mr. Ulman is the family member who interacts with Sam because he’s the best at imitating a normal human being, and he’s not too good at it. Megan thinks her friend is nuts, and tells her so, but Sam needs the money. I mean, she’s stuck in a house in the boondocks without a car, and the people pretending to own the house are probably related to the Manson Family. What could possibly go wrong?

Supposedly inspired by the horror films of the early 80’s, House of the Devil has more of a 70’s vibe. Sam looks like a combo of Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith on Charlie’s Angels. Despite wearing mom jeans for the whole movie, Sam is very attractive. She’s also…I don’t know what you’d call it. Naïve? She’s not stupid. Sam catches the house’s bad vibes right away. As the movie goes on the sense of wrongness grows, and pretty soon she’s peeking around corners armed with a butcher knife.

House of the Devil will either scare or bore the crap out of you. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and this movie foregoes the usual practice of having nameless somethings lurking out of the corner of your eyes. The third act of this movie pays off, big-time, but it all depends on whether you think the ride is worth the wait.

Last Shift

Released in 2014, Last Shift is a decent horror-thriller that I watched courtesy of Netflix Streaming. I’ve been reviewing a lot of older movies lately, so this is a nice change-up. Last Shift looks like it was shot on a micro-budget, but the special effects are decent and the acting is good.

The plot: it’s rookie cop’s Jessica’s first night on the job. She reports to the deserted old police station only to find that she has to spend her first shift in an abandoned building. Jessica needs to stick around because a HAZMAT team is coming to dispose of all the unwanted physical evidence from past cases.

Jessica gets a weird phone call from a distraught woman, which she doesn’t handle very well, but it’s her first shift so cut her a bit of slack. A homeless guy invades the station and pisses all over the floor. The weird shit starts with strange noises and then escalates. We soon discover that Jessica’s dad – also a police officer – was killed by a Charlie Manson death cult, which is why she became a cop. After being brought in alive, the cult leader and two of his female followers killed themselves in this very station. Could this be related to the current strange happenings at the station? Maaaybe?

We learn what’s happening early on in Last Shift, so the movie becomes dependent on jump-scares and freaky shit. The phone calls are from a dead woman. The homeless guy comes back. Stuff starts moving around. The cult head and his two followers appear on TV. Jessica starts hearing a freaky song. And that’s before she starts seeing things…

Last Shift is a good horror movie that does what it sets out to do very well. The writers give Jessica a reason to stick it out, so kudos to them. The movie builds suspense and dread very well and there are lots of jump scares. To me, the crime scene photos are scarier than the monsters.

That said, Last Shift has a few issues. Towards the end of the movie it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. If I was a law enforcement officer, I believe I might catch a couple of procedural errors. Also, Jessica under reacts in a few scenes. When you’re in a holding tank and the lights go out and someone’s shining your own flashlight in your face, and the only other person in the cell is out cold, that’s grounds for any sane person to call backup.

Quibbles aside, Last Shift is solid. Recommended!