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The House of the Devil

Movies, Music, and TV

The House of the Devil cover

Say what you will about The House of the Devil, but it is hard to argue it doesn’t nail the eighties’ aesthetics and culture. Writer/director Ti West utilized techniques and equipment from that decade to achieve the movie’s look and feel, and if you didn’t know The House of the Devil was produced in 2009, you likely would think you were watching a vintage horror movie.

It’s a refreshing take on the nostalgia that has overtaken pop-culture. God bless Stranger Things, and while that show captures the family movies Spielberg et al. created, those existed in their own, stylized, fantasy universes, approximated by the years they were filmed. Slashers and horror movies were often fully rooted in the era’s culture. Both aesthetics and the darker truths behind the curtain were gleefully exposed in schlocky cinema.

The House of the Devil gets many aspects of the eighties better than most. While Americana often is associated with the fifties, I will contend the eighties had an equally crucial global impact. It comes down to perception, of course, but an early scene in a pizza parlor captures 1983 U.S.A. pop-culture in the most straightforward manner: The slice with pepperoni and the king-size red, plastic cup with the Coke logo plastered on it. That might seem like an insignificant throwback, but during the eighties, it was the type of American culture that penetrated the minds and hearts of teens around the world. Stranger Things and its ilk have of course featured the same type of scene, but always within their own confines, and not the broader American zeitgeist. That simple scene with pizza and Coke that is the representation of the perceived real Americana experience. The jukebox and Chevy of the time if you so like.

West’s period piece revolves around the very real satanic cult hysteria of the eighties. The hysteria was real, that is. Kids weren’t actually joining cults to sacrifice animals and humans, but for the evangelical Reagan Generation, it was the type of fallacy used to blame economic hardships and (somewhat ironically within this context) the loss of the American Dream.

In its topic, the plot borrows as much from Rosemary’s Baby as it does from Friday the 13th. There isn’t a trail of grizzly murders in The House of the Devil, and the tone relies on a suspenseful build. Samantha — portrayed by Jocelin Donahue — knows something is off in the house where she is baby-siting a couple’s elderly mother, but what is it? The viewer knows a cult is involved, and the movie’s title and lunar-eclipse-setting don’t set up many surprises. The build to the inevitable final third is effective, and Donahue does a good job marching toward what the viewer know is coming.

As already mentioned, the The House of the Devil’s visuals represent the eighties well, but West doesn’t just lean on nostalgia. Shots and angles are striking, and the color palette gives the movie a cohesive look. The camera work is consistently impressive.

Props, too, to the score. It is baffling that Jeff Grace hasn’t hit it bigger outside of the cult and indie scene. What he delivers is something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hitchcock classic. Pair it with Sony Walkman-evergreens like One Thing Leads to Another, and you have a killer soundtrack.

Yeah, I like The House of the Devil. The last third might be a bit rushed — a calculated move by Ti West it seems, as he did the same in The Innkeepers — and there is an early murder that seemed unnecessary and cruel. Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age, and that aside, The House of the Devil is a technical treat that captures a needlessly ridiculed era perfectly. As far as entertainment goes, it’s an eerie watch.

I’m looking forward to diving further into Ti West’s oeuvre — the man clearly has a vision.

Bonus! IMDb’s trivia section for the movie has a lengthy description of what a Walkman is. Feel appropriately old.

Trailer


The Hell House LLC duology

Movies, Music, and TV

The Hell House LLC duology cover

I’ve never found the found footage genre too compelling. More often than not, no matter what the plot, you ’re served a shaky camera filming occasional glimpses of out of focus apparitions and incoherent yelling. The Hell House LLC duology doesn’t stray far from the formula, but, for whatever reason, both movies work up to a point.

Set in upstate New York, the story revolves around an abandoned hotel, purchased by a group of young entrepreneurs aiming to establish a haunted Halloween house. The first movie kicks off opening night when tragedy strikes, and fifteen people — including all but one staffer — die. From there out, the story focuses on a documentary crew digging into the event, aided by the surviving crew member.

Does all of this sound familiar, even if you haven’t watched the movies? Of course it does, because that is how all of these found footage films go. The only differentiator is that writer/director Stephen Cognetti sets it up a whole lot better than most.

The characters here are both likable and believable, and for the most part, they stray past the genre’s tropes du jour. They aren’t just hapless teens running around a random haunted house on a dare; instead, they are theater professionals looking to set up a legitimate business. The crew is good at its jobs, and the clown mannequins they design are creepy. When things start going down, they have a simple and believable reason to ignore them and push on: the very human threat of bankruptcy.

Both movies are creepy. I’m sure you already think you know what the deal will be with those aforementioned clowns, but the films play it smarter than that. There certainly are the expected out of focus apparitions in the background tricks, but often there are some clever twists to them. A lot of Hell House LLC’s strengths play on keeping the cards close to the chest, and Cognetti is presumably a talented poker player.

A lot of the praise heaped on the first movie can be applied to its sequel. The Abaddon Hotel, as it is dubbed, follows yet another documentary team trying to uncover what happened to the original documentary crew. Up until the last fifteen minutes, I’d say the quality holds up perfectly well. Then, as these things too often go, Cognetti tries to over-explain the last two and a half hours in a way he had little reason to do. The two movies managed not to fall too far into the found footage trap up until then, so that’s a bit of a bummer. A slow unraveling of the plot worked well for the majority of the two movies, and I question if the planned third movie will have much to offer at this point.

A disappointing ending shouldn’t keep you from watching the movies1, as the journey is a creepy one. The duology has amassed a relatively sizable cult following, and I can see why. Found footage films rarely keep me interested for too long, but Hell House LLC captivated me enough to watch the sequel.

Bonus! Read a downright tantalizing review of Mr. Jones, another rare found footage gem.

1 In fact, the only thing that might stop you from watching The Abaddon Hotel is that it’s a Shudder exclusive, but really, if you like the good things in life, you should already have Shudder in your life.

Trailer


Nightshade

RestaurantsSeattle Area

I get the impression that Bremerton, the largest town on the Puget Sound Kitsap Peninsula, was quite the happening place back in the day. The downtown area is not big, but its density suggests it once upon a time was lively. These days, little is left of what once might have been, but with new developments around the ferry terminal, and a relatively burgeoning arts district, there are signs of better things to come.

It makes sense. Seattle housing prices are blasting past what an average worker can afford, and moving across the sound could serve as an alternative to the outskirts of King County. A quick ferry ride isn’t worse of a commute than anything Seattle has to offer, provided the place you venture from has something going for it. Bremerton isn’t there yet, but if spots like Nightshade keep popping up, it could get there.

Illustrative image #1

Step inside the café, and there is little to suggest you’re in a forgotten naval town. The interiors are as comfortably Pacific Northwest as anything you find in Seattle or Portland, and the menu has a large selection of vegetarian options. Even the clientèle is young and happening enough to suggest that Bremerton’s arts district strategy is working. You can get jars of Jean-Claude Van Jam here, which should add enough detached irony to please even the most discerning hipster.

The food matched the standards of the interiors during our visit, and my chorizo breakfast burrito, while not exactly a steal at $15, should be a solid entry in any tortillaphile’s repertoire. The beef was locally sourced from Sequim’s Clark Farms and was well enough seasoned to not disappear in a sea of ranchero sauce. Granted, I’m not sure the latter came as advertised, as it leaned more toward being a kicked up tomato sauce. That might sound odd (largely because it is) but it worked for me, and the result was a lighter meal than I expected.

Inside the tortilla, the potato mix had the right bite: not too firm; not too mushy. The hardiness of it and the meat contrasted the fluffy eggs and a sour cream/salsa mix within a balanced flavor palate.

The burrito wasn’t necessarily life-altering, but it certainly wasn’t worse than the baseline in larger, regional cities. Hop across the sound, and the equivalent meal would be comparable in quality.

Illustrative image #2Illustrative image #3

Props, too, to the fry bread, which was not your typical county-fair offering. Nightshade’s take was not deep-fried beyond recognition, and instead approached something akin to fluffy and rich.

The restaurant, then, feels a whole lot more urban than what one would expect from Bremerton. It isn’t the poster child of a brave new town, but instead for what it strives to be. Bremerton is not yet a young and happening commuter town for those looking for a bustling life and work balance, but there is no reason for it not to get there if things keep moving in Nightshade’s direction.



5th Avenue Sandwich Shop

RestaurantsOlympia

You won’t find 5th Avenue Sandwich Shop on 5th Avenue, but rather on Legion. Go figure, but the new location does, if nothing else, present the potential for an eventual re-branding to Legion Avenue Sandwich Shop, which would be kind of bad-ass. It’s probably a better name-street combination for marketing purposes, too, but I digress.

The shop is anonymously located in what looks like a vintage brick apartment building, and only an unassuming awning alerts you of 5th’s existence. Enter through an eerily empty hallway, and you’ll eventually find what is a classy looking joint. The age of the building does indeed give the interiors a distinct vibe.

While it won’t set the world on fire, the food holds its own. Granted, waiting fifteen minutes for a sandwich is a tad excessive, and a $12 price point for a meal (fries, but no drink, included) is beyond the high end of reasonable.

I gave the Hot Oly a shot, a sandwich I assume 5th’s attempt at creating an Olympia signature. I’m not sure the result is entirely successful, and the shaved beef, cheese, and pepper sandwich seems decidedly more Philadelphia to me. Still, the meat is decently seasoned, and it’s hard to argue against the jalapeño, pepperoncini, and onion trifecta. It adds a kick when combined with a zesty, Whiz-y cheese. (If that’s a good thing or not is entirely subjective.)

The bread, meanwhile, does not do it for me. It is possibly baked in-house, and if that is the case, the aspirations seem to not amount to much more than the Subway standard. Bread without flavor is not something that makes me happy, and you’re on pretty thin ice if you get that basic wrong.

On the flip side, props to the fries, which are tasty and have a good bite to them.

5th isn’t all bad. It’s certainly better than Meconi’s, though that isn’t necessarily a high bar. I don’t think the spot should be entirely out of anyone’s sandwich-shop-rotation, deep as it may sit. The sandwich is decent, but the price and bread hold it back from the quality we feel we deserve.