***½/**** Image B Sound B Extras B
starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Dee Wallace
written and directed by Ti West
by Walter Chaw Her hair's a little longer, but she's a dead ringer for Karen Allen from Starman (with a touch of Brooke Adams from Invasion of the Body Snatchers thrown in), this girl dancing to The Fixx's classic "One Thing Leads to Another," Walkman clapped to her ears, in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere. Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, a real find) is there because she answered one of those tear-away babysitting ads posted outside her dorm, and who cares if it's not really a kid the guy, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), wants her to look after but instead a demented old mother-in-law socked away in the attic*--he's giving her four hundred bucks so he and his wife (Mary Woronov) can enjoy the lunar eclipse. I know what you're thinking, but Ti West's gorgeous ode to '80s exploitation shockers comes off as more than mere pomo exercise or homage; The House of the Devil is a lovingly crafted little gem that owes as much to Roman Polanski's paranoia trilogy and Bob Clark's Black Christmas. (Come to think of it, Donahue also bears a resemblance to Margot Kidder around the time of the latter and DePalma's Sisters.) Smarter than hell about its sources, it employs all of them to a full seventy minutes of unbearable tension capped by twenty minutes of payoff. It's the same ratio of foreplay-to-climax as Rosemary's Baby, and lo, The House of the Devil would play wonderfully on a double-bill with the same.