*This post is SPOILER FREE, fear not.* What is it about trashy entertainment that just makes it so good come midnight, and even better come 3am? At that hour pop music sounds more profound; pulp novels read like Dostoyevsky; home shopping channels take on the lurid, hypnotic vibes of an extended Tim & Eric sketch. But more than anything, any true night owl knows that horror benefits the most from a sleeping city.
It's that particular cold and lonely feeling of being the only person alive at 3am, you know? All the best horror films allow a certain negative space to be filled in by your own personal worst fears, and those spaces seem especially pronounced when you're exhausted but awake, and curled up in a darkened living room with a world of worry lurking in every shadow. As far as I'm concerned 3am is just another term for horror film o'clock.
THIS WEEK'S 3AM HORROR STREAM: House of the Devil
Ti West's 2009 insta-classic cult film House of the Devil immediately polarized horror audiences, who had grown used to the frenetic, too-violent, too-slick Saw franchise and its myriad rip-offs. Walking back those trends by boldly embracing the corny artifice (and low-budget tensions) of the 1980s satanic-panic craze, House of the Devil may is surprising to someone used to modern horror, as much for what it doesn't do as what it does.
The story starts simply enough: A young college co-ed (Jocelin Donahue, pictured in the top photo) responds to an ad looking for a babysitter. Ignoring several eerie red flags, and at the behest of her best friend Megan (played by a pre-Frances Ha Greta Gerwig!), she lands the job and finds herself wandering around an empty house full of foreboding noises and creeping dread. Where most horror films set the stakes right up front with a brutal murder before the opening credits, House of the Devil denies you this, allowing you to feel like maybe, just maybe this night may turn out okay for our heroine. When the film's first big scare happens — and it's so famous by now that you're truly lucky if you haven't been spoiled yet — the movie suddenly shifts into a suspenseful overdrive that doesn't let up until the ending (which is either terrifying or hilarious depending on your taste for early '80s shock camp).
What makes House of the Devil such a perfect pick for a late night horror fix? It's how confidently it turns your own patience against you. You just know that something bad will happen at any point, but more often it's the lack of of a jump-scare that allows the tension to build to an almost unbearable level. There's a reason bad horror films almost always feature cats jumping out of trash cans: audiences need that release, lest the entertainment experience become too unpleasant. House of the Devil trafficks in and subverts an audience's needs in ways you'd never suspect. Next time you're up late and need some good, low budget terror in your life, you can't really do better than this.
Images Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures