House of the Devil

House of the Devil is a horror film from 2009 that is telling the story of a young college student named Samantha. The movie opens with her closing on a new apartment that's not super nice but still maybe a little too nice for her budget. Then we see her stress out about her finances, and we see her go out of her way to score a lucrative one-night-only babysitting job. After she finally gets the job we see her make excuses over and over again for how weird the "parents" are being just because she needs the money. And of course in the movie's third act we see her try to fight off the "parents" who turn out to be members of a Satanic cult that has lured her into the country under false pretenses.

House of the Devil continually puts us in Samantha's head, and as a result she is the always likeable underdog while those murderous Satanists who are hassling her seem weird at first and downright evil by the end. But here's the thing: there are two sides to every story and I think we might feel differently about this if we got a chance to see this story from the perspective of the Satanists. Okay, sure, the "Ulmans" lied to Samantha to get her out into the woods, and yes, once she was there they did try to impregnate her with the spawn of Satan. But a) would Samantha have come out to their murder mansion if they hadn't lied to her? and b) it's not like the devil can just walk into a fertility clinic and ask to be hooked up with an egg donor. The glass half empty way of looking at it is that the Ulmans absconded with a young woman for nefarious reasons; the glass half full way of looking at it is that a very religious family was doing a solid for their old friend Lucifer, who has kind of been having a rough time ever since he got kicked out of heaven a few millennia ago.

Here's how House of the Devil could look if it was from the Ulmans' point of view. We would start off with a scene where they meet with the Devil, and we would see him lay a juicy offer on the table: if they can find an empty womb that's ready for his evil seed before the next Lunar eclipse is over then he will give them a big bonus, like maybe a phalanx of hellspawn that will be at their beck and call until the Final Battle of Good and Evil. Then we would see the Ulmans cursing their luck, since they have a child but it was a boy and boys can't get pregnant. Then we would see the parents trying to patch things up with their son, whose feelings were hurt because they made him feel like he was a big disappointment but it wasn't his fault that he ended up with both an x and a y chromosome. Then we would see the newly healed team hustle around campus trying to lure fertile proto-Satanists into the back of their Volvo station wagon. We would see them get rebuffed over and over again by women who are untrusting and maybe even rude, and we would hear them mutter "kids these days..."

Finally, we would see them land one feasible prospect, an ungrateful woman named Samantha who probably doesn't care about the Devil's feelings at all. We would hear them debate whether Samantha is really a good fit for the Devil and whether or not they would have time to try to find another better "babysitter" before finally agreeing that Samantha is here and the eclipse is coming so what the hell, they might as well offer her up to the dark lord. Finally, we would get to see them feeling betrayed by Samantha's total lack of gratitude. Everyone knows that motherhood is miraculous and many of us know that unholy motherhood is twice as miraculous as normal motherhood... And here we have a totally fertile jezebel who is spitting in the face of a devout family that is trying to pay her $400 to accept a double miracle into her tummy.

You'd like the Ulmans a lot more in that movie wouldn't you?

You'll notice that I qualified that sentence by saying that you would like them "more", not that you would like them period. And that's because I know that there is a hard ceiling to how likeable the Ulmans will ever be. After all, their problems are still basically rich people's problems and that puts them at a likeability disadvantage. Their struggle to find a suitable fetal cradle for Satan's spawn is not dissimilar to the struggle that your average self involved country club member might have to find a good tennis pro and no one wants to hear some mansion-living son of a bitch complain about how hard it is to find good help these days.

However, it is possible that there is a method underlying this madness that would totally erase those resentments and misgivings. You see there's a third perspective we're totally denied in this movie: The Devil's. That's right - ol' Johnny Pitchfork-Fists never appears onscreen despite the fact that the bulk of House of the Devil's runtime theoretically takes place in a domicile he owns. (It is possible that he is a bit of an absentee landlord, although that would surprise me a bit given how smoothly Evil's operations on Earth seem to be going.) Anyway, if we saw The Devil we might get some sense of what was motivating and we might understand why he wants a child so badly at this exact moment. Is his biological clock ticking? Is he trying to beef up the census numbers before the next election? Did he have another son that died and he thinks that having a new child to care for would help him complete the grieving process? These sorts of details could completely alter the movie's moral landscape. If we knew what constraints the Devil was under his decision to bribe some minions to co-opt a helpless co-ed into being his unwitting incubator might sound a little less callous and a lot more forgiveable.

Alas, the only version of this story that ever got made is the one from Samantha's point of view. I suppose it could be worse - what we did get is pretty entertaining. House of the Devil has all the things you'd want from a horror movie: a solid sense of pacing, an entertaining score, even great period details. (The film is set during the Walkman era, and it's full of gloriously feathered hair.) Still, I find it hard to appreciate all of those details when the overall product feels so narratively incomplete. I mean how does a film manage to spend so much time to showing how normal and pleasant Samantha is while completely failing to answer such basic questions like "why are these seemingly nice people so eager to murder strangers for Satan?"

But I'm not going to let that get me down; I'm in a glass half full mood today. That's why I've written a script called "House of the Devil  2: The Condos That Were Constructed So Quickly You Just Know That They Did a Super Shoddy Job of the Devil" that makes room for all the backstory that the first one left out. We're going to hear from the architects that designed the Devil's dream house and the construction workers that made it a reality. There's an entire subplot that will take up half an hour of screen time that's about the lawyer that proofreads the contract the Devil makes with the Ulmans. Oh, and there's also going to be another scene where the Ulmans don their dark robes and try to murder a family of innocents with kitchen knives because my number one rule as an aspiring writer is "if it ain't broke don't fix it."

Winner: Me

House of the Devil on IMDB