Filmmaker Ti West is back in the news, due to the surprise announcement that his X-Factor film series will be a trilogy, which is great! I loved X, just saw PEARL, and am looking forward to MAXXXINE!
However, if you haven’t seen his debut — THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL — you should rectify that immediately. I’ve seen a lot of modern (and I use that term loosely given that it’s a decade-old film) throwbacks to 80s satanic horror films, but it is fantastically emblematic of what Ti West does with horror films: namely, embue character into them. Simply put: this is a nightmare babysitter gig, but the victims aren’t ‘Co-Ed No.1’. They have names and are fully fleshed out folks, ones with their own conflicted motivations.
I’ve heard a number of complaints levied at THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and they all boil down to: ‘Yeah, this film enacted this plot twist before.’ That’s not what West is interested in. He wants to make it substantial, to make it something relatable. There’s no better example than the dance sequence from THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, featuring THE FIXX’s ‘One Thing Leads to Another’:
It’s a singular scene about how one acts when they feel they aren’t being seen, until they feel that they are not. It has far more depth than any of the films others have said West has ‘ripped off’ and utterly justifies the film’s existence.
Since this is the world we live in, the thick of 2022, and apparently people aren’t terribly familiar with the Satanic Panic but there seems to be quite a bit of discussion concerning it as of late, I will direct your attention to the FAB Press essay collection SATANIC PANIC: POP-CULTURAL PARANOIA IN THE 1980s.
If you are too young to be familiar with the Satanic Panic: it was a period of time during the 1980s where suburban institutions insisted that the ills of culture were due to teens being wooed to devil worship via media and coercion. At the time, it was inescapable. The scare permeated all of commentary and political culture which, as you can imagine, resulted in the Streisand Effect, boosting anything and everything, having a reverb effect on all artistic endeavors.
FAB’s SATANIC PANIC is an expertly curated collection of scrutinies of life during that time, one that ranges the gamut from what you’d expect: D&D, cartoons, metal and MTV, to forgotten culture like the wall-to-wall lies of the memory recovery of Michelle in the book MICHELLE REMEMBERS as well as HBO’s INDICTMENT: THE MCMARTIN TRIAL. It also looks at Satanic Panic beyond the US, including the UK and Quebec and Australia.
It’s an extraordinarily comprehensive look at the irrational pop culture paranoia of Satanism at the time, all wrapped up in an immaculately attractive package.