... after reading a review gushing about it here: http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-house-of-the-devil,38546/ ...
And I have this to say about it:
If you liked this, then watch "The Descent". It's this plus confined spaces and will make you SICK with nerves.
I felt this film didn't earn its buildup however. You spend this much time scrutinizing negative space and small details about character and set, and you expect, nay, DESERVE, to see your observations bear you some insight into the mayhem that follows. There was plenty of BUILDUP, but almost none of it was ASSEMBLY.
As an example, take another recent film, Paranormal Activity: Another low-budget-looking housebound drama about demons and negative space. Like this film, there's an assload of time just spent waiting around, and looking at what are otherwise typical events arranged into a progression that builds tension. But unlike this film, the events also provide insight into what's going on, or what's about to happen. While the tension builds we also get to puzzle out what the "rules of the game" are.
In House Of The Dead we get the ending handed to us on a plate in the first 30 seconds, and then most of the way through the dramatic buildup the camera pans casually into a roomful of mangled murder victims, as though it were any other room. It's a strangely callous act on the part of the director, as though he's patting us on the back and saying "don't fret, this movie really is going exactly where I said it was, no more, no less, and you've just been wasting your time staring out windows and straining your ears, hoping for more."
As the credits rolled I sat and asked myself, "Why did this movie fail? What could it have done to not fail?" And I came up with a list of ways it could have avoided failure:
During the final action sequence, the director yanks the style forward, ten years at a time. First he yanks it from the late 70's (where it starts) to the late 80's, as the creepy guy with the gun turns out to be a rascally miscreant vampire a-la The Lost Boys. The evil witch demon hams it up WWF-style, a-la the Evil Dead and Hellraiser.
Then he yanks it into the 90's, as the girl banters about pop-culture while pleading for her life, and then suddenly EVERYONE has a gun, and people start suspiciously striking kung-fu poses and shooting the HELL out of everything.
Then he yanks it forward again and we get an earful of industrial music and everything turns ultra-jump-cut and shaky-cam for absolutely no fucking reason. Throw in one 45-second-long sequence of "bullet time" as the whole damn house collapses, and THEN we get the low-key ending, as before.
The girl escapes from downstairs and a room-to-room hunt ensues, wherein we leverage our thorough understanding of the house. She grabs the pizza knife as before. Someone falls headlong across the coffee table, sending candy everywhere. She locates one pursuer by hearing him bump the piano. She hears another when he steps on the broken vase. She runs up one staircase, then down the other, and then up the first again, causing two pursuers to stab each other at the top of the stairs.
She blunders into the gory room on the second floor and grabs a torture implement as a weapon, and stabs the young man in the back of the neck from hiding after he shoots a corpse by mistake. The witch-demon pursues her up into the attic, but trips and injures a leg on the stairs (burned out bulb).
Eventually it corners her, and she's about to jump to her death, but there is a struggle and she bolts for the stairs. The demon nearly falls, catches itself outside the window, and ends up lying upside-down on the eaves, still struggling. As the girl is sprinting across the living room for the safety of the front door, she slips on the pile of candy and crashes through the door instead. Outside, the mangled corpse of her friend (from the car) is heaped over the railing.
Bloodied, dizzy, and half-blind, she screams, runs off the deck, trips, and rams her head into side mirror of the volvo, knocking herself out. Just when we think it's over, the roof tiles give way beneath the demon, and it falls from the third story, smashing the roof of the volvo in and breaking its neck. As her scowling, staring face relaxes in death, it drips ichor onto the girl's unconscious head. Ending as before.
Ending like before, except the young man in the beard is missing. Some other dude is there instead, and he dies the same way. The girl gets cornered in the graveyard like usual, and tries to shoot herself in the head. The gun goes "click".
Then the moon turns red. Then fire starts pouring out of the girl's eyes and, in a sudden and complete departure from the homage era, she transforms into something that looks like the Balrog from Lord Of The Rings. About as large too. She bellows with rage. Her wings set the trees on fire. The demon-person from the basement sacrifice scene comes running out of the house, open-armed, ecstatic - and she bellows again and STOMPS on it.
Then she throws out an arm and bashes the top right off the house, setting it on fire. Then she puts both arms out, as though asking a crowd to rise from their seats ... and the graves all burst open. Skeletons come writhing up. She bellows again and they begin to march forward.
Cut to the man in the beard, holding a pair of binoculars. He lowers them, than barks: "Fire." Pull back to reveal him sitting at the front line of a row of mechanized artillery.
The conflagration is incredible. Just as the girl/balrog is blasted completely apart by a final round of howitzer-style shelling, the girl awakens on the living room couch. The old man, back from wherever he went, is standing over her. "Mother was reading up in the attic, and she heard you fall on the stairs. You must have hit your head. The paramedics are here. The police are here too. Your friend never showed up to get you."
A cop sits down. "How are you feeling? Listen, we need to ask you some questions about your friend Megan. We found her car abandoned." The old woman scowls and says: "It's probably one of those damn satanic cult members." Smash cut to the credits.
Ending like before, except the young man with the beard is missing. The girl escapes the basement and makes her way upstairs and manages to stab and/or knock everyone unconscious. She ends up weeping on the floor of the gory upstairs room. Fade to black.
When we fade back in, the husband, the wife, AND the demon-person have all been dragged down the basement stairs and tied to the floor. Between their babbling and pleading, as the girl hacks them up and sets them on fire in parts to exact her revenge, they reveal the backstory about how they killed the prior occupants of the house and tried to sacrifice her for the dark lord, and eventually reveal that she's pregnant with a demon baby.
She kills the demon-person last, then just as she reaches the top of the stairs, the man with the beard guns her down from the kitchen. "Damn satanist kids" he mutters. He sets the house on fire from his cigarette as he leaves. Credits roll.
Any of these endings would have been better. They might - MIGHT - have even made all that waiting worthwhile.