Monday, October 26, 2009

Why Would Anyone Go Into The House Of The Devil?

Once again, the good people over at Magnolia Pictures and Magnet have provided us with a cool little article straight out of the press kit for the upcoming horror film, The House of the Devil.

The movie looks like a 70's style The Shining or Rosemary's Baby type flick. Obviously, the director is going for that whole feel, as is evident with the retro-looking posters they've been using to promote it.
Whenever you are in the huge, Lime Rock, Connecticut landmark Victorian that serves as the main location for THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, it is probably at night and even more probably quite late at night.

On this particular night Mary Woronov, the cult actress who has starred in such Paul Bartel classics as “Eating Raoul” and “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills,” emerges from the darkness of the dining room during a rare pause in the action. It's the first time her character meets that of Jocelin Donahue who, like most of the crew, was not yet born when Woronov made those movies. Wearing a great big intimidating fur coat, Woronov rehearses her lines like a pro – “You're here for mother?” Then she pauses, mentioning to the First AD that her rehearsal, which he had not called, is for her, not him.

If you happen to be near the video monitor you'll see that the cinematographer Eliot Rockett is using the moment to frame and rehearse a deliberately slow zoom as Woronov and Jocelin settle onto the living room love seat together. The zoom establishes at once a certain intimacy - Woronov touches Jocelin's hair, which makes the crew laugh - and a kind of Kubrickian sense of menace. The shot begins framed by two dining room chairs and the polished hardwood table that reflects the light bouncing off the cream colored walls of the living room into which our camera peers. The scene will end with close-up shots feminine contrasts: a powerful broad of a certain age with great legs and a gentle smile that could be taken as lustily wistful or wistfully lusty and Donahue’s angelic, naïvely curious features, those of a young woman just beginning to understand the power of her allure.

A couple of takes in, a visitor asks Ti about the zoom and the moment when Mrs. Ulman touches Sam's hair. The director takes full credit for the former (“There may be too many zooms in this movie,” he says) while giving total credit to the veteran actress for the latter (“The idea to touch Jocelin that way was all Mary”). Later, Woronov will observe that she had to be careful with the gesture: “If I were to overdo it, the scene would almost cross into lesbianism and that’s not where Mrs. Ulman is coming from. It’s something a woman would do, but it also helps the audience see through her and see she’s not quite right.”

At this point Tom Noonan comes downstairs to join the scene. His eyes brighten at the sight of Woronov and later he says he is pleased to learn that a writer from Fangoria will be visiting set the next night. Noonan explains that he has participated in a couple of Fango’s “Weekend of Horrors” conventions and that he's even making a film about his experiences at them.

Although they have not worked in a film together until now, Noonan and Woronov are clearly pleased to be sharing scenes in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, creating an iconic “American Gothic” type husband and wife tableau and then exploding the expectations such an image suggests.

An aura of wry professionalism surrounds both actors. Between takes, while shooting a series of special still portraits in the attic, Woronov is asked by the photographer if she can “please be more intense”; to those present, this is clearly a joke, because Woronov is already staring down the camera with a murderous gaze that is at once terrifying and, somehow, funny. “Don't upset mother,” Woronov deadpans, and everyone cracks up.

Later, Woronov tells a visitor that she hasn’t made many movies recently, not because she doesn’t want to but simply because she decided a few years ago to stop auditioning. She notes that Rob Zombie cast her in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS without any hesitation and that she let Ti West in “not just because he is cool, but because he is also smart. His brain wouldn’t turn off and he kind of fascinated me.”

Noonan has worked with West once before, appearing in a cameo in the director’s first feature THE ROOST, a gig that lasted about three hours.

“I liked him and he liked me,” Noonan recalls, “and it’s growing more important as I get older that I like the people I work with, especially directors. I was impressed with Ti. He was serious about what he was doing, I understood him, and it was fun. I like young people. I like people who aren’t jaded yet. People like Ti, David Gordon Green, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, to a degree.”

After saying how happy he is to have cast Woronov and Noonan, writer-director West explains that “I met with Mary in LA about the script and told her I wanted an overbearing wife. Then Tom Noonan and I had a talk about how having an overbearing wife would be frustrating to his character. I don’t like to be too involved with actors in pre-production. I like to let an actor come to set with their own take on the character, then tweak it.”

“I’m not a method actress, I’m more or less a camp actress,” Woronov says. “But as far as Ti and what he’s after, it’s definitely necessary for us to appear as a normal family because he’s into showing opposites: normal family but not so normal. She may be good looking at first, but actually she’s really ugly. Instead of being Vincent Price-like and overdoing it, Ti’s asking us to play it a little bit straight. The worst thing you can do as a camp actress is ham it up, so we don’t ham it up, we go the other way. So at first we seem pretty normal, and I actually think the worst killers are pretty normal – on the surface.

“I think Tom probably is a camp actor, too,” Woronov adds, “not a method actor. I mean the how could he be? He’s him. The thing about camp acting is that you approach it the way a drag queen approaches his work: you’re not a woman, you can’t pretend to be a woman. But in the performance you comment on woman-ness. Tom could never pretend to be someone else, but he comments on things.”

Noonan concurs, explaining that rather than creating entirely new characters for each role, he thinks of all of his characters as related people, but in different circumstances.

So the band leader he played in SNOW ANGELS is somehow the distant cousin of Vincent Ulman? a visitor asks.

“Yes,” Noonan replies. “Human nature is very frightening.”

“People don’t direct me a lot,” Noonan concludes, “but Ti did mention that Mr. Ulman was not thrilled to be living under the thumb of his wife and mother-in-law. Living with two women who are dominating my life – that’s a drag.”
Sam is a pretty college sophomore, so desperate to earn some cash for a deposit on an apartment that she accepts a babysitting job even after she finds out there is no baby. Mr. and Mrs. Ulman are the older couple who lure Sam out to their creeky Victorian mansion deep in the woods, just in time for a total lunar eclipse. Megan is Sam’s best friend, who gives her a ride out to the house, and reluctantly leaves her there despite suspecting that something is amiss. Victor at first seems like just a creepy guy lurking around the house, but quickly makes it clear that Sam will end this night in a bloody fight for her life....

The House of the Devil is directed by Ti West and stars Jocelin Donahue (JT Petty’s forthcoming THE BURROWERS), Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan (SNOW ANGELS, MANHUNTER), Mary Woronov (EATING RAOUL, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), AJ Bowen (THE SIGNAL) and Dee Wallace (E.T., Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN).

The movie has already come out on VOD and hits limited theaters this coming Friday, October 30th.

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