Ti West’s “House of the Devil” vs. “X”

While not as much a household name as James Wan or John Carpenter, Ti West is quickly rising to stardom among horror directors and demonstrating that he’s one of the best working today.  His most recent film X has dominated social media conversation for days since its release, and it’s causing many to revisit his older films which are just as unique and interesting.

His 2009 indie horror film The House of Devil has always been a personal favorite, and it’s another period piece horror that he’s excelled with.  So we thought it would be interesting and fun to analyze both movies and compare them as objectively as we can!

Round I – Characters
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Ti West does a great job of establishing and developing his characters before the horror begins, so it’s no surprise that both films feature an array of interesting and relatable characters.  House of the Devil’s Samantha (Joceline Donahue) is an easy stand-in for anyone who’s ever been a broke college student, excited about a potential lucrative gig.

Her financial desperation causes her to overlook quite a few red flags, but it’s hard to criticize her for it because who wouldn’t do the same thing if their rent was due. The rest of the characters like Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) and his family are incredibly creepy, although much of that comes from how mysterious they are, so it’s a bit hard to gauge their character development or growth.

All that said, X is very much an ensemble.  We see and sympathize with each character and what their ultimate goal in life is.  Maxine (Mia Goth) and Bobby-Lynn (Brittany Snow) want to be stars, Jackson (Kid Cudi) is looking for a fun job after likely PTSD from the Vietnam War, Wayne (Martin Henderson) wants to be financially stable, Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) wants to come out of her shell, and RJ (Owen Campbell) wants to revolutionize cinema.

Even the killer in that movie has a very clear motivation and backstory that explains why they’re doing what they’re doing.  Nothing against babysitting Samantha in House of the Devil, but X simply has way more characters that are all very well developed, and Maxine gets a pretty strong arc as the final girl.

Round I Winner – X

Round II – Story
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One is a great callback to 70s slashers, and the other a mysterious tale about the 80s Satanic Panic.  To its credit, X is an incredibly fun, disturbing, and subversive slasher that manages to keep the audience engaged during its runtime.  But in terms of plot and story, a straightforward slasher is just that, straightforward.  There’s a formula and it works.

On the other hand, House of the Devil weaves a thrilling mystery about a Satanic cult taking advantage of a celestial event and manipulating their hired babysitter to be a human sacrifice.  It’s just a more unusual plot with more twists and turns than a typical slasher would have.  Both movies are great, but House of the Devil on paper just has a more interesting storyline.

Round II Winner – House of the Devil

Round III – Style/Tone
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Both films are set in decades past and do a great deal to evoke the feeling from those time periods.  While both movies are only set a few years apart (1979 vs. 1983), their approach is very different.  X feels more like a celebration of the 1970s.  It captures the overall aesthetic, but utilizes modern filmmaking/editing techniques, along with a hindsight about the time and issues the characters face.

House of the Devil however was shot on 16mm and implements the same type of music, camerawork and editing that you might find in an indie horror film from the early 80s.  If you didn’t know any better, you might actually think it was made in 1983, the year it’s set.  It really comes down to one movie being set in the 70s, while the other wants you to think it actually was made in the 80s.

It’s sort of the difference between a great performance that feels like a performance versus a method acting performance that you forget the person is an actor altogether.  And for that reason, it seems pretty obvious which movie takes this round.

Round III Winner – House of the Devil

Round IV – Technical Specs
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To be fair, there’s a vast difference in budget that we need to address.  House of the Devil was made for a mere $900,000 while X was made much later in Ti West’s career when he had more pull, and therefore was able to be made for $12 million.  This is partly why House of the Devil so easily feels like something made in the early 80s because it had such limitations on its budget.

All that said, this disparity allows X to have better cinematography via crane shots, a wider variety of stunts and effects for the kills, as well as visual effects in the form of an epic alligator attack.  It was also later in his career, so in addition to having more equipment and money, he also had more experience as a director that he could draw from.

Round IV Winner- X

Round V – Themes
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Part of what makes both films so appealing is that they deal with larger themes and ideas about the world and humanity.  Horror is a great lens from which to explore these ideas, and Ti West makes use of the genre for both.

House of the Devil taps into the very real fear and paranoia that was the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.  The film exists as a sort of satire on the sensationalism that religious groups actually believed was happening.  Had it actually been made during the time period, it might have been criticized for giving way to paranoia, but its 30 year hindsight kind of makes it satirical.

X also heavily features religious themes, albeit in a different way.  There’s a strong emphasis on the cultural clashes between young and old, rural and urban, as well as traditional and “free”.  Right from the beginning, there’s a sense of alienation in that a group of young people from the city are going to the country to make a porn on the property of an elderly couple who definitely wouldn’t approve of what they’re doing.

The film smartly avoids the pitfall of condemning religion and praising porn or even vice versa.  We see that Bobby-Lynn is completely open and comfortable with her sexuality, while Lorraine feels it was a mistake.  Not because it was inherently wrong, but because it simply wasn’t right for her specifically.

All of this is infused with the symbolic fear of aging as the older characters regret not living their lives to the fullest, and thus resenting the younger characters for having youth and beauty.  Likewise, the younger characters feel uncomfortable with the older ones, either dismissing them or treating them like children, out of a fear that one day that’s what they will become.

Frankly, you could write an entire term paper on the many themes and ideas present in X and that’s why it easily takes this round!

Round V (and overall) Winner – X

Which movie did you like better?  Let us know in the comments!

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