Horror guru Ti West is a director to look out for, as confirmed by Grimm Up North’s double bill screening at the Dancehouse Theatre last night.
The Manchester horror team showed 2009’s House of the Devil and a special pre-release premiere screening of The Innkeepers.
What’s striking about the 31-year-old director’s follow-ups to Cabin Fever 2 (disowned by West after it was extensively re-cut and shot by its producers) is how they succeed in being both distinctive and effective pastiches of horrors from yesteryear.
This is particularly true of House of the Devil, a refreshingly pokerfaced homage to 1980s genre cinema without the hint of Tarantino and Drive’s postmodern smirks.
When cash-strapped student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, who looks simultaneously like Karen Allen and Margot Kidder) meets the creepy Mr Ulman (an understated Tom Noonan) and agrees to ‘babysit’ his elderly mother, the slow-burn pace and dour tone foreshadows the horror to come, but never with feverish humour.
From the yellow-shaded typeface of the lengthy credits to the archaic textures of the 16mm cinematography, House of the Devil is less like an imitation than a genuine lost relic produced in the days of big hair and bigger walkmans – it is only during the satanic climax, as propelled through faster cuts, close-ups and near-subliminal imagery that feels briskly contemporary.
The Innkeepers is much lighter in tone, opting instead to show an archetypal haunted hotel story with a more present-day lens, but still curbing the post-Scream inclinations toward flippancy.
When under-achieving employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) take on ghost-hunting in their soon-to-be-closed Yankee Pedlar Inn, a musty atmosphere of maturing malaise and regret hangs like an intolerable weight over even the jokey dialogue.
The inn is haunted not just by a jilted spirit, but the twenty-somethings are haunted also by their missed opportunities, and an elderly resident that asks to stay where he spent his honeymoon, appears haunted by cryptic regrets.
Like the former screening, it is languorously paced, has a soundtrack of murmurs, and climaxes with screeches, though it has a slight over-reliance on jump scares than House of the Devil, which accomplishes intensity with a greater predominance of suggestive shadows and sounds.
Nevertheless, The Innkeepers has more character depth and thematic potency than the former and most other American horror films, so take your pick.
The Innkeepers’ UK release date is June 25. Grimm Up North’s next double bill Asian Extreme Night (Battle Royale and Tokyo Gore Police) is planned for Thursday June 21.