The highest praise for the way the great cinematographer Bridger Nielson has lit the film’s haunted house, with a frightening blue hue, and how his camera prowls through it’s bare, ominous rooms.
By Gerald Peary
Like bluesman Robert Johnson, teenager Hannah (Ashley Rickards) meets the devil at the crossroads, with dire ramifications. It all starts because she, a 17-year-old, is goofy in love with a questionable young man, and, trying to impress him, she says “Yes” to his creepy challenge. He has an uncle living in a trailer in the desert, and that seedy old man will buy your soul for $500. Your “soul”? Hannah doesn’t believe in such mystical nonsense, so she makes the deal, and walks away with a roll of green cash. As agreed, she goes to a place in the countryside where two roads meet, and says aloud her name: “Hannah.” Quickly, a tall shadow figure appears behind her. He’s there and gone too quickly for us to see if he has a tail. But when Hannah arrives home, there’s something growling in her armoire. Eeek!
Poor Hannah is bounced about her room, knocked unconscious. When she awakens, she’s pretty insane and, though still a virgin, pregnant. Eeek! Eeek! You don’t need to have seen Rosemary’s Baby to understand why Hannah hangs herself. Afterward, a possessed “Hannah” keeps returning to her home in a little red raincoat. As the house passes from owner to owner and then becomes abandoned, woe to those who enter. Satan is there, “wearing Hannah like a costume.” An august script line!
Parts of At the Devil’s Door are pretty incoherent, and, as in countless horror films, you’ve just got to accept that the characters, against all sense, are going to keep walking into this obviously haunted house, walking in during the spooky night hours, and walking in alone, without help of a ghostbusters crew. And haven’t we had enough of the red raincoat trope, which has been scaring people since the 1973 classic of creepdom, Don’t Look Now?
Still, I had a jolly good time watching. Director-writer Andrew McCarthy keeps things going bump in the night, he’s blessed with a cast of skilled professionals, and, best of all, he’s hired a great cinematographer, Bridger Nielson. The highest praise for the way Nielson has lit that haunted house, with a frightening blue hue, and how his camera prowls through it’s bare, ominous rooms.
My favorite shivery scene: a nice couple hire Hannah to babysit their child, somehow not noticing that she’s ghoulish and suicidal. They go to a neighborhood party, the husband is getting a drink when, out a window, he sights Hannah in that red raincoat walking across the lawn toward him. She comes up close to the window panel and announces, “Your fucking baby is dead.” And an impressive plot turn: by committing suicide, Hannah murders the possibly horned creature growing inside her. But later in the movie, another protagonist, Vera (Naya Rivera), wakes up in a hospital with an enlarged stomach and something not-so-good crawling about inside her. As they say, Satan never naps.
Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess