“House of the Devil” is a near-perfect re-creation of a low-budget 1980s horror movie, one of those films that lurked on the bottom shelf of the video store, below their better-known “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” brethren.

“House of the Devil” is a near-perfect re-creation of a low-budget 1980s horror movie, one of those films that lurked on the bottom shelf of the video store, below their better-known “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” brethren.

Without money for big names or big effects, those films had to rely on spooky atmosphere and well-placed shocks. “House of the Devil” does the same thing, building the tension to an almost unbearable level then releasing it in a frenzy of over-the-top horror.

The plot is so simple it’s practically primal: College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) takes a baby-sitting job at an out-of-the-way house. When she arrives (after dark, of course), Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) reveals that he lied, and she’ll be watching his elderly mother instead.

But, not to worry, she won’t be any trouble. Then he and his wife (Mary Woronov) leave, and Samantha is alone.

And that’s it. Much of the movie, in fact, is little more than Samantha wandering around the house, exploring various rooms and almost — but not quite — opening the door to the mother’s room.

Your love of the movie will depend on your tolerance of these scenes. Nothing much happens, but everything is packed with terrifying potential. And, because of an early (and bloody) shocking moment, you know Samantha is in big, big trouble.

Though writer/director Ti West is young (heck, he was born in 1980), he shows admirable talent and restraint. Sure, “House of the Devil” is a throwback to the early ’80s, but aside from the haircuts, jeans and a Fixx song or two, the retro elements are kept refreshingly low-key. And the cast, though tiny, is surprisingly strong. Donahue, a former model, is likable and believable as Samantha, and old pros Noonan and Woronov know how to effortlessly crank up the creep factor. Even a brief appearance by Dee Wallace (“E.T.,” “The Howling”) adds to the early ’80s vibe.

But most of all, “House of the Devil” succeeds because every element — the direction, the sound design, the performance, the sets and that last blast of bloody horror — work in nerve-wracking harmony. From the freeze-frame opening credits to the last-second plot twist, it all comes together beautifully.

The only thing keeping it from being a perfect re-creation of those early 1980s horror movies? Frankly, “House of the Devil” is just too good.

Will Pfeifer writes about DVDs for the Register Star. Contact him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movieman/.

Make room in your collection

Some DVDs out Tuesday:

“Air Bud: Golden Receiver”: Not to be confused with “Air Bud,” “Air Bud: World Pup,” “Air Bud: Spikes Back” or “Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch.”

“Amelia”: I could make a joke about this Amelia Earhart biopic vanishing without a trace in the theaters, but that would be in poor taste.

“Cannibal Suburbia”: The winner of this week’s best title award.

“House of the Devil”: Check out the review above.

“Mary Tyler Moore: Complete Sixth Season”: This season of the landmark sitcom includes
“Chuckles Bites the Dust,” generally considered one of the best half-hours of television ever aired.

“Mister Ed: Season Two”: On the other hand, this landmark sitcom stars a talking horse.

“TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Marx Brothers”: Despite the title, none of these movies — “A Day at the Races,” “A Night in Casablanca,” “Room Service” or “At the Circus” — really ranks among the Marxes’ best. They’re still pretty funny, though.

“Wolf Man”: Before Benicio Del Toro slips into the fangs and fur, see how Lon Chaney Jr. played the same role almost 70 years ago.

“Zombieland”: Jesse Eisenberg follows up his amusement park comedy “Adventureland” with this similarly titled comedy about the undead. As a bonus, the finale takes place in an amusement park.

And CDs:

Lil Wayne, “Rebirth”: This rock debut of the mega-popular rapper has been delayed a few times, but it is slated to (finally) hit stores on Tuesday.

Nick Jonas & The Administration, “Who I Am”: Yes, one of the Jonas brothers has broken from the pack and recorded a solo album. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tony Bennett, “Sings The Ultimate American Songbook 2”: Tony, if the first CD was the “ultimate” songbook, what could possibly be left for this disc?

Various artists, “Wall of Sound: The Best of Phil Spector”: By all accounts, Spector was a difficult, often violent, possibly unbalanced man. But boy, did he produce some great music.

Rob Zombie, “Hellbilly Deluxe 2”: If this keeps Zombie from directing more bad “Halloween” movies, it can only be a good thing.

Nostradameus, “Illusion’s Parade”: Ironically, Nostradamus predicted a band would misspell his name centuries after his death.

Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com

From the Vault: Spend the night in a spooky house

Though “House of the Devil” isn’t, strictly speaking, a haunted house movie, it might put you in the mood for one. So here are a few suggestions:

“Poltergeist” (1982): A typical suburban home becomes a portal to the next world when little Carol Anne gets yanked into the TV set. Her parents (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) bring in some experts, and soon the place is packed with killer clown dolls, homicidal trees and corpse-filled swimming pools.

“The Haunting” (1963): Director Robert Wise famously avoided showing any ghosts in this black-and-white shocker, but that doesn’t mean “The Haunting” is a low-key movie. The soundtrack is filled with spooky screams, moans and rumblings, and the camera zooms, pans and distorts constantly, keeping the characters (and the audience) on edge.

“The Others” (2001): Nicole Kidman stars in this subtle, spooky story of a family living in a dark old house at the end of World War II. The place is obviously haunted, but the question in this movie is who the heck is doing the haunting.

“The Shining” (1980): My nominee for the greatest haunted house movie of all time, even if it does take place in a hotel. Director Stanley Kubrick creates a sense of almost overwhelming dread in this beautifully filmed, perfectly paced story of a dangerous dad (Jack Nicholson) getting too close to the ghosts lurking in the ominous halls of the Overlook.

Fire at Will: Glenn Ford with rabies? Really?

Mike Adams writes with this intriguing query about a Glenn Ford movie: “What I do remember is that his character gets bitten by a dog or wild animal. He realizes he will get rabies. He has his children (or someone’s children) tie him up to a tree or something before he develops the rabies, so that he will not harm them. I do not remember how it turned out, but I have thought about this movie for years. I would say it was made in the early ’60s?”

Wow, Mike — Glenn Ford with rabies? I’d never heard of that one, but it does indeed exist. It’s the 1966 film “Rage,” and it also stars Stella Stevens. Unfortunately, it’s not on DVD or videotape. Sounds fascinating, though.

Have a nagging movie question? Send it to wpfeifer@rrstar.com. Put “Fire at Will” in the subject line, and I’ll do my best to answer it. Include your full name, city of residence and daytime phone number (which isn’t for publication.)