The Houses October Built. 2014. Dir. Bobby Roe. Written by Roe, Zack Andrews & Jason Zada.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson, and Tansy Alexander. Room 101.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
Any horror movie, regardless of how its end product is perceived, always benefits from some decent performances. Whether it’s a central lead, or an ensemble cast of competent actors, horror can be really effective if you have natural performances to help grip the audience. In this respect The Houses October Built benefits from the fact that its main cast including Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, and Jeff Larson all did what their characters here (essentially themselves) do in this film except in real life – The Houses October Built was also previously a 2011 documentary by Bobby Roe, featuring the same cast, and documenting the various haunts of America. The documentary was simply an exploration for the purpose of taking a real look into these worlds where people from all walks of life come to join together, and scare the living shit out of others.
In 2014, Bobby Roe directs a dramatised version of their journey. This time, things go further.
Bobby and the crew set out on the road looking to find the absolute scariest haunt in America. Bobby claims he’s out seeking the haunts with “no rules” and “no regulations”; those little places off the main track, far beyond the beaten path. His brother Mikey thinks he’s foolish, but is well-enough along for the ride it seems. The rest, too.
At first, the haunts are a little creepy – lots of strange make-up, killer clowns, jump scares around every corner, oddities and weird horror in dimly lit rooms, the offering of a real life experience laying in a closed coffin.
After a little bit of time, though, the gang begins to encounter more nefarious characters. A brief interview with a man in clown paint outside a haunted house has him confirming “shady shit” most likely goes down in such places. At one haunt Bobby and a couple of the crew get up onto what looks to be a roof – one very devilish-looking clown is not pleased. Afterwards, he shows up in the headlights in front of their R.V. The gang’s clown trouble does not end here. Later, another clown seems pretty intent on harassing Mikey and Brandy; they were told not to film inside a particular haunt and yet, of course, Bobby did indeed film. The clown is insistent they need to get out of there, or else things might get worse. Events continue to spiral downwards. Bobby and his friends have a strange encounter with a girl from one of the earlier haunts, who somehow ends up miles upon miles away from where they’d first seen her – she shows up by their R.V out in the bush. After being invited in, she makes a few creepy noises, unsettling everybody, and then takes off into the night.
These are just a few of the things which happen to Bobby and his friends while wandering down a scary highway of strange roadside attractions and backwoods roads searching for the perfect haunt. Eventually, they find what promises to be the worst, most horrifying experience of their lives, let alone for a Halloween night.
And as Bobby’s brother Mikey questions him at one point – there’s only so far it can go before someone actually gets hurt.
Some people complained about too many jump scare-type gags. I understand that in other films, however, this one is about haunted houses. You should go into this expecting at least a certain degree of those scares right off the bat. Secondly, a lot of them paid off because it’s done in found footage style. They go for a much more natural found footage feel because everything really terrible is saved for the end. There’s a tense build-up towards the truly awful moments. So, unlike a regular film where you’d probably have a bunch of jump scares involving people getting killed off, or something equally intense, in The Houses October Built we see a lot more jumps where it’s only the world of the haunted houses working on us.
Later, the scares get less about making us jump and concern themselves more with grating on our nerves, making us uneasy, taking us away from those comfortable areas where we think “here comes another jumpy one”, and instead shows us a more relentless and disturbing conclusion. There’s a drawn out nature – we start the entire film seeing Brandy being, what appears to be, abducted. So we know there is a build to something sinister. However, I don’t think it’s drawn out in the sense it becomes boring. As I said before, there’s a tension built up by Roe here. There comes a point where the viewer feels safe in the knowledge we know where this is going, how it’s going to play out, but Roe toys with those expectations.
One of my favourite things is Bobby Roe uses found footage very well. There are countless found footage horror films out there, to the point of exhaustion. I mean, how many different possession movies came out after Paranormal Activity hit the market? Tons. Even before that, after the success of Blair Witch filmmakers started coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on the newfound popularity of these techniques (a lot of people harp on about Cannibal Holocaust as really making the found footage genre ‘a thing’ yet also forget to mention the fantastic and unique 84C MoPic from 1989 that does not get the credit it deserves for making good use of the sub-genre while also making a great film overall). Yet a lot of these movies tend to fall by the wayside opting to forget the ‘rules’ of found footage – most times we’re left ending up wondering how the footage really ever was found. At times, the ways certain scenes end up being filmed start to defy the movie’s internal logic. The Houses October Built, on the other hand, really sticks to the found footage aspect, and even at a few points when you do find yourself wondering exactly how something is being filmed there is a perfectly good explanation. The plot itself allows for a number of different possibilities; this is proved by a scene a little over halfway through the movie’s running time where Bobby and his friends wake up to find they’ve been filmed during the night, and it’s been posted online. This is one of the best parts about the entire movie because it really makes us feel like we’re still watching a documentary.
The performances are fairly natural, which is aided by the fact these people are obviously friends in real life. They’ve already gone on this journey before just for real instead of following a script and shooting a dramatic feature. I really like the chemistry between the characters because we feel their history, they don’t seem like this is the first or second time they’ve all talked together as it often does in low budget found footage outings. The found footage sub-genre is littered with terribly acted films. It helps that The Houses October Built boasts some, at times, tense, and natural performances. I felt for these people, as opposed to loathing their every second on camera and hoping soon to see their fictional death – as is the case with way too many horrors in general, let alone found footage.
There were times the pacing of the film was a bit slow. I enjoy a slow and tense ride through a film, but at a certain point I just wanted The Houses October Built to really kick into gear. The running time isn’t long, but they could have actually trimmed even another 10 minutes or so out of the movie without hurting the overall finished film.
That being said, once things start to get really creepy (cue: Jeff walks down a dark alley & is then confronted by some of the horrible people they encountered earlier in their trip) everything spins out of control, wonderfully, for everyone involved. The pacing totally ruins anything. Although, there could be a bit better of a flow to the entire film had they eliminated a few bits of fat here and there.
I feel safe giving this movie a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. It isn’t perfect. The pacing slows down some of the effect simply by not building the tension appropriately. nstead of a slow burn to the terror in the finale, it muddles things a bit to the point where you sort of want the movie to really pick up and get a move on. Other than that, I love the premise, I love the characters and the performances of the actors involved, and there were some genuinely creepy, unsettling moments throughout: from the strange and balding trans-looking masked girl, to a few moments in the various haunts, to even just a few more subdued scenes involving the interviews Bobby conducted on the trip. All in all, this makes for a great found footage film, as well as a decently spooky horror. Check this out for a nice little scare, and keep it on your list for Halloween!