The Houses October Built (2014)

MARCH 2, 2015

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, MOCKUMENTARY
SOURCE: STREAMING (ONLINE SCREENER)

I almost wish I could give The Houses October Built a pass based on its concept (and even some of its execution), because it's kind of brilliant and more inspired than most found footage movies of late. Utilizing real "haunts" (the haunted houses or hayrides, zombie runs, etc that pop up just about everywhere during late September and October) to tell its story of five assho- er, people who are taking a tour of attractions in the days leading up to Halloween. They're looking for an underground group known as "Blue Skeleton" that is rumored to deliver the scariest experience ever, and seemingly pissing people off everywhere they go, allowing the movie two key assets that most FF movies lack.

The first asset is that this has more scares early on than most, because they're taking their cameras into the attractions which makes jump scares acceptable, plus they annoy the actors by filming, so there's almost always some sort of altercation that provides tension, at a time when most FF movies are still setting everything up and delaying the scares for logic's sake (as otherwise they'd stop filming). The other one is that the movie offers far more production value than most of its peers; the filmmakers all went to real attractions and either didn't care about release forms or had to put up a lot of those "By entering this location you're agreeing to be in a film..." notices, so the cast is kind of huge, giving it a scope that I don't think I've actually seen in a found footage movie.

But the huge cast is also part of the problem - there are just too many damn cameras, and our main group is too interchangeable for the movie's own good. It's hard enough to distinguish the four guys (one has a beard, that helps) at its center, but it makes it even harder when they're seemingly always running two cameras but not necessarily showing everyone else in the frame (and camera #1 never picks up camera #2, I don't think). Sometimes you can figure it out pretty quickly, other times the scene will nearly be over by the time you realize who is holding the camera, which is a pretty big issue, I think. It's a POV movie and you're not sure whose POV you're seeing. I've said before that I think too many modern FF movies falter by having the director or a regular cameraman shooting everything instead of one of the actors (which is why Blair Witch Project, where the trio of actors were the only ones to ever shoot anything*, works so much better than just about all of them), so it's a shame that this one just found a different way to shoot itself in the foot. That they're all kind of dickish doesn't help matters, but even if they were all super lovable I'd still spend a good chunk of the movie wondering whose eyes I was seeing it through.

Another big problem is kind of a weird one (spoilers ahead), which is that I wish it ended April Fool's Day style, with all of the terror our group faces being revealed to be a prank, that everything was indeed just the really intense haunted attraction that they were after (albeit way too elaborate). When the mysterious "Blue Skeleton" group finally catches up to them and kills/captures them all, it just feels like every other found footage movie that ends with most/all of the protagonists dying, where they had a perfect opportunity to do things differently - not to mention pull off perhaps the only satisfying "it wasn't real" ending in horror history. And the problem mentioned above is even worse here; it's bad enough when you don't know who is filming when it's just some random footage of a legit haunt, but kind of a major issue when it's someone being tortured.

Dumber still, the ending doesn't offer up the epilogue it should, which would be seeing our heroes' corpses used in a haunt. Earlier in the film, one of the characters explains that it doesn't bother him that he might be seeing an actual human leg in an attraction, because he wouldn't know - and he's right. It's dark, you're going through fast, and it's not like you're touching the things, so it's kind of an intriguing what if? scenario, and something the movie could have salvaged its bad ending with (giving one of them a tattoo on a body part that becomes a prop for audiences a year later would be the easy way to sell this concept). Or even having the heroes killed in plain sight of paying audiences (who would just assume it was part of the show) would be fine - basically anything beyond what they give us would have been better, as it's just plain baffling that it ends with something that doesn't pay off a single thing. What's the lesson to learn here? Don't go to haunted attractions? Be happy with the lame ones? I just don't get it.

The film is actually a pseudo remake of something the same team made three years ago (with the same title), but I can't find out too much about it - there's no review for it on its IMDb and director Zack Andrews is obnoxiously vague about how real/fake that one was, saying in an interview that he can't really explain that one's ending because his planned followup (this?) wouldn't work as well. So I guess I'd have to see it to know what he was talking about, but I won't be doing that. Even if I was interested enough to do so, it doesn't look like the original ever got picked up traditionally, so the only way to see it (that I can find) is on the bonus features of the 2014 one's DVD. Which I don't think is lying around in my house anywhere (I'm not joking; it's possible it is - I've won stuff at trivia that I've forgotten about), so I'd have to put effort into obtaining it. But for the record, it sounds like they did an S&Man thing where it's a legit documentary for the most part and then turns a corner once you're totally sold on the reality. It's probably better, honestly, but they didn't endear themselves to me nearly enough for me to want to sit through another 90 minutes of them swearing at each other (there are more F-bombs in this movie than there are in my house when I have to assemble furniture), so oh well. My advice: skip both versions and check out The American Scream, a legit documentary about homemade haunted house attractions that will make you yearn for the Halloween season, unlike this movie which made me glad we're far away from it and thus not currently being bombarded with similar nonsense.

What say you?

*Save for one shot early on where the guy explains Rustin Parr putting a kid in the corner, which was added later to help clarify the ending.

10 comments:

  1. I had heard so many good things about this and was really excited to see it, but sheesh, what a letdown. You really nailed every issue I had with it, and I'm surprised no one else pointed out these flaws. Naturally, the biggest issue: it wasn't scary.

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  2. I've heard or read somewhere that the original was more of a straight up documentary about haunts but I will never find out because like you I have zero interest to take the time to track it down.

    This movie is just awful.

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  3. This movie wasn't interesting enough for me but the acting was good imo. And I agree with Greg, it just was not scary.

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  4. I actually watched this twice because the plot actually worked well for me, as in: how in the heck did they get tracked down like that? and/or how is that ending related to their earlier escapades? I found that girl in the mask quite terrifying & the idea that they were being followed as well. The scene where someone broke into their camper and filmed them was extremely scary. The whole concept of losing their "safety zone" and ending up dead is just simply terrifying. This is an example of how NOT being a professsional film critic allowed me to "get it" with this film and truly be haunted by it to the point to where I actually wanted to see it again to figure out where and just how they went off the rails to their deaths. I apologize for the poor quality of this post but its late at night, I am typing in the dark and I don't feel like editing it -- I think you get my point. :)

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  5. I loved the concept behind this film, but I agree the execution was very flawed. That said I am glad I took the time to watch it. P.S. I just found this blog and I LOVE it! What an awesome idea! I will be following!

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  6. I have always thought that people who make horror movies sometimes skimp on diologue or character development to the detriment of the film. In this case i would even add "Skimp on plot" with just a little bit more effort this film could have been elevated, but instead it just gave up. It's sad because with just a little bit more effort they could have had a truly scary film. I would agree that the characters were interchangable.

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  7. Horrible movie. Hit it dead on when u said u never kno whos filming.
    And exactly what i was hoping the ending wld be. A joke or a actual extreme haunted house that they were searching the whole movie for. It had its creepy aspects. And i thought it was good. Until the end. I cld deal w the camera pov and whatever. But the ending killed the whole movie for me. Like u said. If i saw them dead or their body parts used as props. Or just plain them being dead period wld of satisfied me. But they cld or took this to a whole new awesome level by doing something a little beyond them being burried or whatever else that happened to the first guy captured

    Also on fb all i heard from this horror group was how great and how everyone loved loved loved this movie. And usually they r pretty tough critics cuz some movies i love most of them hate. So i thought this was a sure thing. And was truly dissapointed when it ended. Bummer.

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  8. I kept thinking "it must be me" because I read all these rave reviews about this lame film.I'm half way through it,and starting reading more opinions about this.........film?
    Well maybe it does get better,it certainly couldn't get much worse.............

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  9. Anyone else make the connection between The Houses October Built and the horror film VHS?

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  10. Glad you found this shit movie unable to live up to its name. Recognizing all the pieces (stalkers, consent-to-die, live torture/gore entertainment) that could have been utilized to provoke a genuinely visceral, sick, hurtful horror that got bypassed in favor of 'everyone is dumb and dies' is tough for almost everyone to see.

    Would love to see a top-anything list of found-footage/handcam-horror from you because the good ones are incredibly difficult to find.

    Disagree with your evals sometimes, but your analyses pick up almost everything I usually notice (often more), and it's wonderful to read someone with both a fluent horror history and respect/appreciation for slow-burning lead-ins.

    TL;DR, I guess: Love your writing! Keep it up!

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