Horror Movie Review # 5: The Houses October Built

Posted: October 17, 2014 in Horror Blog
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It seems like everywhere you turn these days there is just an overabundance of “found footage films.” These are films shot in first person POV, made to seem like “true events.” The most famous one probably being The Blair Witch Project but in the last several years with movies like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and V/H/S this specific breed of horror film has taken hold. The bad thing is, this type of film making has overstayed its welcome. It’s the torture-porn phase of horror films all over again, except with less mutilation and more grainy, overly shakey camera movements and the same types of scares used over and over again in every film. Look no further than my review on As Above/So Below to see what I mean.  Audiences still desire these films, and I often don’t understand it. Almost all of them are filled with the same plots, the same tropes, even the same dialogue. Almost.

Once and awhile one will really surprise me. It’ll bring something somewhat refreshing to the table. It’ll take take the elements of the genre that are good and use them properly while combining it with other original material. And for the most part, that is exactly what The Houses October Built does. While it does tread on trodden ground, it does do a great job of combining a great idea with some genuinely creepy moments.

The film follows five friends as they travel around to try and find the scariest and most extreme haunted house. After a few days of hitting “normal haunts,” as well as irritating half of the staff in said haunts the friends finally head about a specific on in Louisiana that is supposed to be the end all of haunted experiences. As the group travels to the haunt though things get heated as scareactors seemingly become more hostile towards them the closer they get. Just as things seem to get “too real” for the group the real terror strikes once the haunt finds them (yeah, you read that right.) After that the group understands real horror.

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I was sold just because I could identify with the groups basic goal- wanting to find the scariest experience you possibly can. I have spent over a year writing and doing research for a paper about horror as a theatrical art form, and much of the paper consists of looking at haunted houses and how they have developed. There seems to be this growing trend towards these “extreme” houses like Blackout, Alone, and McKamey Manor. What THOB does though is ask the question- how extreme is extreme? How far can haunts actually go without hurting people?

This film, in general, played out like a warning to me. And not just to one set group of people either, but to a bunch. Firstly the group of people/or protagonists are all a-holes. They end up being the a-typical type of people who go to haunted houses drunk and high and cause problems. And something bad happens to them. That is one warning.

Warning two, and the one that really struck me hard, is the warning to haunt workers/owners. Now, as many know, I have worked haunts for around ten years now (this being my first year in ten off, although I did volunteer at one for a few weekends at the beginning of the season. ) I know what kind of mind set the actors have, and I know what kind of people work at haunts. But actually hearing it and seeing it first hand, in real off set interviews shocked me. In interviews with the directors of the pictures they have said countless times that their interviews with haunt staff used in the film are real and unscripted. And one thing, I know for a fact is real due to experience, is the lack of concern most haunts have towards background checks and investigations. But seeing it and hearing other people say it in this movie really struck a chord with me and alarmed me. This movie, in a weird way, can also be taken as a warning to haunters- be careful of who you let work your house.

As far as the writing goes, it constantly does a dancing game with edging between good and repeated territory. The basic concept is great, but the follow through is the where the “iffy” parts start to show. But a lot of the issues are more so logic and reasoning, and are pretty petty. Like why does it take them a week to visit four haunts? They showed us their “hit list” of locations. They really aren’t that far from one another. Have they ever been to a haunt before? They play it out like going to one haunt is a several hour event, and it isn’t. Even during Hallo-week. They should be able to hit two or even three a night.

Also, no haunt lets to film inside. Now, this issue does come up closer to the end of the film but our group goes through haunts half the film having no problem recording. No. Their butts would have been kicked out asap. At least have a thing early on explaining either a.) talking to the owners to get permission, or b.) hiding the cameras so they can secretly record.

I also really don’t like the strip club scene as well as the scene with Mike and the haunt girl in the trailer alone. The strip club scene seems like just an easy way to fill space in the film as well as show off females and in the end it was just unneeded and detracted from the story. And the scene with the two in the trailer should have went down way more differently I feel. But now the group is apprehensive of haunt workers do to some creepy experiences. But Mike just takes her back and starts flirting and drinking. I would have really rather have seen her try and attack him or do something creepy or sick in some way during that scene, or even show up later and kill him towards the end. But the scene just messes with the pacing and seems out of place.

Probably the biggest head-scratcher and problem for me though was wondering who cut the film together. Spoilers- they die. All of the five friends die. Nobody is left. So who edited the film, and but the opening information in? So many questions!

I feel like to fully appreciate the film you have to either work at a haunt or love going to haunted houses. If you don’t fall under either of those categories then the film will just be lost on you. I love how they focus less on the startle scare moments in this film and go for more of the silent, and subtle scares. Those creepy scares I wish, as an actor, were more appreciated in haunt culture. But often people hurry through haunts and don’t notice or take those moments in. So often you’re only left with loud jump scares. But this film relishes the creepy moments and makes it so that when something suddenly does happen it chills you. Prime example is when the doll girl gets on the RV and just sits there. When she finally screams I was just sitting, staring at my screen wide eyed.

There are plenty of non scary moments that I feel try to get pushed by the filmmakers as horrifying (which, ironically enough, happens in haunts all the time) but there are also plenty of genuinely unsettling moments as well. It takes about half the film to pick up speed to these moments but once they start rolling there are plenty. Especially the ending. You were just as drawn is as the characters and didn’t know what was going to happen. While I was expecting a “bigger, louder” ending since this film is kind of a commentary and analogy for haunts them selves (and haunts always end big and loud with one last scare) the quieter ending that just snaps to credits was actually, I think, a great way to end it. It left me thinking about the film as a whole rather than just like “Whaaa!” It would have been just as easy to send one of the group members out and chase them with a chainsaw, but the ending we have is more somber and smarter than that. It just ends when you want more. You’re left with so many questions, and it just ends. Some will hate it, but I liked it.

In the end The Houses October Built is a shining example of what an indi-found footage horror film should be. It’s original enough to be interesting and enticing all together, even though at times it falls into the traps of typically tropes of the genre. More logic and understanding from the characters and writing could have helped out a lot but overall the film is well put together and offers some frighteningly real insights to the world of haunting. If you are a lover of haunt culture or are looking for a good, assuredly creepy Halloween season film- look no further.

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