“THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT” (Movie Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Michael Gingold
From the title and the interview clips in the first few minutes, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT appears to be framed by an inquiry into the creation of haunted attractions, and their relation to the human urge to scare and be scared. Then, up comes that oh-so-familiar text line: “The following footage was shot by five friends…”
Yep, we’re in found-footage territory again, with director Bobby Roe, his brother Mikey (host of food shows on the Travel Channel), producer/co-writer Zack Andrews, Brandy Schaefer and Jeff Larson all playing “themselves,” heading out on a road trip to discover the most frightening houses and mazes they can find. As often happens in this genre, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT (just out in limited theatrical release and on VOD and iTunes) gives us a hint of what will eventually transpire by letting us know that some of the images we’ll see were shot by those behind “The Blue Skeleton,” a mysterious haunt that apparently takes interactions with its patrons to the extreme. But for a while—a long while—we watch through the group’s cameras as they venture through more traditional attractions, and as they travel in their RV, bantering and swearing about nothing much in particular.
The idea of combining a vérité-style horror movie with documentary material on actual members of the fright industry is an intriguing one, and there are moments in THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT that successfully evoke the potential for these fabricated terrors to mask a truly dark underbelly. Some of those clips during the opening are apparently actual news footage reporting on staged frights that became real, and a few bits air the possibility that the performers in these haunts might be acting out a genuine urge to cause harm. What better setting for someone who wants to let out their violent side than a place where the staff wear horrific masks and “attack” the patrons?
As the quintet make their way from one scare park to the next (with a gratuitous stopover at a strip bar doing a zombie-themed night, where the masked dancers stick their big fake boobs into the lens), occasional costumed ghouls they run into appear to be truly sinister. These encounters tend to get truncated before they have any serious impact, and too much of the running time is spent watching interactions amongst the gang in scenes that nonetheless don’t develop sufficient characters for them. There are also several handheld-camera excursions into the houses, on hayrides, etc., which are kinda fun in a travelogue sort of way, but don’t add much to the tension since the frights we’re experiencing at a remove are staged, and not an actual threat to the principals. Not to mention that at frequent intervals, the images are so dark and shaky that it’s hard to make out what’s going on.
After about an hour, things do start getting genuinely bad for our heroes, and Roe is able to conjure a few harrowing moments from their plight. At the same time, the movie undercuts its own raison d’etre by taking the action away from the attractions, which as a result come to feel a bit like window dressing. Rather than truly exploring the dark side of manufactured terrors, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT becomes a film that could be about any bunch of unsuspecting young people who travel into a bad patch of rural America and run dangerously afoul of the local miscreants.