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The Houses October Built (2014)
RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/6/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/26/2014
Those who know me are aware that I'm a very laid-back and stoic person and I'm certainly not quick to anger. However, I must admit that I get pretty perturbed when a movie with great potential misses the mark. Even in today's digital world, making a movie isn't easy and when someone with a great idea goes through the trouble of completing a film, only to have blown their shot at making something great, the inner filmmaker admittedly gets upset. The latest film to raise my dander is The Houses October Built, an ode to Halloween that makes a ton of mistakes.
The Houses October Built is yet another found-footage faux-documentary. This time, we are treated to old friends (all of whom use their real names) Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, and Jeff Larson making a cross-country trip to find the best haunted house attractions. They pile into an RV which Bobby has rigged with video cameras, and begin a trek across the mid- and south-west in order to experience the most "extreme" haunted houses that they can find. There have been rumors that some attractions employ ex-cons and that some use less-than-safe practices. They visit some popular destinations, but they are longing to find something called "Blue Skeleton", which is an underground attraction which really pushes the limits. As they continue their journey, they begin to note that some of the costumed participants at the haunted houses act very strange. Will they learn that there is a dark under-belly to these attractions?
I don't know what it's like in other parts of the country, but where I grew up, Halloween-time brought about a slew of haunted houses, and their spin-offs -- haunted trails, haunted factories, haunted campgrounds, haunted woods, etc. -- and visiting one of these was a rite of passage, especially in high school. (It was also a great excuse for girls to cling to you.) Outside of that, many popular tourist areas have some sort of haunted house attraction which is open year round. I can tell you that when I visit Disney World, I make a beeline for The Haunted Mansion. Therefore, the idea of a movie which is not only set in the world of haunted houses, but uses them as a springboard for a horror movie is a great one. When done right, these attractions create a great "I know it's not real, but I'm still freaked out" effect, and implying that something else is happening there has the potential to be very scary.
Well, The Houses October Built misses just about every opportunity that it is offered. Bobby Roe, who directed the film and he wrote the script along with Zack Andrews and Jason Zada, has allowed the movie to be far too self-indulgent for its own good. The movie's principal sin is that it focuses far too much on the five travelers, all of whom are annoying and uninteresting. There is an attempt to give them all personalities (Bobby is serious about this project, Mikey is a slacker, and worst of all, Brandy is the "cool chick" who hangs out with the guys), but this is completely unnecessary. What the movie needed was a group of likable characters so that in the event that any danger did befall them, we would actually care. I was seriously tempted to abandon the movie just a few minutes in due to the fact that I found this group so repugnant.
From there, the movie misses the boat on what is actually scary. Clearly someone involved had some good ideas on this topic, but they don't come to the surface often enough. The group encounters a girl in a china doll mask (played by Chloe Crampton) which is incredibly creepy and the moment that she enters the RV is very off-putting. But, then Roe opts to go back to scenes of the group "having fun". There are also shots where haunted house workers are seemingly watching the group which are eerie, but, again they are capitalized on. The movie decides to play the finale as bleak, when this is clearly the wrong thing to do.
The Houses October Built is based on a documentary of the same name (see below) which was made by the same group. That effort isn't much better than this fiction film, but it does have the benefit of having less footage of the group. The really odd thing is that by having made the documentary, a really obvious map of how to stage the feature film was in place, and they've decided to ignore it completely. Instead of a creepy, sinister film which makes us wonder what is really going on a the local haunted house, we get a glorified home movie in which a group of unappealing people go on vacation. Maybe someone will cut Roe a check to buy this idea from him and actually use it to make a good movie.
The Houses October Built really made me sick of hearing the term "haunt" used on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. When the camera is steady, the image is sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from source materials. Being a found footage movie, we get a lot of jerky camera movements, quick pans, and dark shots. The transfer does the best that it can with the nighttime shots, but some are still grainy and dark. The daytime shots do show good colors and a good amount of detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Of course, we get some muffled sounds and too much wind noise at times, but otherwise the audio is stable. There are a few good stereo effects and the surround effects kick in when the group is in a crowd.
The Houses October Built Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. The most prominent addition is the 2011 entry The Houses October Built. This 95-minute documentary served as the inspiration for the narrative feature film of the same name. The documentary parts work, as the piece offers interviews with owners and workers at haunted attractions, most of which are conducted by Brandy. This offers some insight into how these places work. Unfortunately, there's still too much footage with the quintet, who remain annoying. The ending is a lot the one found in the other movie, and it destroys the credibility of the documentary parts. "Behind the Screams: An Inside Look at the Haunts" (9 minutes) features an interview with Steve Kopelman of HauntedHouse.com, who gives an overview of haunted house attractions and discusses some rumors which he's heard about them. "Portrait of a Scare Artist" (2 minutes) offers stills of various haunted house characters. "Cast Carvings by The Pumpkin Geek" (1 minute) offers photos of custom made jack-o-lanterns which are really good. Finally, the Disc contains nine DELETED SCENES which run about 24 minutes. These are simply more random scenes which offer some more inside looks at the attractions and only a few narrative moments.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long