Let’s get that question mark up there out of the way, shall we. IMDB, which I’ve long considered the film info bible, has two entries for The Houses October Built. One is listed as a 2011 film and one a 2014 film. Both have the same stars, director, writers, and whatnot. 2011 has an additional director listed as uncredited and is labeled documentary and horror. 2014 is labeled horror and thriller. What the fuck? Is there a documentary of the same title featuring the same damn people? And why does a documentary have 4 or 5 writers? Is 2011 a documentary that director, Bobby Roe, used the footage from to make a found footage horror film? If so, he should NOT have called 2014 the same damn thing. That is just confusing. Get your shit together, Bobby Roe! If that’s not the case, then, my apologies, Bobby Roe. (how was this intro paragraph? pretty good, huh? I’m writing as if this is 1981 and there’s no way for me to find information on films. it’s a style I’m toying with)
The Houses October Built is a found footage (don’t stop reading! it’s done well and it’s pretty good.) horror movie about a group of friends traveling southern U.S. in an RV looking for the most extreme haunted house attraction during the week before Halloween. They visit several typical haunts – clowns, zombies, chainless chainsaw guys, etc. – as their leader (well, maybe not “leader”, but most enthusiastic haunt seeker anyway) searches for a fabled extreme haunt experience. All he knows is that it’s called “blue something”, it has no fixed location, and you need a password or an invitation to go. The Blue Skeleton folks find our protagonists first and get the extreme haunt experience going right at their RV front door.
I’ll just address the found footage issue right off the bat here. I am well aware of the found footage backlash. Horror fans are leary of every new found footage/POV movie because the market has been flooded with them ever since The Blair Witch Project made more money than all of the Harry Potter movies combined. (probably. I’m writing from 1981, remember?) We’ve seen the device used brilliantly – Rec – and we’ve seen it used poorly – 93% of found footage movies. All too often the viewer is taken out of the story because s/he is thinking, “Why the fuck would [character] grab the camera and start recording right now?” or “Fucking hold the camera still! I’m going to puke!” This is not the case with The Houses October Built. They set it up nicely in the first few minutes of the film. Why do they have this pro-sumer camera? To make a doc about haunt attractions. Why do they need an armload of GoPros? We don’t want to miss anything. OK. Fine. I can buy that. (I still have the problem with it that I have with most FF/POV films though – who edited this footage into a feature length film?) The main reason that this approach works for the film is that the characters sell the idea so well. The chemistry between the actors and their natural performances are spot on. If I found out that these actors were all old friends and most of the film was shot during a real road trip, I would not be surprised. (they even go by their real names) And, I know that I joked about the 2011 documentary (which I haven’t seen) up in the first paragraph, but I’m pretty sure this 2014 The Houses October Built was not shot during a road trip. Shit, I don’t know. That is what’s great about it. I questioned whether I was watching a doc with some horror elements thrown in all the way to the end. I could not predict the ending because of this. Is Blue Skeleton what it’s rumored to be or something much, much worse? Up until the final credits rolled, I couldn’t answer that. And that’s pretty rad.
THE FINAL CUT: The Houses October Built is an engaging found footage journey through the haunt attractions of the south that assault the viewer with jump-scare clowns, strobe lights, blaring metal, and dimly lit, claustrophobic plywood labyrinths. (goddamn fucking clowns!) It is peppered with mysterious and often unnerving visits from recurring masked characters (some of whom are a bit hackneyed) that drive the story toward its unpredictable conclusion.