Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Bobby Roe
Written by: Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe & Jeff Larson
Starring: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson & Steve Kopelman
The wonderful yearly traditions of October are a blast. This is probably my favorite time of year, arguably with Christmas as a close second. I love the pumpkin-flavored everything, the candy everywhere, watching/reviewing plenty of horror flicks, attending parties in costume, and (of course) visiting at least one haunted house. THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT is a new found footage film (yes, another one of those) that boasts an unusually high concept behind it that goes to the darker side of the last tradition mentioned. The film may not go as far as it could go in its conclusion and might have a few stumbles along its twisted path, but I really enjoy this seasonal little ditty for what it is.
The plot is fairly simple. A group of five friends set off on the road in their RV to document various haunted attractions, but their true intention to find the really terrifying underground ones. There are the “Mickey Mouse” haunted houses found everywhere and then there are extreme haunts (just look up Blackout New York on Google if you want to see how far some people will go to be scared). These five friends are looking for a truly diabolical haunt that frequently changes locations and is known as the Blue Skeleton. As the group uncovers little clues here and there, they begin to see familiar masked faces at different haunts several miles apart. Instead of finding the ultimate extreme haunt, it seem like the haunt is finding them…but with what consequences? Seeing as this is shot in found footage style, you probably have a pretty good idea of where things will wind up. The fun is in the ride of getting there though.
As awesome as that premise sounds for a found footage movie (that basically tells you at the beginning that its shot by the filmmakers themselves and the people behind the extreme haunt), a couple of problems keep this film from reaching true greatness. The biggest of which is the characters themselves. Putting it bluntly and being brutally honest, I didn’t give two shits about these people. If this film had just been a traditional narrative, then I possibly would be giving a bad review right now. The characters are your stereotypical group of dumbasses (there’s the obsessed leader, the stoner friend, the scared girlfriend, and two other walking clichés that don’t immediately spring to memory because they were so forgettable). These characters aren’t worth caring about, but their journey is an interesting one. The film would have benefitted greatly from even more sequences of building suspense as opposed to moments of these people screwing around.
As insufferable as the characters are, the atmosphere is awesome. The film crew visited real haunted attractions and interviewed real workers to add a layer of authenticity to the film. Like GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, if you were walking into this movie blind, then you might mistake it for a genuine documentary until bad things start happening. A few interesting stances are taken as to why people would go to possibly dangerous lengths to scare themselves and how some actors at these attractions might be working there to thrill themselves (power and control wise) more than the paying customer. There’s a great sense of foreboding all through the movie. Some moments are loud and scary, while others are just quietly creepy. The thick atmosphere of dread never lets up. If the entire film was as good as the eerie feeling it builds and leaves you with afterwards, then this would be getting a perfect review. Sadly, there’s one more thing that I (and you might) take issue with…besides the stupid characters.
The final 30 minutes of this movie are absolutely awesome until the last three minutes. When the documentary crew gets to a crossroads of sorts where quick decisions need to be made it does lead to a fantastic 25-minute stretch that is nothing short of terrifying. I loved the last third of this movie…until the actual fate is revealed. It’s a climax that’s been seen before in other movies and it felt like HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT could have taken a more creative route with it, especially given how damned original the rest of the story was. It’s an ever-so-underwhelming conclusion to an otherwise freaky movie.
I really wish I could give HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT a perfect review and say that I didn’t have a single problem with it. That’s not the case due to annoying characters and a couple of so-so minutes in the finale, but it’s very enjoyable nonetheless. This film carries a really dark and brooding atmosphere that will leave you creeped out when the credits roll. It’s a feeling that crawls underneath your skin and stays there for a while. HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT may not be a new horror classic or a masterpiece of the over saturated found footage subgenre, but it’s a perfect flick for this time of year. That’s quality enough in my book.