Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Houses October Built

* spoilers *

Bobby, Zack, Jeff, Mikey, and Brandy are on a quest to find the most extreme and obscure haunted houses. They are tired of the sugar coated amusement park crap and want something more. Together they embark on five day road trip across the South in their RV to backwater haunted houses with dubious legality. With their winning personalities and disregard for other people, they piss off a few of the haunts in their wake, leading to some tense and dangerous situations. One such haunt seems to be following them wherever they go, no matter how far away. Are they regular people just angry at them? Are they criminals or something more supernatural? The group also stumbles across the most extreme of haunts called Blue Skeleton that needs clandestine meetings and secret passwords. Will it be what they're looking for or will it prove too dangerous?

In the past, I was never a fan of haunted houses and horror mazes because I've always been high strung. In the past few years, I finally went to various theme park Halloween events and had a blast. The characters in the film are tired of these events and want something more. I enjoyed the documentary type segments where they question scare actors, fans of these events, and creators of haunted houses. Their quest begs the question where should the line be drawn? There can only be so much done and guarantee the safety of the guest. The faux documentary explores a little of what people do to make their haunts more extreme: employ actual psychopaths and criminals, allow the guests to be attacked, use of actual body parts, and even the accidental inclusion of actual death. I can see signs of this in the real world, especially in the attractions Blackout and McKamey Manor where guests sign away their rights and are then manhandled, waterboarded, tied up, and sexually assaulted. I think this film is an answer to this growing trend.

The narrative story of the film is equally interesting to the documentary bits. The style is found footage, which I don't have a problem with when done well. The main source is the group's cameras as they film their trek, but also other people's cameras, security cameras, and the like. I enjoyed the videos through all the different haunts. It starts off fairly standard with mainly jump scares which you can see in any walk through a horror maze., Then it builds suspense in the rest of the film and really creates an atmosphere of dread. The later haunts, although not horrible, lose the air of fun and become more alarming. All is fun and games until the first haunt and then a clown wouldn't move from the front of the car, just staring menacingly. Then the creepy porcelein doll girl followed them over a hundred miles to freak them out with her maniacal laughter and it escalates from there. One of the best scenes of the film is when the whole troupe of scare actors stood in front of their RV in the middle of the night after scaring the friends awake and then suddenly disappeared. The very end with the last haunt is taut with tension and I was on the edge of my seat.

Unfortunately, the film falters in a few places. The characters are fine, but make some dumb decisions and are unlikeable at times. The guys are very bro-like and macho. They cause trouble for no reason at all or maybe just for their own amusement. Brandy seems totally against the entire endeavor and doesn't seem to even enjoy haunts. It begs the question why she's even there except to have a stereotypical screaming, hysterical girl. The very ending is so very disappointing. I get that the filmmakers wanted it to be vague and up to interpretation, but it seemed more like a copout. You never really know if the characters die at the end. I don't think they did, but the ending would be pretty anticlimactic if they were shown to survive. The Blue Skeleton haunt isn't completely unknown, so it is doubtful at best that they could succeed in murdering people every single year.

The Houses October Built is a well constructed film that builds tension and suspense right up until the end. The makeup is impressive, especially when contrasting the very real looking Blue Skeleton scare actors' makeup with all the others that are more typical and slap-dash. Even with my problems with it, I had a great time watching it. The feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach when I watched it is more important than the small details. This is a perfect movie to watch for Halloween and I will put it in my yearly October watch list along with Halloween and Trick 'r Treat.

My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins

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