We’re still in October, right? Oh yeah, we’ve left that month of Halloween shenanigans long ago. We’ve already said our thanks in November, went a jingling all the way through December and then somehow ended up in a different year – 2016. Being that it is late January, why am I reviewing a movie about five friends on a road trip seeking out the ultimate Halloween attraction – the haunt to end all haunts? Shouldn’t I have reviewed The Houses October Built in, well, October? I suppose so. But perhaps, if anything, this January review of an October based film will help to take your mind back to a warmer season while you momentarily escape the bitter and miserable cold. Plus, there are no holidays on the immediate horizon. Yeah, yeah, there’s Valentine’s Day coming up around the corner, but who wants a pink-tinted day of lovey-dovey when they can be revisiting Halloween?
The Houses October Built is a “found footage” film, modelled after The Blair Witch Project. It’s the same plot formula – a group of kids go on an adventure, seeking to find the location of rumored site of terror, only to get in over their heads. In the Blair Witch Project, the site is a witch’s house in the middle of the woods. In The Houses October Built, the site is a haunted attraction that takes terror to the extreme. While touring the haunted attractions of Texas in their RV, they get wind of an attraction that is by invite only. It operates secretly and is not bound by rules, ethics and regulations. You know, those “killjoys”. But in the end, things other than “joy” might end up dead. Through word of mouth, chat-groups, email and Facebook, they come across clues that hopefully will lead them to their coveted destination. Little do they realize that the extreme haunt has already begun. They are being stalked by masquerading performers from the haunted houses they have frequented. These stalking occurrences happen repeatedly – from town to town, at this festival, at that campground, on this road, inside their RV. What is going on?
My impressions of this movie are perhaps as strange as the film itself. At first, I decided that I didn’t like it. But I kept thinking about the film, revisiting certain scenes in my head. So then I asked myself, “Hey self, if you dislike this film, why do you keep dwelling on it?” To answer the question, I had to reassess my evaluation. I returned for a second viewing and “skim-watched” the film. After this, I decided that I did, in fact, enjoy the film.
I’ll try to make sense of all this. Wish me luck – here I go!
Sometimes these “found footage” films rub me the wrong way, but not always. I loved Paranormal Activity and while I did not have a love affair with The Blair Witch Project, I didn’t hate it either. The filming of The Houses October Built was choppy. Too often the camera just shut down during some tense nighttime scene only for the film to pick up again the next day on a sunny road. But I get it. It’s supposed to mimic the video recordings of your average tourists on a road trip; unprofessional and at times random. But every so often I felt that it was too self-conscious as a “found footage” film. When the five friends converse in their recreational vehicle – sometimes the scene seems natural and sometimes it does not. Now and then I was left with an ever so slight taste of “Reality TV.” Just so you know, I loathe Reality TV as much as I loathe liver. This is partially due to the interspersing of filmed interviews with the proprietors of haunted attractions. During these interviews, they admit to the existence of “shady” goings-on among the backwoods actors. I guess I prefer the old style. I prefer a reel of storytelling film over chopped up “candid” videos that try to portray “real life drama.” For me, when a film makes no attempt to be anything else other than the piece of fiction that it is, the drama seems more real than a pseudo-documentary that tries so hard to “dramatize the reality.”
The Houses October Built does not always succumb to these trappings. But its overall style does become distracting at times. Now, how about I throw an oxymoron at you?This style of moviemaking enhances the scare factor when the friends begin to encounter the costumed haunters afterhours. The amateur video-capturing from these consumer-based cameras brings out more of the “freak” from these freaks. The cameras highlight them in an uncanny way.
What’s scary about these encounters is this – we’re not sure if these costumed stalkers are merely role playing or if they are in fact surrendering to their horror show persona. Then we are left to ask – are the people that are behind the masks scarier than the monsters they are portraying? While the friends sit around the campfire, a man in white makeup appears from the surrounding woods. He says he works at the nearby haunt but he lives in the woods. There’s something creepy about him. He takes offense at one of the friend’s “backwoods” comment. Then there’s the clown who assaults them in a parking lot, claiming that they were improperly videotaping. There’s the girl with a porcelain face mask that wanders into their trailer. She sits, shifts her eyeballs, and does not answer any of their questions. She then screams and quietly leaves the vehicle. Weird stuff and there’s a whole lot more.
These freaks from the haunts – these are the things that stuck with me when the film was over. In this way I am plagued with the same set of circumstances as the five movie-makers. But not exactly – my life isn’t act risk. (Well hopefully not).
Overall this is a scary and very original film. At times the “found footage” format is distracting but at other times it helps to set a bizarre tone.
Now I shall digress into another topic. I ask myself, “Hey self, is this film appropriate for this blog?” And I ask you, “Does this movie qualify as a Haunted House film?” Definitely not is the usual sense. It is not centered on one huge house. There are no ghosts or paranormal phenomena. It’s a movie about the haunted houses that are the recreational attractions for the thrill seekers. But, a haunted house is a haunted house, right? You say “right.” I knew you would see it my way! So yes, self, this movie fits right into the theme of this blog.