The Houses October Built are the few structures that I’d be okay with a hurricane destroying.
Five idiots try to find the “spookiest haunted house” in the US.
The movie opens with some news footage of interviews and stories tangentially related to haunted houses. Why this is in the movie I don’t know, but newsreels like this are interspersed throughout the whole thing. There’s also some statistics? And like a quote? I don’t even know.
The actual movie starts and we’re introduced to our five main characters: “Bobby” (who actually directed this movie) went to film school, “Zack” (who produced it) really likes haunted houses I guess? “Mike” has a beard and has sex a lot, “Brandy” is a woman, and “Jeff” is… kind of just there.
They’re hanging out at some bar in Texas, and the plot of the movie is set up. Zack has rented an RV that they’ll use to drive around to various haunted houses in the week leading up to halloween, and Bobby (the expert filmmaker) will tape the whole thing. The next morning, they get going on the road.
We’re treated to ten minutes of RV footage. And I don’t just mean footage inside the RV (although there’s that, too). Half the shots are of the road, the side, the roof, and really every possible unnecessary angle imaginable. Anyway, they arrive at the first haunted house and film themselves going through it. So that’s… yeah.
At some point, Zack runs into two guys who tell him of an underground organization that does “extreme haunts.” Apparently this group moves around, and are going to be somewhere in Louisiana this year.
The group keeps going to haunted houses. One night, they see an actress from one of the earlier places standing in front of the RV. They let her on board, at which point she yells at them for a few seconds and gets off.
A few days before halloween, they receive a pumpkin. Inside is an invitation to go to some bar. Arriving there, they find a bunch of people wearing stupid clown makeup who invite them in. A guy there leads the men in the group to the back of the bar to give them the next “step” to finding the underground group, while Brandy gets left back in the bar. Two guys take the camera that they left behind and start filming her, cornering her in a bathroom. Eventually, the group returns and tell the men to get away from Brandy, and lament that they should never leave Brandy alone again because Brandy is vulnerable and frail and needs protection or something.
They receive another message telling them to come to a particular street in New Orleans on Halloween day. Zack insists that they follow it, so they go. After spotting someone wearing the organization’s signature mask, the group gets separated. Jeff is cornered in an alleyway and stabbed to death by people wearing dumb costumes, including the girl from earlier.
The rest of the group is led out into a rural area, and told to go with the blue skeleton. They oblige, and are led to a bus, where black bags are placed over their heads. (It’s worth noting that the film quality and general esthetic makes this part look like an ISIS beheading video). Anyway, the individual members are lead to different houses, where they’re given cameras and told to film. We see them walk through the houses and get jump scared a few times. Eventually, the members are kidnapped again, taken to different locations, and buried alive. The End.
The characters in this movie are all stupid and unlikable. Their motivations are incredibly shallow and none of them make any sense. As I mentioned earlier, they’re all extremely one-dimensional and basically represent just one thing each. The only good characters in this movie are the one-off side employees from the various “haunts” that the main crew interviews. Most of these people did a good job, but they also typically had <4 lines and maybe 30 seconds of screen time.
The dialogue in this movie was at its best when it was simple banter between the main characters, and at it’s worst when it was supposed to convey any emotion or have any relevance to the story. The only real bearable scene took place in the RV, where Zack and Mike are talking about snack foods. Zack was supposed to be high during this scene, and it genuinely felt like he was. Then again, he probably was high throughout the entire shooting of this film, so…
The tone of this movie is extremely inconsistent, which also makes it annoying. All of the RV scenes are very casual and have practically no tension. Conversely, the horror house scenes are extremely dark, loud, and annoying. The tone goes from “intense horror show” to “boring character drama” constantly.
Since the breakout success of The Blair Witch Project, filmmakers have been trying to recreate its magic. This quest is somewhat warranted: the technique of found footage provides movies with a realistic, visceral quality, that makes them feel very “real.” Of course, found footage is also somewhat of a liability to shoot around; shots need to feel believable, and the camera needs to represent not just the frame but also the reaction of those filming. Similarly, classic techniques to make movies look polished, like good lighting and blocking for scenes, can actually be a liability for the “raw” effect that most movies in this genre try to create. Usually, in making found footage films, directors will use one of two techniques:
Documentary: Having the main characters in your film be some sort of documentarians, shooting footage of an event to collect information about it, is probably the easiest way to pull off found footage without having it look awkward. This also justifies the use of professional film equipment and high-resolution shots, despite the filmers being supposedly “ordinary” people. Blair Witch sort of accomplished this, with the three main characters trying to make a movie about the titular character. Since then, other movies have also tried to pull this off.
Idiot with a camera: This is the style of found footage in which one character just kind of walks around and films everything for some reason. Usually the other characters in the film acknowledge their existence, but kind of ignore them. The most famous movie to pull this off successfully was probably Chronicle.
The Houses October Built attempts to do option A, while in reality doing option B. The movie tries to present its five idiot protagonists as a competent film crew, but all their actions and camera usage suggests otherwise. The result is some weird unholy combination of semi-professional camera angles and a jumbled mess of shots. Furthermore, the editing of the scenes makes everything really confusing and generally hard to follow.
I don’t think I’ve ever referred to a movie as “overshot” before, but this is it. Most of the shots were done with gopros, but because the film crew had a million of them, they placed them fucking everywhere. There are like 10 different camera angles in the RV alone, and there are even gopros set up on the outside. This results in stupid, unnecessary scenes, like a shot of the road as they’re driving along it, and a literal shot of just the sky for 30 full seconds. I’d maybe give them a pass if it was like some weird experimental movie, or even a student film, but it isn’t. It’s a full-fledged horror movie. And it sucks.
The camera work is also terrible and actually detracts from a lot of the movie. The haunted house tours feature a lot of rapid camera shaking and whipping movements back and forth, making the entire sequences nearly unwatchable. Additionally, the camera lighting made all of the “spooky” things in the houses look very bland and obvious.
External shot of the RV in this movie:
I don’t think this movie had a soundtrack, but honestly the sound design wasn’t terrible. There were some spooky noises in the house that worked pretty well. That’s about it.
I often say that my rating scale goes from 0 to 8, with 0-1 being reserved for movies that, well, aren’t really movies. Up to this point in time, I have not discovered a film that fits this category… until now. The Houses of October Built isn’t a movie. It’s a stupid collection of home videos, haunted house tours, and worthless gopro b-roll. The film is confusing, nauseating to watch, annoying, unrewarding, and has no redeeming qualities. Typically, movies are bad when one particular section fucked up: poor cinematography, bad direction, confusing script, etc. With this movie, every possible element was done poorly.
Good for: The company that produced the plastic for the boxes this movie’s DVD is sold in.
Bad for: Everyone. There is not a single person who I would recommend this movie to. Except maybe masochists. Or Zack.
Bod R8s: .7/8