PLOT: A group of friends, touring the country's many independent haunted house attractions, stumble upon the most extreme, frightening event anyone has ever experienced. But is it just for laughs, or are have they inadvertently put themselves in the crosshairs of true evil?
REVIEW: Bobby Roe's THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT revolves around a rather neat concept: what if you traveled to the country's most gnarly do-it-yourself haunted house attractions in search of the one that really crosses the line, bringing you an experience of true terror? Is there an underground haunt that isn't advertised anywhere, one that people only talk about in whispers? Basically, it's like the search for a snuff film in Joel Schumacher's 8mm, but in this case, you're putting yourself at the center of the action.
It's a found footage film, of course, taking place mostly from the vantage point of our protagonists, a small group of thrill-seekers who endeavor to find that one October experience purported to freak you out to the max. They record every haunted farm, barn and warehouse - all of them actual places - and eventually begin to pick up clues regarding a crew called The Blue Skeleton; if you're able to follow something of a breadcrumb trail and contact this mysterious bunch, they'll take you for one hell of a trip.
That's essentially the entire concept; there ain't much meat on them bones. Ultimately, our protagonists find themselves harassed by ominous clowns who appear to be following their every move; did they piss off an entire community of haunted house proprietors, or has their Blue Skeleton experience already begun? As things get more and more extreme (someone breaks into their RV at night, the lone female in the group is nearly assaulted in a bar bathroom), the group begins to ponder whether or not it's worth continuing their journey. Of course, they do, even while logic dictates the time has come to stop screwing around with their very lives, and by the film's eerie conclusion, they've passed the point of no return and entered into a bargain from which they can't escape.
THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT is actually quite a bit of fun, especially for a Halloween hound like myself. Much of the entertainment value stems from the group's many jaunts to local haunted house attractions; the wild, creepy kick of walking through one of those things is captured perfectly. You almost want to write down every location so you can follow the group's path - without the jarring terror of Blue Skeleton psychos torturing you, naturally. If not exactly scary, director Bobby Roe gives us a movie that is thoroughly enjoyable, as well as quietly unnerving.
The actors, all playing "themselves," are natural and likable, if not exactly memorable. They're really just standing in for us, and as things get increasingly weird, we're rooting for them to just stop what they're doing, use their damn heads, and either call the cops or turn around and drive home. Of course, you wouldn't have a movie then, so suspension of disbelief is - as always - crucial to enjoying this horror ride. Also fun is figuring out just what's real and what's part of what they're hoping to find. Like David Fincher's THE GAME, you keep wondering if what they ultimately end up going through is all one big horrific joke, or if they've actually stumbled upon a crew of maniacs for whom this has been an extended lure into their devious trap. Whether or not that question is actually answered, I'll leave for you to find out.
THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT doesn't reinvent the found footage genre, but it does slap a semi-fresh coat of paint on it. It's recommended for fans of the genre, but even more so for super fans of this lovely time of year, Halloween. And I'm guessing there are quite a few of you out there.