The Houses October Built is a 2014 horror movie that feels like it has been sitting on my Netflix List for ten years longer than that. Now that I am writing a haunted house book, I am diving deep into anything creepy house related. This movie is a found footage film, which I am a complete sucker for.
Spoilers ahead because this is one of those movies I loved before the ending came. Once the ending hit, I instantly soured on the rest of the movie.
The movie is about five alleged adults who are going to tour haunted house attractions the week before Halloween. They ride an RV and for some unexplained reason, they film it all. Are they art students? Is this a documentary? Nope. No explanation is ever given for why they are filming this and why they ask documentary style questions of the scare workers they find.
The first hour goes like this, the group find a haunted house attraction, they go through it, they talk to employees and they manage to piss off an employee with their rather demeaning questions. The attractions they visit are real attractions you can go to, which means the production values are better than most cheap movies. I also have a fondnes for haunted house attractions so it was cool to see them even in first-person video form.
Now, in between seeing the people on their road trip, we get random interviews with haunted house owners. They all talk about hard it is to scare people these days and how you always have to do something more extreme than last time to scare jaded kids. They bring this up over and over, creating a theme of shit is getting out of hand.
The other theme that these owners all discuss is the idea that some haunted house, somewhere, might be using real corpses and no one knew. It is something they talk about with a wink and nudge, as if they don’t quite believe it but it could happen.
The third theme, repeated often, is that all of the haunted houses share special chatrooms and message boards. They talk to each other and share information.
Now, as the characters travel, they hear rumors of an extreme house that has a new location every year. This is called Blue Skeleton and you have to know a password, or know a guy or get really lucky to even find it. They specialize in extreme scary shit and they are the best of the best. Of course, some of the characters want to check it out.
During their travels, they keep seeing clowns and monsters dressed up like the first place they went to where they pissed the owner off. This is probably the best part of the movie as these reoccurring “monsters” stand in threatening manners or appear in the woods when the heroes are camping. Keeping in mind that the haunted houses talk to each other, it is not far-fetched to think that the heroes are being harassed not by the same people, but by a network of people who want to get payback on the heroes.
The harassment escalates as the heroes get closer to finding Blue Skeleton. Being horror movie characters, these guys decide to keep going even after their RV is broken into and video of them sleeping gets uploaded to the internet. They keep going when someone leaves a heart on a platter in their fridge. They keep going when over fifty scary clowns show up outside their RV one night.
And you know, I was okay with it. This is a very slow movie. It is part road trip, part scary houses and a very small part of creepy movie shit. Most people would hate this slow pace but I thought it was perfect. The creepy-non haunted house bits are spaced out so far apart that you can almost chalk them up to random weird shit. The heroes themselves get bored with the scary houses halfway through the movie. I felt this slow pace was a clever way of getting the viewers to be just as jaded and eager for something to happen as the jaded audiences of modern haunted houses.
The heroes eventually reach Blue Skeleton. One of them goes missing and then they receive calls from his cell phone on where to go. They go there, and then get bound, hooded and separated. We see spliced footage of them separately entering a scary house where they encounter more scary shit until they are finally stuffed into coffins and then buried alive. End credits.
Which is about the time I hated the movie. They’re dead? It was all real? So, after being told that patrons need more and more extreme shit to scare them, we just have people killing folks? How boring.
What about that network of haunted houses? Did they work together to bring down this group? Is this a parable about screwing with the people who do scary for a living? We don’t know. They never say. that means Blue Skeleton will murder anyone who finds them, which makes me wonder how word of mouth works.
Surely after discussing corpses as props, at least one of the heroes was displayed in a gruesome manner in a haunted house? Nah, they all got buried alive and the credits immediately roll.
It is always weird someone doesn’t use Chekhov’s Gun but it is even more bizarre when they don’t use Chekhov’s Armory. It is ridiculous. If all of those themes were fake outs, then you need to at least have the characters speculate on these themes and make bad decisions because of them. Instead, we get these ideas hammered into the viewer for no good reason.
So yeah, I was disappointed but it brings me back to what I am starting to realize is Shon’s #1 Rule of Writing: Let your disappointment inspire you. As a creative type, other people’s misfires encourage me to do better. Learn from the mistakes of others. Make the story or movie that you were enjoying right up until the original creators messed up.