May 122017

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.



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Nov 212016

It is a familiar story. A mom is having troubles with her daughter. Things get creepy and she turns to a young priest for help. The young priest has his own issues with faith and realizes he is out of his league. He turns to an older priest who has seen some shit. The two priests work together and try to get a demon out of a young woman.

So far, so good. The show feels like a modern remake of the Exorcist movie and that isn’t a bad thing.

But other elements start butting in. The Pope is coming for a visit to the city. The rich and powerful are attending seminars on all of the great things Lucifer has done for society. A gang murders every resident on a street and harvests the organs. Conspiracy nuts whisper about horrible portents.

Now it feels like a remake with elements of other movies thrown in. There is some Rosemary’s Baby. There is some Omen. There is bits and pieces of every story of the satanic panic of the 70’s and 80’s.

Then some familiar music plays and an old character appears and you find out that the Exorcist TV show is not a remake, it is a sequel.

As you might guess, I like this show a lot. It goes big. It escalates. The best compliment I can give it is that it feels like the show is written by role-players from the horror rpg community. It has conspiracies. It has mysteries. It has interesting demons that feel like someone has a monster manual somewhere. There are some themes of the lack of women in the Catholic church and how that colors their perceptions.

In short, you need to see it.

Sep 242016

My brother and I never had much in common. Even when we liked the same things we liked them for entirely different reasons. he was rarely intellectually curious and didn’t like to read. In a lot of ways I felt like he was my complete opposite.

But one day he came over and wanted to tell me about this weird thing he found. It was a movie that might be real, and there was all sorts f evidence on the internet that said it was real and a bunch that said it wasn’t. It was called the Blair Witch Project and he was fascinated by it.

I too liked the Blair Witch Project. I liked the mystery and I loved the attempt to create an authentic artifact of a fictional horror movie. I wasn’t as enamored of the internet clues and ambiguity of whether it was real or not like my brother, but I related to his thirst for answers. As a kid that grew up with In Search Of, UFO books and Bigfoot sightings, I understood my brother’s passion. On this one subject, I felt like me and him were alike.

So when Blair Witch came out, there was no doubt that I would see it. I saw it because I am a fan of the original but I also saw it for him since he passed away a few years ago.  I wanted to see if he would have liked it.

I think he would. The new movie is good. A  video is uploaded to the internet that maybe shows one of the characters from the first movie. The character’s brother gets a group together to go into the woods to see if his sister is still there. Creepy things happen. The stick figure art installations are back. Strange sounds haunt the group. They get fucking lost. They find the house. Things get terribly, inevitably worse.

My brother knew a lot of the fan theories about the first movie. There was a theory on time travel that my brother loved that I thought was unlikely. No spoilers but time becomes a big part of the story and I smiled because my brother would have felt so redeemed to see his theory validated.

My wife and I saw the movie on a Thursday afternoon in an empty theater. At  first it was great because we could make jokes without fear of annoying anyone. As the horror escalated though, that big empty theater became less friendly. Shadows moved in the corner of my eyes. My wife got closer and closer to me. Near the end, my heart was thumping and I was genuinely scared in that delicious rare way that you get from haunted fun houses. Even though the movies follows most of the beats of the first film, the inevitability becomes part of the terror and despair. You know what is going to happen because you have seen it before but it is innovative and interesting enough that the familiarity doesn’t become boring.


Aug 222016

watchingThey’re Watching is a found footage horror movie about a cable home improvement show doing a followup on a pottery artist who bought a decrepit house in Moldovia. Did I mention that the house used to belong to a witch who was burned at the stake less than a hundred years ago? Did I mention that the villagers are superstitious and unfriendly? Did I mention that the home improvement show crew pretty much hates each other? As you can imagine, scary things ensue.

A lot of people don’t like Found Footage movies so I feel compelled to tell you upfront that there is a welcome lack of shaky cameras and a lot of stable shots as we see things from the cameras set up around the former witch’s house. I also need to tell you that unlike most movies of this genre, this movie has a REALLY conclusive ending.

I enjoyed this movie a lot. It is one big long tease of making the viewer wonder if there really is a witch, or if the villager’s hostile fear will get people murdered with or without a witch. Someone’s getting murdered and though it take awhile to get the first body, once the bodies start dropping, things go quick. Even if you get bored with the movie, stick around for the last thirty minutes because holy crap, that is thirty minutes of holy crap.

My wife hated the film crew more than I did but they do have their issues. The host of the show if a self-centered drama queen, the sound guy is a wise-cracking asshole, the camera guy is a Handsome Guy with a Troubled Past and the POV character is a college graduate who can almost be likable if she didn’t engage so much in making fun of the villagers. Luckily we have the real-estate agent who is a lovable criminal conman who you have seen a thousand times on real travel shows. Him and the mysterious homeowner are a hundred times more interesting and really save the movie when they appear.

It is currently on Netflix in America and I suggest you check it out.