When I first read about The Houses October Built, it was a few years ago, and the plot was quite different. The initial version was supposed to be more of a documentary, featuring a group of young adults going behind the scenes of haunted houses to find the true horrors that inhabit the cobweb-covered walls. The film was to be grounded in reality, highlighting what’s really frightening about haunted houses: the people who run them. For instance, one fact that I wasn’t even aware of until I gained interest in this film is that some of the “scare actors” (actors paid to scare haunted house patrons) have a criminal background, since many of the houses do not look extensively into their employees’ past.
Some of the haunt employees even work in the haunted house in order to fulfill their community service requirements, as part of their probation. Once I heard that these indie filmmakers were willing to travel from haunt to haunt in order to uncover the gritty truth about these establishments, I instantly grew curious. If these uncomfortable facts had already been brought to light, what was lying in wait for me once I actually got to see this movie?
However, like most indie films, The Houses October Built took quite a while to get funding, and as the years passed, I lost track of the whereabouts of this work in progress. After going so long without hearing the name, you can imagine my surprise when the film was offered to me to review a few days ago. Sadly, by the time I got my hands on a copy, the plot had completely changed.
The documentary storyline I had grown so fond of was abandoned in favor of a found footage film about five friends driving across country, trying to attend the scariest haunted house they can find, starting in Texas.
There were a few nods to the original idea, with clips from interviews with fans and workers of haunted houses discussing how intense the scare actors can be, and telling horrific tales from past shows. However, the fact that the interview clips were randomly mixed in-between shots of the Texas gang driving to different haunted houses, made the movie neither believable as a documentary, or as a found footage film.
There was a major problem with pacing as well. So much time was spent on the bus during the daytime with friends simply conversing over meaningless subjects, while the nighttime shots flew by. With such little time for scares, that the film hardly felt fearsome at all. It’s a shame; too, because there were a few genuinely creepy moments, like the clowns surrounding the crew’s bus, or the hitchhiker they picked up who worked at the nearby haunt. Despite these small achievements, all of the tension that the film built in these fleeting moments vanished as the scenes quickly ended and cut to the next day, with the gang safe on the bus, chatting away again. Sadly, all of the mounting tension was extinguished before it ever reached its peak.
Sticking with the original documentary format would have seriously improved the impact of this film. What little segments were shown of the interviews was intriguing and disturbing, as haunt employees told tales of real live women being hung in the houses without notice, and severed limbs being used as props. The only problem is, the audience isn’t sure if those interviews are real or fake. With the amount of people attending haunted houses every year reaching well over the million mark, a documentary like this, if done right, could do some serious damage to a plethora of comfort zones.
Its unfortunate that the documentary aspect of this film wasnt pursued more, because it certainly would have stood out against the modern day repetitive slasher thats recycled every Halloween season. The Houses October Built offered a few uneasy moments and temporarily tackled some tough subjects about the operation of haunted houses, but ultimately failed to answer any of the questions it asked, or commit to one style of filmmaking.