'The Houses October Built': Film Review

Courtesy of Image Entertainment
Forget the treats, this one’s all tricks

Halloween pranks go to extremes in Bobby Roe’s low-budget feature

A group of Texas thrill-seekers goes on the road in search of the scariest of Halloween haunted houses in writer-director-star Bobby Roe’s found-footage horror outing The Houses October Built. Offhandedly produced and indifferently acted, this underachieving documentary-style feature should benefit primarily from digital formats.

A group of five 30-ish friends sets off from the vicinity of Tyler, Texas, on an October 2013 road trip envisioned and planned by Zack (Zack Andrews) to film their experiences at the most extreme haunted-house attractions in the region. Also piling into a rented RV for the trip are aloof wise-ass Bobby (Roe), RV driver Jeff (Jeff Larson), camera operator and heavyweight Mikey (Mikey Roe) and token hottie Brandy (Brandy Schaefer). Their aggressive tactics infiltrating and filming at secretive haunts rumored to be unsafe or even criminal in nature earn them the animosity of a group of “scare actors” who repeatedly turn up to harass them at successive stops on their trek.

As most of the crew begins to lose enthusiasm for the adventure after long nights exploring creepy Halloween amusement locations amid growing suspicions they’re being followed by a group of violent freaks, Zack insists that they press on with their quest as he gathers information on an underground event known as the “Blue Skeleton.” A mysterious invitation to experience the ominous mobile haunt directs them to New Orleans’ raucous Bourbon Street Halloween night celebration, where some distinctly nasty surprises await.

Trading on urban legends concerning Halloween attractions that pose tangible threats to their attendees’ safety and may even involve implied illegal or occult activities, the filmmakers attempt to inject some life into their dubiously thin narrative by incorporating sequences shot at actual haunted houses that favor more elaborate shock tactics. Scare actors and amusement operators also turn up for news-footage style on-camera interviews to discuss their often vaguely articulated motivations, along with some of their strange experiences in the business.

The plot material stringing these sequences together, mostly confined to the RV and roadside bars, is far more reality TV-inspired than anything resembling full-blown narrative fiction. The actors, playing themselves, can only be said to be performing in the sense that they’re enacting a semi-imaginary scenario. Production quality barely approaches micro-budget standards. 

Opens: Oct. 10 (RLJ Entertainment) 

Production companies: (RLJ Entertainment, Image Entertainment) 

Cast: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson

Director: Bobby Roe

Screenwriters: Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Jason Zada

Producers: Steven Schneider, Zack Andrews

Executive producers: Todd King, Matt Stein

Director of photography: Andrew Strahorn

Production designer: Kyle Kannenberg

Editor: Jeff Hall

Music: Mark Binder

 

No rating, 91 minutes

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