“The Houses October Built” is a found footage horror movie directed by Bobby Roe and written by Zack Andrews and Bobby Roe. The film follows a group of five friends who search the country for the most extreme haunted house.
When horror fans think of found footage and Halloween, not many film titles come to mind. The found footage genre falls woefully short of films covering what is arguably the most horror-centric time of year. Of the plethora of found footage films, the two Halloween themed behemoths are The Houses October Built and Hell House LLC (2015).
Director Bobby Roe created a truly special film with The Houses October Built. Fans of the film are eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Houses October Built 2 (2017), slated for a fall 2017 release.
The Houses October Built opens with an absorbing montage of vintage Halloween haunted house commercials, news footage, and interviews. We learn that “nearly 2,500 haunted attractions open each Halloween” and a staggering “thirty million people a year go to haunts.” Whether the statistics are true or not, the numbers are presented as real and are daunting.
Their ultimate goal is to find the Blue Skeleton, the holy grail of extreme haunts.
Also of interest is archived news footage highlighting the questionable safety procedures and hiring practices followed by many Halloween haunts. One particularly chilling story involves a haunted house actor who accidentally hung herself and died from a noose prop malfunction. Adding to the terror are reports of convicted sex offenders working as haunted house actors, exposing patrons to potential danger in the secluded dark corridors of many haunts.
Whether true or fabricated, these statistics and tales effectively set the horrifying atmosphere for the story that is about to unfold.
The found footage that follows introduces the five protagonists, who are on a quest to discover the most extreme haunted houses in the country. The group sets out in an RV, where they travel from state-to-state visiting numerous haunts, filming everything they see.
Some of the most extreme haunts change location each year, only popping up days before Halloween. Zach, a haunted house enthusiast, constantly visits haunted house message boards from his laptop for the location of the next haunt the group will visit. Their ultimate goal is to find the Blue Skeleton, the holy grail of extreme haunts.
Throughout their journey, strange things start to happen. The group quickly learns that they don’t have to go far to find the most extreme haunt—the haunt may have found them.
Found Footage Cinematography
The found footage cinematography is a measure of how well a film approximates actual found footage. The Houses October Built is exceptionally shot from end-to-end, offering an uncanny realism for viewers to immerse themselves in.
Of particular notes are the archival footage played early in the film. These short clips go a long way towards establishing the tone of the film and providing a wealth of interesting information. The infusion of these short segments also ensures The Houses October Built moves at a brisk pace—never leaving viewers with a dull moment.
The night vision scenes are filmed exclusively by the Blue Skeleton, brilliantly differentiating the filming style of the protagonists versus antagonists.
We give props to the production team for creating the vintage looking haunted house commercial played early on in The Houses October Built. The television advertisement looks and sounds like an appropriately aged early 1980’s VHS recording. The segment is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, with the expected VHS tracking lines and muted sound.
The news and interview scenes presented throughout The Houses October Built were filmed in a variety of different resolutions, aspect ratios, and camera quality, as would be expected from archival footage spanning multiple decades and camera sources. The variety of film formats also provides a well-needed contrast against the present-day found footage scenes, serving as natural break points in the movie.
The present-day found footage that makes up the majority of the film is shot in 16:9 aspect ratio using a professional digital video camera. Most of the footage shot in the RV is captured from six surveillance cameras.
The latter part of The Houses October Built includes scenes utilizing night vision, adding additional texture and eeriness to the film. The night vision scenes are filmed exclusively by the Blue Skeleton, brilliantly differentiating the filming style of the protagonists versus antagonists.
While much of the RV footage is automatically captured from mounted video cameras, the characters perform the majority of the cinematography as they freely walk outside, in bars, and of course, in the various haunts. The handheld cinematography is not overly shaky, while at the same time, is not so pristine as to look like the footage was shot by a professional cinematographer.
The filming reason often makes or breaks the plausibility and perceived realism of a found footage film. All too often, well constructed found footage films lose suspension of disbelief due to scenes that a reasonable person simply would not film.
The great story-telling of The Houses October Built maintains its filming justification from the first scene through the closing credits. While the movie does contain one scene towards the climactic ending where a character who normally wouldn’t film while in danger elects to do so, the character holds the video camera via an ultimatum, mandating that he/she continues filming…or else!
The general premise for the five protagonists filming is to document their expedition to seek out the most extreme haunts in the country. To this end, most of what the characters film is wholly expected, including their discussions in the RV, interviews of haunted house workers, and walkthroughs of some of the haunts the group visits.
As described in the opening of The Houses October Built, some of the found footage was “shot by employees of the Blue Skeleton, and underground haunt with no fixed location.” These scenes are the juxtaposition to the protagonists filming, often justifying the capture of footage that a person under stress normally wouldn’t film.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity measures the overall found footage conceit of a film, taking into consideration the cinematography, filming reason, sound, special effects, acting, and other factors. The Houses October Built wonderfully constructs a plausible story that is unlikely to raise eyebrows in any meaningful way.
The film contains footage towards the very end whose source is likely to be questioned, but multiple plausible explanations are possible given the unique circumstances the characters find themselves in—we intentionally steer clear from discussing this particular scene to avoid spoilers.
The characters’ dialog is captured from the video camera onboard microphone(s), which maintains a more organic feel to the film. The characters’ voices naturally grow and fade as they move towards and away from the video camera. The Houses October Built appears to have some non-diegetic music and sound, but these moments are mostly limited to scenes filmed during haunted house walkthroughs, which are already laced with eerie music and sounds, effectively masking their true source.
The Houses October Built has solid acting from the entire ensemble cast. The five lead actors have great chemistry and convincingly come off as close friends who have known each other for years. The two actors Mikey Roe and Bobby Roe, playing brothers Mikey and Bobby, are real life brothers.
The five lead actors have great chemistry and convincingly come off as close friends who have known each other for years.
Zack Andrews performs wonderfully as Zack, the die-hard haunt enthusiast. His character is the driving force that motivates the group to move forward in search of their ultimate goal—the world’s most extreme haunt. Zack is a consummate believer that the intrepid group is never in any real danger, shrugging-off every strange event as part of the experience.
Mikey Roe is great as Mikey, the Burley happy-go-lucky brother of Bobby. His character comes along for the ride, is intimidated no one, and can find fun in the strangest of places. Bobby Roe is first-rate as Bobby, the on-screen (and real-life) brother to Mikey. Unlike his brother, Bobby is more reserved and pragmatic, wanting to turn around at the first sign of trouble.
Brandy Schaefer is exceptional as Brandy, the strong-willed female amongst the group. Her character is all-in for Zack’s adventure. Rounding out the primary cast is the good acting of Jeff Larson as Jeff. Last, but certainly not least, is the great acting from the supporting cast that the group encounter during their travels.
The Houses October Built moves at a breakneck pace. Directory Bobby Roe brilliantly uses the eye-candy from the various haunts the group visits, scary costumes, and a variety of vintage footage to create an unforgettable experience.
With each new haunt, the group moves further away from the trappings of modern civilization and human morality.
The lore of Halloween and intrigue around the subculture of Halloween haunt adds layers of complexity to the already engrossing plot.
As the protagonists spiral down the rabbit hole and visit increasingly intense haunts, they slowly lose control (or perhaps surrender control) to the greater unseen forces at work around them. For character Zack, this quest is his obsession. While for the rest of the group, the adventure has deteriorated into a test for their very survival.
Adding to the vulnerability of characters is their migration into the backwoods of America. With each new haunt, the group moves further away from the trappings of modern civilization and human morality. For all intents and purposes, the protagonists are marooned in a foreign land and have no choice but to play by the rules or suffer the consequences. This fish out of water approach is the foundation enabling viewers to relate to the plight of the characters.
The Houses October Built is a feast for the eyes of all horror fans and haunted house enthusiasts and is not to be missed!