“8213: Gacy House” is a found footage horror film written and directed by Anthony Fankhauser. The film follows a team of ghost hunters who spend the night in the house of a deceased serial killer to capture evidence of paranormal activity.
An opening title card informs us that six corpses were recovered in the house at 8213 Summerdale, built on the lot where serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s house once stood. The film then cuts to the team of investigators: veteran paranormal investigators Robbie (Matthew Temple) and Mike (James Arthur Lewis), their assistant Lena (Rachel Riley), cameraman Gary (Brett Newton), psychology student Tessa (Sylvia Panacione), and parapsychologist Dr. Franklin (Michael Gaglio). Their goal is to record evidence of John Wayne Gacy’s spirit. They are later joined by the new age-styled psychic Janina. After being summoned by the psychic Janina (Diana Terranova) (via a ritual involving her making an offering of a T-shirt belonging to her neighbor’s adolescent son, in a moment even one of the characters finds laughably out-of-left-field), Gacy’s ghost proceeds to terrorize the paranormal experts, building to a violent climax.
What’s in a Name?
In the UK, 8213: Gacy House also goes under the alternate title of Paranormal Entity 2 (2010) and is marketed as a sequel to The Asylum’s found footage horror film Paranormal Entity (2009). Likewise, in Germany, 8213: Gacy House goes under the alternate name Paranormal Investigations 2: Gacy House (2010). In both the UK and Germany, Asylum found footage films are packaged under alternate names as part of a paranormal based film series. The films in both series can be seen here:
The Asylum found footage films owes its existence to the Paranormal Activity film series. Released the same year Paranormal Activity (2007) went to DVD, Paranormal Entity (2009) was The Asylum’s mockbuster response to the Blumhouse found footage classic Paranormal Activity (2007). When Paranormal Activity became a series, The Asylum followed suit. However, where the subsequent Paranormal Activity movies continued the first film’s story, the Paranormal Entity movies are entirely unrelated to each other, aside from all being found footage and involving the paranormal.
[Warning – discussion of sexual assault and pedophilia follows]
8123: Gacy House comes with the same inborn issue as its 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck (2012), both are horror films where the villainous spirit is a real life rapist and murderer. For a large number of prospective viewers, this knowledge may be too offensive for them to consider watching the film. Considering the film’s inspiration, this reaction is understandable and a perfectly acceptable. The subject matter is indeed incredibly offensive and morally repugnant. However, a movie can be offensive and morally objectionable and still be well-made and worth watching—Cannibal Holocaust, a film which features real animal deaths, is a prime example. At the very least, there is nothing in 8123: Gacy House as viscerally unpleasant as a ghost sexually assaulting a woman, murdering her, then sexually assaulting her again, all either seen or heard onscreen. The epilog does state that a character was assaulted by Gacy’s spirit, but this is thankfully left offscreen.
8123: Gacy House was made without any involvement from Paranormal Entity’s writer/director Shane Van Dyke. At the helm instead is Anthony Fankhauser, another Asylum regular. 8123: Gacy House is one of his few writing or directing credits, having mainly served as a producer on Asylum productions like Snakes on a Train (2006), The Day the Earth Stopped (2008), and Cowboys vs Dinosaurs (2015).
Found Footage Cinematography
There are seven video cameras in play in 8123: Gacy House: three handheld video cameras and four surveillance cameras. At times, the POV shifts between different cameras in the same location, providing a more narrative feel while still holding to the film’s found footage conceit. In other scenes, who is behind specific video cameras is left unclear. Still, there is no footage in the movie which appears as though it could not have been filmed by one of the in-universe video cameras. 8123: Gacy House is Matt Hoefler’s first, and to date only, turn as director of photography, having otherwise served as key grip, including on many Asylum productions. In fact, the 8123: Gacy House crew includes a lineup of Asylum usual suspects.
The filming reason used in 8123: Gacy House is initially strong, with the characters entering the house to record evidence of the paranormal. However, despite the characters’ clear intent to film paranormal activity, the story does not reveal the purpose of the footage. For example, are the characters planning to release the footage as a documentary or perhaps use it as the subject of academic research? Characters Robbie and Mike are passionate about the project and repeatedly remind their assistants to keep filming. The surveillance cameras fill in gaps where a character cannot be filming.
Once the action starts, though, the justification for the characters to continue filming while their lives are in danger is thin. The video cameras are bulky and can only get in the way of their struggle to survive with the house going insane around them. None of the characters comes across as having a deep enough obsession with proving the existence of the paranormal that they would endanger their lives by holding onto a video camera in the face of imminent mortal peril. At the same time, however, this problem plagues many found footage films, and it can’t be said that 8123: Gacy House is a particularly egregious example of it.
Found Footage Purity
8123: Gacy House admirably holds to the found footage premise the film sets out to achieve. The movie features the opening title cards and timestamps common to many found footage films, but avoids showy editing, excessively cinematic camerawork, and non-diegetic sound and music. 8123: Gacy House even attempts to justify the editing of what is assumed to be hours of raw footage by having one of the title cards explain that the footage has been cut into a narrative format for the purpose of presentation to the public. Rarely does a found footage film explicitly address its potentially artificial editing choices, typically leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks and suspend their disbelief. It is refreshing to see a film that takes this extra step to strengthen the realism of the found footage conceit.
When the effects are kept simple—doors slamming shut, pictures frames falling down, even characters being yanked around by invisible hands—they are convincing and effective. In probably the best scene in the film, a character runs through a series of doors, trying to escape the ghost, only to find himself in the same room over and over again. The editing is seamless, to unsettling effect.
A few blatant and easily avoidable mistakes tug down on the realism factor. One of the timestamps in the bottom left corner is incorrectly labeled as AM, when it should have been PM. At another point, the film confuses hyperthermia (exposure to extreme heat) with hypothermia (exposure to extreme cold). This word mix-up might have been a minor quibble, but the mistake is presented as part of a supposedly official medical document. The document is presented onscreen long enough for anyone with a basic knowledge of scientific terminology to be pulled out of the moment.
The actors aren’t given much depth to work with. There is next to no character background or development provided. For the most part, the characters spend the bulk of the film’s runtime standing around, bickering, and screaming in terror. Yet, the performances are competent throughout. The characters’ fear and anger come across as genuine. The impression given is that the cast could distinguish themselves ably had they been provided with more substantive material.
Though none of the actors in 8123: Gacy House have had any major prior acting roles, they have worked consistently, with most of them having appeared in previous Asylum productions. Interestingly, many of the cast also worked extensively behind the camera, including Michael Gaglio (Dr. Franklin) as everything from gaffer to producer, Brett Newton (Gary) as cinematographer and producer of mainly web series, and Diana Terranova (Janina) as an entomologist and insect wrangler.
The plot suffers from some structural deficits. Most films with the same basic premise split the characters between believers in the paranormal and skeptics who either become believers or die, likely both. In 8123: Gacy House, the characters vacillate between skeptics and believers depending on what is convenient for the story at the time. Robbie and Mike are convinced from the get-go that the house is definitely haunted by Gacy’s spirit and suspect that paranormal activity is the root cause of every slammed door; but, when the members of their team who began as skeptical or on the fence report that they’ve experienced the paranormal, sometimes in the form of violent attacks in front of their eyes, the die-hard believers brush the evidence off as coincidence.
The film contains very little in the way of characterization. We know that Mike is obsessed with ghost-hunting to the point of callousness towards others, Gary is a cynical snarker, and Tessa is timid, but it doesn’t go much deeper than that. Mike and Lena are in a relationship, but rather than illuminating either of their characters or advancing the plot, though, the element appears to be mainly an excuse to get the actress playing Lena (Rachel Riley) topless. With her mix of comedic moments, compassion for other characters, and sense of purpose, Janina is the most distinct and likable character.
Paranormal Entity (2009), as well as 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck (2012) and the original Paranormal Activity (2007), all feature a steady escalation of paranormal happenings from ambiguous to unsettling to dangerous. In 8123: Gacy House, the “paranormal activity” (a phrase spoken verbatim by one of the characters) is undeniable from the very beginning and doesn’t take long to ramp up to a direct threat.