The Houses Of Halloween


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Houses October Built
"There's a lot of great potential here. Roe and Andrews don't quite have what it takes to pull it together."

For most UK viewers, the American phenomenon of the Halloween haunted house is a bit of a mystery. A few of us will have encountered haunted houses in travelling fairs, but they're universally rubbish, just a couple of dark corridors with plastic skeletons, supposedly spooky sounds and a bored employee or two jumping out to try to get a scare. The American versions are much bigger and hugely popular. Some are run by fringe Christian groups determined to warn kids about the dangers of turning to the dark side. Most are simply theatrical, but they're involved enough to provide an evening adventure by themselves, and they're highly competitive, all trying to make sales through word of mouth by coming up with scares nobody's seen before. Ultimately, though, this doesn't stop their visitor getting jaded. This film follows five young filmmakers as they drive a camper van across the country in search of something that can instill the same raw terror they felt in childhood.

The Houses Of Halloween is yet another contribution to the found footage genre, the hook this time being that the director and cinematographer are themselves part of the cast, so what we see is more closely linked to the performances than is usually the case and there are no little slips out of form. For the most part it's well shot from a storytelling perspective, more in line with the similar approach taken in The Blair Witch Project than with the many pointedly amateur takes since, and when it disorientates it does so for the right reasons. This is important because a lot of it is shot at night and we're already dealing with situations in which our heroes are confused about what's going on.

Copy picture

Despite only three principal cast members being trained first and foremost as actors, the overall standard of acting is not bad. Unfortunately not as much work has been put in at the character development stage, so although we get to know a bit about them, it's hard to form the emotional connection needed for us to care abut their fate. To be fair, this was never going to be a simple task for first-time writer Zack Andrews, as it's also important for him to show us that these young people are rude, naive and smug - qualities without which the story wouldn't work. All forgiveable sins in youth - they don't act as a turn-off - but not necessarily survivable in circumstances like these.

The other challenge for Andrews is taking us through the inevitable series of disappointing haunted houses before things hot up. This he approaches by creating tension around the young filmmakers' determination to film where they've been told they shouldn't, but there are also little hints, early on, that they may have attracted the wrong kind of attention by telling people that they're looking for the ultimate in fear. A clown comes too close during a private moment; a silent, masked girl wanders onto the van itself; and there's a scene reminiscent of Peter Fonda chiller Race With The Devil when the van is surrounded. Meanwhile, a rumour emerges of something called the Blue Skeleton, and what was once a happy jaunt turns into something obsessive.

There's a lot of great potential here. Roe and Andrews don't quite have what it takes to pull it together, and too many scenes end up in clumsy violence where something more stylish is needed to elevate the action. The trouble with promising the ultimate in scares is that it primes the audience for something difficult to deliver, and what we receive is ultimately all too formulaic. There's some pretty design work near the end, drawing on giallo imagery, but Roe's direction isn't strong enough to give it the edge it needs. Nevertheless, the film has promise - those involved are just going to take a little longer to reach their goal.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2015
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The Houses Of Halloween packshot
A group of young filmmakers tours the US in search of a truly scary Halloween haunted house attraction.
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Director: Bobby Roe

Writer: Zack Andrews

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

Year: 2014

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


EIFF 2015

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