We’d heard a lot about this film and certainly online it seems to be the more prevalent example of haunt-centered horror movies. But, for whatever reason, we just never got around to watching it. Until now obviously!
The plot is pretty threadbare here – five friends jump into a camper van and tour a number of (real) haunts in search of something ‘next level’. As you can probably guess, they find what they’re looking for. Or rather it finds them. So yeah, there isn’t much meat on these bones and, depending on how you feel about the sub-genre, The Houses of Halloween doubles down on it’s blandness by being a found footage movie.
I struggled with this one. There were a lot of desperate attempts at being ‘scary’ including one moment where a cardinal sin of found footage movies was committed – the use of non-diegetic sound to try and elicit a scare. It didn’t work at all and just served to make it pretty clear that the guys behind the film were grasping at straws as far as the horror goes. I then had a huge problem with the characters themselves, they didn’t exactly enamor themselves to you and one or two things that they did had me hoping to see them taken down a peg or two. The biggest flaw that they all seemed to share was freaking out in the ‘regular’ haunts that their trip started with. These guys were talking a big game on the road, discussing how they want to get back to that fear they used to feel but the second they’re in some very routine looking attractions, they’re basically begging to be let out. They absolutely weren’t ready for the ‘extreme’ haunt that they were seeking out which made it very hard for me to see why they were even bothering.
And this ‘next level’ attraction that they’re looking for? It’s indistinguishable from all the other haunted houses that the characters go through. Really. We get the use of an actual chainsaw at one point, someone on the other side of a door uses it to cut through said door to chastise one of the characters and that’s it. He doesn’t proceed to tear the door down, he just vanishes. You spend the whole film building up to this encounter with Blue Skeleton (the name of the extreme attraction) and they’re completely and utterly inoffensive. The five friends are absolutely petrified of them (though the fact that they’re seemingly scared of everything doesn’t really endow you with the sense that the stakes have been raised) but the haunters do nothing that crosses any line for an extreme haunt.
It ends infuriatingly – discovering that there’s a sequel to this film, I can see why the movie ends in the way that it does but all this conclusion does is solidfy the notion that there’s next to no threat present here. There’s a moment in the final act where one of the friends says to another that they’re no longer in a simulated experience yet they haven’t really witnessed anything that supports that statement. At that point, I felt that the film was trying its damnedest to convince me that I should be scared for these characters now without presenting any reason why I should, aside from that character’s proclamation. I promise you that, if you’re reading this site, you’ve been in haunts that have delivered the same amount of peril that these people endure.
I can’t hide the fact that I thought this film was a waste of time but there are some fun bits, mostly all taking place in the front end of the film. The very beginning of the movie wonderfully echoed the vibe of House of 1000 Corpses with a short retro advert and some stylistic editing. Sadly, it then dropped this in favour of taking the found footage approach. It was also great fun watching all the footage filmed at actual haunt locations – definitely had us wishing we were there instead of vicariously living it through the TV screen! We would rather have watched a whole film of this and, funnily enough, the director’s first film is apparently an actual documentary concerning haunts, sharing the same moniker as this movie. We’ve tried to find a copy but it looks like it never had a proper retail release.
And, despite me talking about how toothless the antagonists were in this movie, there were one or two neat scenes. The part that immediately comes to mind is early in the film when one of the friends invites a character from the extreme haunt onto their camper van. It’s extremely frustrating to watch because you can see that this is clearly the direction that the film should have taken, going for something subtle and insidious rather than cheap shocks.
As mentioned, there’s a sequel but it doesn’t appear to be out yet in the UK. I’m bizarrely keen to see it as I’m hoping that it offers some explanation as to why things went the way that they did in the closing act. But, if you have a hankering for a found footage movie set in a scare attraction, check out Hell House LLC, it’s a film done on a lower budget but has some brilliant moments and is absolutely a more impactful experience.
Fright Flicks - The Houses of Halloween
Movie title: The Houses of Halloween aka The Houses October Built
Movie description: Five friends are stalked by a group of mysterious and disturbed individuals while on a road trip looking for the ultimate haunted house attraction.
Director(s): Bobby Roe
Actor(s): Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson
For a movie centered around scare attractions, this film is absolutely devoid of frights. It's an easy watch but there are better flicks out there in this sub-genre.