Movie Review: Houses October Built (2014)

real documentary about 5 friends who set out to uncover the culture of underground haunted houses. Brandy Schaefer, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, Zack Andrews and Jeff Larsen are longtime friends who set out in an RV to 9 different haunts. Interviews are not scripted or manipulated in anyway, and the truth is more horrifying than the lie in this flick. People running haunted horror events notoriously don’t run background checks… some of the things participants say are down right deviant and terrifying. There are multiple actual news reports related about people dying in haunted houses while pranking their friends and no one knows until long after the night’s over.

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The crew travels across Texas in search of the most frightening events October has to offer. Along the way, they hit up all types of attractions (including zombie paintball) …and then they go in search of the Holy Grail of underground haunts but get more than they bargained for from locals.

Interestingly enough, this film was fascinating on it’s own. It won FearNET’s Shocker Award in 2011. Sadly, this project fell by the wayside for a while. The producers behind the Insidious films and Paranormal Activity decided that what it needed was a little mockumentary flair.

…and it works.

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I don’t know that it needed it; but it is well acted enough that the scripted portions fit well with the various interviews, news reports and first person filmings in dingy fake blood coated halls. It adds another dimension to the film that I hadn’t seen coming. I’m also not totally clear when it started. Brandy, the lone female, has an altercation with male hillbillies in a public bathroom. Mikey has an argument with locals that gets them run out of town. They pick up a bizarre hitch hiker. These brief elements break up the chatty drives in the sun on the long trek from destination to destination. So when things get more serious… it’s difficult to know what to believe. Is this a practical joke? Have they found the haunt they are looking for? Or are they facing deranged lunatics?

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A great look at extreme haunted houses and intense and escalating subculture surrounding haunted events …with a little Hollywood panache.

5/5

This film is out in select theaters and on itunes on Friday 10/10.

Brandy Schaefer will be on WCUW’s Radio Of Horror on Sunday.

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Movie Review: Devil Incarnate (2013)

Graci Carli stars (sort of) as a woman named Holly who has recently married. Her husband is played by Rod Luzzi. And they are a typical young couple ….who get cursed while on their honeymoon and Holly ends up pregnant with the child of Satan.

Emily Rogers plays Holly’s sister in law, Marissa. She’s queer and adorkable and video tapes everything like Wes Bentley did in American Beauty. Bafflingly; There are no pictures of her on the internet.

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Usually the “devil baby” plotline is a deal breaker. It’s over done. While that’s still true, the characters are far less annoying than their counterparts in other films. The focus shifts from Holly to Marissa early in the film, Trevor isn’t blind to the horrors that his wife is experiencing because of the chance to grow his progeny. Marissa is the first to notice that Holly is behaving oddly -from seducing Marissa and yelling at her in Latin, to making sexual advances towards Trevor’s father.

For reasons unknown, Marissa captures most of this on film. The sheer volume of memory cards required is irrational.

But Marissa’s odd fixation with Holly and her retelling of increasingly strange events to her pre-law BFFL on Skype is charming.

And no one says anything ridiculous like “We have to save the baby !!!!!!!!!!1” when Holly really starts becoming dangerous. Trevor and Marissa head back to the site of the honeymoon, Cassa Dega, to rectify the situation.

The plot doesn’t make as much sense as it could. The reason Holly is carrying the devil spawn is because she was cursed by an old woman, the curse had come to a family after years of infertility. It is revealed that Holly was adopted but the implications weren’t clear to me.

Everyone in the film is relatively unknown and I think that it’s helpful in this case. Found footage movies are just plain everywhere lately and I’m not sure that much was added by having Marissa be a nerd with a camera except aside from an excuse to use edgy camera angles and bad lighting.

3/5

31 Horrifying Days- Day 16: Quarantine (2008)

I haven’t watched a zombie movie in a while and I’d never seen this one. Well, no one ever says the Z word. But it features humans affected by a rage-virus much in the same style as 28 Days Later and affected animals like in Resident Evil that fall ill and then try to eat your freaking face off, the afflicted are unhindered by pain, unable to speak and without reason. They are sensitive to light and hard to kill.

The modern interpretation of a zombie.

Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter”, Exorcism of Emily Rose) stars as Angela Vidal, a television reporter working on a fluff piece about LA’s Bravest. She, along with cameraman Scott (played by Steve Harris, “Awake” and the voice of Clayface on “The Batman”) hang out with the firefighters at the station: shoot hoops, eat chilli, make small talk, then they head out on a call.

The call is medical and they arrive at an apartment building along with the police before the EMTs. When they get there they head upstairs and find an addled looking woman with blood around her collar and then the bodies start dropping. Sometimes literally. One of the firemen gets thrown down 3 floors straight onto the tile. They try to get outside, but the police (and later National Guard and CDC) have them locked in. Even with an injured officer and firefighter. Those inside search for alternate routes and are met with assault rifles and ordered to back away from windows. The police won’t tell them anything and soon they are without cell reception and electricity (this one’s weird. The elevator is on “auxiliary power” and a resident’s TV still works, but there’s no lights. Doesn’t add up except to add to the atmosphere). Angela tells Scott to keep rolling, that people won’t believe this. 

And he does. Of course, one of the things I dislike about mockumentary/found footage films is the implausibility of someone lugging a camera around with rage zombies actively trying to eat their face. He does bash one of the turned over the head with it. The lens gets bloodied. Slightly off camera Scott falls apart while cleaning the blood. Some of the camera angles don’t work. He’d be taping an infected chasing them right till they were face to face but then be first through the door to get the shot of everyone coming in. That’s a nitpick, though. At one point the camera is actually integral because conditions are pitch dark and it has night vision.

It is really good. And the characters work well, the first responders are freaked out but ready for a fight and regular people like Angela and Scott are not built for this. After seeing a firefighter get up walking on a broken leg and a little girl rip out her mom’s throat… she’s done. “I’m done. I’m not moving.” There’s a wealthier white man who wants to exercise his god-given right to die in his own apartment, a young Indian-American couple with nice clothes and a bathroom full of prescription sedatives and narcotics, a pair of North Africans who don’t speak English, the tough cop who is at first reluctant to go against orders (Columbus Short, “Scandal”), the hot firefighter who lives the longest (Jay Hernandez, Hostel, “Gang Related”) and a veterinarian (Greg Germann, “NCIS”) who diagnoses the infected with a mutated form of rabies.

The CDC arrives. The CDC also tells them that a blood test will confirm if they are infected. The veterinarian tells them that they’d need a brain sample. Everyone freaks the hell out. The CDC ends up getting eaten and no one gets their brain sampled. 

As numbers dwindle, the search for a way out leads to an unnecessary plot point. The virus was cultivated by some freakshow in rats first in the name of some cult. It didn’t add much to the plot. It didn’t need it. Dark apartment complex full of relatable people search for a way out while on the run from hyper-rabid former friends.

There are a few females in the film but no girl-power to speak of. I feel as though Angela’s flailing and inability to find a weapon suited her TV diva character… but I wish that there had been an Officer Deb Morgan somewhere.

4.25/5 (I fucking love zombies)

But it should be noted: this movie is based on the Spanish horror film [REC] from 2007, the main character’s name is even the same. I’ll definitely be watching the original.

31 Horrifying Days- Day 12: “Lucky Bastard”

The premise of the movie centers around a contest. The contest is run by a website called “Lucky Bastard” and the Lucky Bastard gets to fuck a pornstar. In this case, that pornstar is the smoking hot Ashley Saint (played by smoking hot Betsy Rue, My Bloody Valentine) and the fan is Dave (Jay Paulson, who has played a recurring role on “Mad Men”).

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Ashley Saint is one of the hottest girls in the company, but she has turned down participating in the “Lucky Bastard” contest because of her personal rule: “No anal and no amateurs.” She changes her mind when director Mike (Don McManus, looking very Big Lebowski) offers her more money. Ashley is more than a sexy cut out pornstar trope, she’s a single mother and at one point says in a breathy, sexy voice into the camera “Oh yeah, help my clip my double coupons” after Mike says she’s giving fans limp dick by saying that she’s a single mother. Her ex was an abusive meth-head, but it’s not played for sympathy. Ashley sees porn as a job like any other job that provides food, rent and school clothes for her kids. (Weren’t we just talking about legitimizing sex-work?)

But when she meets Dave… he gives her the creeps. He calls her by her real name, knows her kids names and then blows his load prematurely. Ashley yells, “I know I’m not a lawyer or Hilary FUCKING Clinton, but I am a professional! This is not professional!” She refuses to do the scene. Mike, whose main focus is on dollar signs has been ordering people around and trying to coerce everyone to his will. He makes it clear that he thinks Dave is a loser, he treats cameramen Kris (Chris Wylde) and Nico (Lanny Joon) like personal servants, bribes Ashley into uncomfortable situations and then tries to get his own pornstar girlfriend, Casey (Catherine Annette, Nobody Can Cool, upcoming Vampire Schoolgirls) to screw Dave as a backup plan -after telling her that she couldn’t shoot the B-roll footage. She takes being a back-up personally.

Mike gets angry. Like “Hulk-style: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” And then frustrated loser Dave becomes concerned about what’s on the cameras. After a spitting mad shouting match, Mike sends Dave off. 58 minutes in is when everything comes to a head.

It seems like an easy setup, it is slow cookin, two-thirds of the film just doing everyday stuff (and porn), but throughout that time the audience gets insight into the characters. Ashley’s there for her kids, she’s thinking about being a Hollywood Actress, Mike wanted to be a big time director, Casey just wants to be a pornstar… And Dave has no idea who he really is.

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“Whatever I want is what I do, so whatever I do, that’s what I want. Now I’m a bitchin’ pornstar.”

An hour of this 94 minute flick is spent building up the awkwardness and egos and sexy shots of Betsy Rue’s naked body (full frontal, visible tanlines included) but when the violence starts, it doesn’t stop. And we see how far the victims will go to save their own asses.

But is it scary? Nope. But it was surprising. Uncomfortable to watch in the way I find “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to be and once the violence amps up there are shocking edge of your seat moments. The premise that’s centered around a house full of cameras for porn shoots makes the mockumentary style more palatable unlike found footage films that are beyond belief (Like Devil’s Pass teleporting monsters are after you. How would you not have thrown the camera at it?).

3.75/5

Due to the NC-17 rating, the film didn’t get a wide cinematic release (although it was in select theaters), it is currently available on Amazon Video on Demand.

If you would like to know more, director Robert Nathan will be on Radio of Horror on 5/26 (technically) show starts at midnight EST so tune in for the dirt on the dangers of humiliation TV, hypocrisy towards the porn industry and real life inspiration for the characters.