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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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 14: The Sacrament (2014)

Filmed “mockumentary” style much in the same way as recent fave Lucky Bastard. The Sacrament follows VICE magazine journalist and photogs on a trip to a commune to see Eden Parish a commune/cult previously guarded in secrecy that quickly finds them in a fight for their lives.

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As the Mummy said “a good cast is worth repeating”

Amy Seimetz is Caroline. True believer who encourages her brother and VICE mag to visit. She played Aimee in You’re Next. AJ Bowen (who has lost considerable weight) who played Crispian and Joe Swanberg who played Drake from You’re Next play the interviewer and photographer.

Ti West directed the Sacrament and starred as Tariq in You’re Next. Kentucky Audley (who starred in Amy’s directorial debut Sun Don’t Shine) plays her fashion photog brother. Eli Roth (Hostel) “presents” this.

It’s all connected. Giving work to your talented friends is always a good choice.

Visually this movie is impressive. It’s shot in perfectly to be very quintessential “hipster/journalist/highbrow/trendy swagger. AJ Bowen nails it. Gene Jones gives me the creeps as the well spoken and exceedingly charismatic cult leader. Bowen’s Sam becomes concerned about the well being of the commune’s members even though most of them are happy. He’s granted an interview with The Father, who gets defensive about the story that Sam is trying to spin. Sam has found out that the followers have given their life’s savings (which is a little silly, since many interviewed said that the Father saved them from a life of crime, addiction and poverty) and after the face to face, Sam receives a note saying “Please Help Us” from a young girl.

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The trio of journalists are set to leave the next morning, but Sam tries to bring the young girl with them. The Father sees that he and his cult will be negatively exposed and police will be involved so he shoots the helicopter pilot (who implausibly waits for the VICE crew while bleeding out. nonsense) and then Jake and Sam end up in a fight to save their asses while the Father encourages his followers the take “the last sacrament” and sends gunmen to finish the job.

The set up is long. LONG.

But worth it.

The film is based on 1978’s real life Jonestown Massacre and cult The People’s Temple. Jim Jones, upon figurig out that he was going to be exposed called followers to his settlement in Guyana. People were set working long hours in crowded living conditions. While some wished to be there and living off the land, there was no changing your mind. Jones wouldn’t allow anyone to leave and was an egomaniac. Instead of edgy reporters visiting, it was congressman Leo Ryan, NBC crew and concerned family members. One of the NBC crew was handed a note with names of people who wanted to leave and were prisoner. They tried to leave, Ryan staying behind (as Sam did) to make sure that members weren’t hurt. But then they were attacked at the airport. Jones convinced them that the US government would come in and punish them.. the only way out would be poison punch.

based on a true story with excellent modern touches and a recognizable but not obnoxiously famous cast? I dig.

4.25/5