Five friends go on a road trip to find the most extreme haunted houses in America, all while hoping to uncover and document something more sinister than your average haunt. While the group come across a few creepy things along the way, their trip turns up very little outside of sporadic rumors about a traveling haunt that is considered the craziest of them all. As they increase their search for this mysterious haunt, things start to take a dangerous turn when a group of very disturbed people begins to mess with them, putting the friends in a situation far more intense than they had ever anticipated.
Directed by Bobby Roe, The Houses October Built is a found footage style horror flick that does little to differentiate itself from the pack in terms of execution. Where the film does sometimes excel, however, is in its overall concept and some of the ideas that are able to bleed through the thick layer of predictability.
The film is essentially a documented look at a group of friends as they travel from haunt to haunt, all the while trying to gain some insight into what makes some of the people who work at these things tick. For some, working at a haunted house is a fun and thrilling way to spend the Halloween season, while there are others who could potentially use the platform as a way to work out some anger on unsuspecting patrons. Throughout the film, the group of friends hear stories about how there’s always the chance that some haunted house employees could be a danger, and no one would know beforehand as there are no pre-employment background checks and other things of that nature. Furthermore, and this is specific to the Midwest locations in the film, many of these haunts are located in very rural areas, where sometimes things can be, well, a tad sketchy.
One of the more frightening elements of The Houses October Built is the fact that it’s difficult to differentiate between what situations and people are actually dangerous and what aren’t. They’re dealing with haunted houses, after all, and the actors at these haunts – especially at some of the more successful ones – will very rarely break character. In fact, many times they’ll do whatever it takes to scare a person, short of harming them of course. Or at least that’s what we hope. The truth of the matter is, you really never know what lengths people will go to mess with you, let alone how far they'll actually go. Worse yet, who’s to stop them before it’s too late?
As far as the cast is concerned, the five friends have a very natural rapport with one another, which is likely due to them being friends in real life. While they’re able to play off one another in a natural and realistic fashion, they're not exactly the most fleshed out group of people, let alone the most likable. There's a certain level of disrespect and ignorance a few individuals give off at times – especially in terms of how they look down on the “backwoods” people who are running these haunts – and that is exactly what puts them in such a rough situation with the locals. Are they so bad as characters that they deserve to be terrorized in the fashion that they are? Not in the least, but it's not always about what one deserves, especially within the confines of a horror film.
An unfortunate component of The Houses October Built is the naivety that plagues the five main characters as a collective. As events unfold throughout the film, at some point one would assume these characters would see enough warning signs to pack up and head the hell home, no matter what anyone else says. It's certainly a trait attributed to found footage films – specifically the one character constantly talking everyone into seeing this thing through to the end, no matter how sketchy things may get – and it's a fairly frustrating element at times, especially in the final act.
One of the more enjoyable elements of The Houses October Built are the haunted attractions the characters visit. Not only does the film do a good job of showing how effective a haunted house can be – especially a really good one – it conveys the enjoyment that can come from being in such a freak show like atmosphere. It certainly works much better than the unnecessary strip club scene that serves no other purpose than to fit some obnoxiously fake boobies into the film.
The Houses October Built is a fairly predictable affair and certainly simplistic in terms of narrative, but it builds tension by presenting a situation that, while a tad far fetched, is plausible. At least in terms of the unsafe situations in which the naive characters put themselves in. If only the film could have fleshed out its ideas a little more proficiently and made better use of some of the more effective imagery – such as the little girl in the white mask, who is utterly frightening. As a result, The Houses October Built is nothing more than a minor and slightly stale treat to be enjoyed around the Halloween season, and nothing more.