FilmMakers blend real with imaginary fears

Looking to find an authentic, blood-curdling good fright for Halloween, five friends set off on a road trip in an RV to track down underground Haunted House attractions. That’s the basic plot of The Houses October Built, an American found footage horror film showing on Netflix (at the time of this writing). With autumn in the air and Halloween on the horizon, CelebrateKnoxville.com spoke with the director Bobby Roe and producer Zack Andrews about the movie, which is actually multiple projects.

The first project is a real documentary about haunted house attractions in the U.S. that was produced in 2011. The second is a horror movie made in 2014, a fictional account of a group of people visiting those same haunted attractions and includes footage from the first project.

Confused yet? That’s part of the plan. As the lines between real and imagined horrors becomes more blurry in modern society, Roe and Andrews are making the most of mixing it up for horror fans in a way that is fresh and unique. Both the documentary and the fiction story are packaged together on the Blue-Ray of The Houses October Built, so that fans can see behind the scenes of actual places and learn more about the inspiration for the movie.

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The movie is the directorial debut of Bobby Roe, who also starred. It was produced by Zack Andrews (who also starred) and Steven Schneider, whose hits include Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Devil Inside. The film was given a limited theatrical release on October 10, 2014 and was released to home video on January 6, 2015.

“I think the quote at the beginning of the film, of how the real horror is what humans do to other humans, that explains our approach,” Roe said. “These are real locations, real scare actors. People can visit these places and talk to the same people we talked to when we made the movie. We wanted to make it as organic and real as possible.”

Real performances by great actors also make this film memorable, and┬áBrandy Schaefer already won the award for Best Actress in The Macabre Faire Film Festival for her performance in The Houses October Built. The only female included on the RV trip, Shaefer’s descent from confidence into shock is crucial to the story and ties the other characters together. Fears mount up as it becomes obvious that the hauntings are getting out of control.

“It was a balancing act,” Roe said. “We asked ourselves ‘can we take (Brandy) to the breaking point without having the audience turn on the other characters?'”

Online reviews of the film describe the story as ‘a slow burn,’ with an emphasis on character development and not body count. Both Roe and Andrews say that is intentional and acknowledge that (Producer) Steven Schneider also used a slow burn with his Paranormal Activity movies, to much success.

Even with a slow build to a horrific ending, the movie is not without comic relief, however, and one scene with Zack Andrews features a cannabis-smoking-donut-eating-crying fit with infectious laughter.

“People ask me if I was actually high during that scene but I was not,” Andrews said. “We were just joking around on the set one day and decided to make the most of that moment.”

Cinematographer Andrew Strahorn does an excellent job of making this movie feel like a nightmare, blending real action with staged action. Some of the movie takes place during Mardis Gras, with even more masked characters and performance art adding to the atmosphere of weirdness.

“It was always our plan to include that in the story,” Andrews said. “Mardi Gras is a unique atmosphere and you just can’t fake that.”

This movie won the Carnet Jove Jury Award for Best Feature Length Film from the Midnight X-Treme Category from the Sitges Film Festival, but perhaps the most exciting news for horror fans is that the story of Houses That October Built continues: Roe and Andrews have recently returned from Scotland and other haunted places in the U.K. and plan to return again in the Spring. Roe said some of the haunted attractions there rival the best and most extreme in the United States, and they plan to make the most of what they have learned for another movie.

“Let’s just say that what you’ve seen of The Houses October Built is more of an intermission than an ending,” Roe said.
—Laura Long, CelebrateKnoxville.com, Sept. 16, 2015.