Movies featuring haunted houses aren’t bound to the month of October for their release, but the weeks leading up to Halloween do seem heavy with new ones. It makes sense of course as people planning scary movie nights this month will go looking for fresh blood to terrify themselves and their friends, and haunted houses offer all manner of spooky, creepy and frightening possibilities.
Two new films hitting theaters and VOD this Friday start with the idea of a haunted house but move into some varied and disturbing directions. The Canal is about a family who unwittingly move into a home with a bloody past, and when one of them disappears madness and murder aren’t far behind. The Houses October Built follows five friends on a found footage vacation searching for the most harrowing haunted house attractions around, but they might not be all that thrilled with what they find.
David (Rupert Evans) is a film archivist and new dad who, along with his wife, moves into a house in the hope of raising a family. Five years later a darkness begins to descend upon them after David sees an old piece of film documenting a multiple homicide that happened in his house back in 1902. The man who committed the crime appears in David’s dreams and his waking hours, but is he imagined or real? David believes the latter and holds the phantom responsible when his wife disappears. The police suspect otherwise though when it’s discovered that David’s wife was having an affair, and he knew about it.
Writer/director Ivan Kavanagh’s film walks a fine line between madness and horror leaving viewers uncertain whether events are due to David’s disintegrating sanity or a true supernatural source. That balance is the film’s greatest strength as our suspicions shift throughout, and there are plenty of disturbing images on display as something creeps its way into David’s home and mind. The visual terrors are a mix of well-crafted reveals and straight-up sinister creations. The film’s final twenty minutes in particular are an emotional ride with some spectacularly upsetting images.
It’s less successful on the audio front as Kavanagh feels compelled to compete with Drag Me to Hell for the title of Most Excessive Use of Sound Effect Scares. The disquieting terror of the situation is interrupted every few minutes by extremely loud effects and musical cues, and they’re disturbing for the wrong reason. More than that, they’re distracting and unnecessary.
The Canal is at its best as we wonder what or who is behind the troubles affecting David and his family, and the ending is affecting and effective. The sound design and some script issues keep it a moderate success though – not to mention the fact that no one in the movie can apparently afford to pay their electric bill – and the slow burn nature of it all will leave some viewers cold. But if you can get past that the film remains a compelling look at supernatural madness.
The Houses October Built
Five friends take an RV trip to see the scariest haunted houses in America (well, Texas and Louisiana anyway), and as is required by friends on a trip into the night they film their journey for posterity. The plan is to visit a series of commercial haunted houses in the hope of finding the most extreme scares available, but when the group unintentionally offends some haunt workers they head towards an unexpected destination.
The film is part found footage and part faux-documentary, and while the latter works well the former fails to overcome many of the usual found footage problems. Doc-wise, the film mixes in authentic-looking interviews with people regarding their experiences and opens without credits but with text telling us the friends filmed most of the footage we’re about to see with “the rest allegedly filmed by employees of the Blue Skeleton, a haunt with no fixed location.” It does a fine job portraying a sense of reality frequently missing from faux-docs even as it’s undone a bit by the found footage aspect.
First off there are a handful of conveniently placed digital issues with the images that in no way look or feel like real technical glitches. We also get the expected issues with camera cuts made impossible by the single camera in use and the camera behaving like a narrative lens instead of one held by a “real” person – it focuses on reaction shots instead of action and threats like a true POV would, and while the friends’ cameras see things of interest the characters – the ones filming – don’t react. These things are meant to scare us, the viewers, and the characters just play ignorant. There are also some acting concerns as the five do strong natural work in general but show their limitations during more intense scenes.
The Houses October Built delivers more than its fair share of scares and unsettling moments, but a smarter script – seriously, something happens about two thirds of the way in that would make even an irrational person press the brakes – and a better avoidance of found footage screw-ups would have made for a more satisfying experience. Still though, that image above? Not even the creepiest thing in the movie.
Both The Canal and The Houses October Built open in theaters and on VOD starting October 10th, 2014.
Related Topics: Horror