By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It’s fitting that an interview with the filmmakers and stars of the new “found footage” horror movie “The Houses October Built” takes place in an RV parked alongside a one-time mortuary repurposed as a Halloween haunt late one October night.
Director Bobby Roe and producer Zack Andrews are childhood friends, who also have been filmmaking partners for more than a decade. Together, they decided a while back to make a horror movie, using “found footage” that would be different from other films in the genre. After some extensive research, they decided to set their spooky story against a backdrop they hadn’t seen used in films before: the Halloween Haunted House. They also star in the low-budget horror film alongside Jeff Larson, Brandy Schaefer and Mikey Roe, an actor who happens to be Bobby’s brother. Everyone is assembled in the vehicle one dark Friday night to talk about their spooky new film, except Schaefer, who is unavailable.
In the film, available on iTunes, VOD and showing in some theaters, five friends embark on a road trip through the south in search of the best underground Halloween haunts (which includes old houses, barns, mazes and more). Filming as they visit each attraction, they meet the “actors” and proprietors of these seasonal establishments that attract millions of adventuresome visitors every year.
Of course, the friends get more than they bargained for when they run into some characters that take their jobs of scaring visitors to death quite literally. Director Roe and Andrews reached out to places they imagined they would enjoy touring as fans. They found places that were diverse in size and differently themed as to provide a unique experience for their audience. Many of the haunts were open to them touring and filming in the attractions. The owners also provided in-depth perspective on a community that rallies together to celebrate their favorite holiday. They also discovered that many of these places were as creative as they were frightening.
Q: Halloween has become such a huge holiday for business and these seasonal haunted houses are a big part of it, aren’t they?
Bobby: Yeah, here in the U.S., we spend $8 billion a year on Halloween alone, and some of these haunted houses make $2-3 million a year. They work a long time during the year but ultimately it’s about two months of operation.
Zack: One of the biggest (haunt attractions) told us they go back to work (on the following year’s production) in January developing the haunts for that Halloween. It’s nine months of work.
Q: Did you do a lot of research?
Bobby: We did. We also wanted to make sure that the haunts we went to were as diverse as they could be because it would get real redundant real fast with the mazes. We wanted to show how innovative people are especially when they don’t have huge budgets to deal with. They have to get smart with it and they do.
Q: My first haunted house was run by the Jaycees. What was yours?
Zack: Ours too.
Mikey: I used to think Jaycee was a guy who owned all the haunted houses.
Q: The disturbing thing you bring up in this film is that these haunts could attract criminals or mentally unstable individuals. Is that not an exaggeration?
Bobby: Most of these guys are very professional. They’re very good at what they do. They’re actors. The owners are businessmen. They’re very savvy. But there are, I’d say, bad seeds in there. You always wonder—whether it’s chemically, or bad wiring—could this take them to a different level, embodying one of these characters?
Zack: They’re trying to make a name for themselves. In some of the smaller places, they want to get on the map so they’ll do some extreme stuff to get people talking.
Mikey: Some of them have their own Facebook pages for their characters. They’re really into it. Like Bobby said, there’s always the chance of a bad apple at anything, whether it’s a sporting team or whatever. (You wonder) what the tipping point for some of them?
Zack: It’s easier to call a kid out when he’s got fake blood on him and a mask. It doesn’t matter. There are bad apples no matter what occupation it is. But those kids stand out because they’re wielding a rubber knife.
Q: What was the inspiration for this?
Bobby: We’ve been working on it for five years. The initial idea is that it’s never been seen on film before—Halloween haunted houses. We always liked the idea that goes back to “does a falling tree make a sound in the forest?” We all know the answer, but you can’t definitively tell me. So we extrapolate that to, “Have you ever seen a dead body in a haunt?” You can’t tell me you haven’t. These things have fake sense now. It smells rotten. They use roadkill. They’ll scrap it off the highway and let it sit in the sun so it smells just atrocious and rank.
Mikey: One guy said he actually used part of a human remain. So in that haunt, you have seen a human body.
Q: The ingredients of a good horror film is that you have to have a group of friends who’ve had too much to drink, too much partying and then it goes downhill from there. What did you do to try to break out of the norm?
Bobby: The biggest thing was using the real people and real places. Found footage, by definition, is supposed to be real found footage. We, obviously, got way way far from that in the past five or 10 years. There was a movie back in 1980 called “Cannibal Holocaust” and this director took a crew into the Amazon and used real natives. There are some scenes that are real borderline. Who knows? They were in the jungle. The director got arrested on his way out of the premiere. It wasn’t a gimmick. We haven’t seen anything like that in a long time and we didn’t want to go to that extreme, but we did want to put ourselves in real situations because audiences can smell sets a mile away. We wanted to make sure we embodied what Halloween is in the United States and throw ourselves in the mix.
Zack: We tried to have realistic conversations as well. Of course, you have to introduce characters but we wanted to do it organically. So we had everybody hang out. There may be some jokes that people don’t understand in the movie but you know that we understand them, and that just feels real.
Q: What was your budget?
Zack: We’ve been sworn to secrecy.
Bobby: $100 million. (They laugh.)
Q: Have you thought about making a sequel?
Bobby: We do. We just touched on the south. We always talk about how in different parts of the country there are different haunts. The north uses a lot of skyscrapers. When the landscapes change, the haunts change. But we’re not just limited to here. When we were shooting, one of the guys we talked to was just hired to build a haunt in Ecuador. It’s become a big thing all over the world.
Q: Why do people like to be scared?
Bobby: Halloween is more popular with Americans, in general, but the haunts are getting more and more popular overseas. We use an excuse to go have fun, whether it’s the Fourth of July or Cinco de Mayo. Halloween is probably the easiest holiday, next to Christmas, to really live out that holiday and be as festive as you can. The whole month of October has been sectioned off.
Zack: How many times, as an adult, do you get to be a kid again? This is the one month out of the year where you can choose to dress up and paint your face. It’s escapism.
Mikey: While researching this movie, there’s a direct correlation between the endorphins that are released in your brain when you’re scared and having sex. They’re the same. So that type of feeling of being scared is something people enjoy.
Jeff: That’s why in horror films you always see boobs, kill, boobs, kill. Same part of the brain.
Q: What scares you in real life?
Mikey: Snakes. Not a fan at all.
Jeff: I’m going to have to say clowns. I’m absolutely terrified. I get freaked out about this. When I was a kid, my parents did a haunted house with a clown funeral and my mom was in a coffin as a clown, and as people would pass by, sometimes she would twitch, and sometimes she would spray them with water.
Bobby: (to Jeff) Your mom?
Zack: (to Jeff) Why didn’t you tell us that story? That story should have been in the movie.
Jeff: It was so scary that I never could be near a clown afterwards.
Q: How about you, Zack? What are you afraid of?
Bobby: Isolation. When they move you and separate you from the pack, it can really mess with your head.