The setting is fantastic, you’ve got your basic Scooby-Doo gang archetypes filming a documentary. In this case they’re traversing across Middle America looking for the most extreme ‘Halloween Haunts’, annually staged houses of Horror for those seeking a good scare. This allows for some really fun use of the found footage format, as the camera gets to track along POV inside these spooky attractions. It makes for a really fun ride with various acting maniacs and ghouls fighting for attention to terrify you the most. As the gang continue to find increasingly extreme attractions with equally crazier actors and staff, they hear of a traveling haunt that promises the ultimate night of terror.
Things that are good: the actual documentary footage where we meet the various kooky costumed curators of these events, all with interesting personalities and off-kilter world views, I love the costumes and carnival aspect to the haunts. Visually it owes a huge debt to Rob Zombie’s cult favourite House of a Thousand Corpses with a lurid green glow and many a ‘Captain Spaulding’ like clown populating the screen.
Ultimately, much of the success or failure of these films depend solely on wether or not I can stand to be in the stars company for an hour and a half, and whether or not they have credible reasons to shoot footage no matter what. Luckily, the gang are a fun and varied bunch who bring a good percentage of levity to proceedings and their reasons for shooting are fully justified throughout.
The overall threat-factor, antagonist and story are all very weak. There is zero meat on the bones of The Houses of Halloween with the thinnest of concepts carved from both The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. In-between travelling to locations, the gang meet an admittedly creepy looking porcelain doll-faced girl who keeps turning up at the strangest times, leading to an un-earned, fright less conclusion.
The best version of this movie is a full-on documentary about Halloween Haunts, it’s clearly the most engaging element of the footage and I would have loved to have seen this explored in greater depth and detail. It’s a shame, because the rollercoaster is pretty fun while it lasts. What a pity that it breaks down just before its final, thrilling descent.
Review by Mark Bartlett
Houses of Halloween is out now on DVD.