Tag Archives: haunted house

Movie Review: The Houses October Built

by Dan Fields

The Houses October Built is a Halloween haunted house meta-journey in found footage style
© 2014 Image Entertainment

Found footage horror is played out, to the extent that an exhausting number of reviews begin with the complaint that “found footage horror is played out.”

See what I mean?

With that requisite disclaimer covered, Bobby Roe’s The Houses October Built is pretty excellent entertainment for this Halloween season. The notion of a POV camera going all meta-fictional on the phenomenon of live haunted house attractions, now simply termed “haunts” owing to the diversity of venues, turns out much better than it may sound.

Five friends – Zack (co-writer), Bobby (co-writer and director), Mikey, Brandy and Jeff – set out in an RV to tour and document the most extreme haunts out there. Most of them seem to be in Texas and Louisiana, by the way. While most are fairly traditional walkthrough attractions, other memorable outings include a hayride modeled on a zombie apocalypse, complete with paintball guns to pelt the legions of shambling ghouls. However, some of the “haunters” appear more aggressive and personally invasive than the rest. It even seems that certain characters are following the RV from one location to the next, across dozens and eventually hundreds of miles. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 3)

And so we gather once again at Fields Point Manor, to munch on the macabre. As before, we have a three-course horror marathon lined up to tide you over as the Halloween excitement really starts to build. Remember, a good scream is the best way to ease the grip of fear, keeping everything else inside you where it belongs.


Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

Week Three:
We Gotta Get Outta This Place!

Last week we dined on blood and lots of it, in the company of vampires and other thirsty ghouls. But not every nightmare scenario can be solved with stakes, garlic or sunshine. Sometimes evil oozes out the very walls, floors, furniture and doors we count on to keep bad things away.

James Wan scored a victory this summer with The Conjuring, a haunted house thriller with modern intensity and classic storytelling sensibilities. The fear that we are not safe in our own beds is a timeless and potent soft spot on the human soul, and filmmakers of all sorts have eagerly probed that spot for decades.

Thinking outside the box on this topic was a challenge. Haunting stories make up a goodly portion of almost any top-10, desert-island horror movie countdown, and great ones have been made to suit every taste. The Shining is bleak and lavish, Poltergeist playfully hideous, The Haunting and The Innocents each a parade of good old-fashioned dread, and even those in the mood for the madcap have choices ranging from William Castle’s The House On Haunted Hill to the surreal Japanese freakout known as Hausu (House). If you have not had the pleasure, stop what you have going on and make room for these movies in your life, too. Meanwhile, we adjourn to the brandy and popcorn lounge for tonight’s features.

First Course: El Orfanato
(The Orphanage)
(dir. J. A. Bayona, 2007)

J. A. Bayon's The Orphanage tests a mother's love and sanity to their limits

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Movie Review: The Conjuring

by Dan Fields

James Wan tackles a real life ghost story with the paranormal thriller The Conjuring
© 2013 Warner Bros. / New Line Cinema

Curb Appeal Comes To Amityville

James Wan, director of Insidious, Death Sentence, and the original Saw, has carved a checkered but significant niche in the most recent wave of high-polish horror thrillers. As a storyteller he has not generally chosen groundbreaking work, but he has an eye for detail that counts for a great deal, even when working elbow deep in schlock. He also has a demonstrable preoccupation with puppets and dolls, which mark him as a filmmaker dedicated to getting under his audience’s skin.

Despite what its austere title suggests, The Conjuring is not a sudden foray into slumber party black magic or card games about wizards. It is a reasonably old-school horror film about a house haunted, or rather oppressed, by unholy malevolence. There is nothing revelatory or innovative about The Conjuring, but there is a comfortable blending of the contemporary and the classic in the service of a quite a scary tale. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video #10: Nicholas McCarthy’s The Pact

by Dan Fields
First published October 31, 2012 by the California Literary Review

And so we bid a fond farewell to Halloween Home Video (2012 edition), and here’s hoping you found just the right set of screams for your best Halloween ever. Gather the treats, pour the punch, and settle down for one last ghost story.


Nicholas McCarthy's The Pact promotional poster

© 2012 IFC Midnight

For A Rousing Finale

If you have watched your way through the Halloween Home Video list, or been engaged in any recent horror binge, it is likely that you are suffering semi-permanent “found footage” vertigo. If approached with talent and imagination, it can be a surprisingly versatile style choice, but it does wear on the eyes and brain if not enjoyed in moderation. One reason The Pact won the top spot on my list is its rather traditional sense of storytelling.

Even so, this movie deftly combines numerous classic horror themes in surprising ways. It is a mystery, a family drama, and a ghost story all in one. In a typical thriller or horror movie, the final act reveals either a rational explanation for seemingly supernatural events, or vice versa. Seldom does the audience get to enjoy both, at least in any coherent film. In the case of The Pact, ghostly activity is only part of the puzzle, pointing crucially to very real physical dangers lurking in unexpected places. It all fits together very nicely.

Annie (Caity Lotz) is a young woman toughened by a difficult childhood and the subsequent trials of drug addiction and hard living. She and her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) grew up with a cruel and unstable mother, after whose recent death they now face the task of sorting out the family estate. Clearly neither one of them relishes the prospect of rekindling bygone memories. Annie is reluctant even to show up for the funeral, but at the urging of Nicole and their cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins), she consents.

By the time Annie shows up at her childhood home, Nicole has arrived at the house and gone missing under mysterious and frightening circumstances. Annie and Liz are worried, especially with Nicole’s young daughter in tow, and before they can settle on a plan of action, Liz goes missing from the house as well. Unlike your average, easily victimized horror movie heroine, Annie grabs her niece and gets the hell out right away. Unfortunately, she has trouble getting her story believed. A single rough-shod local cop (Casper Van Dien!) takes a tentative interest in her case, but clearly Annie will have to do most of the detective work herself.

Although by now she is terrified even to set foot in the house, she does her best to get to the bottom of the disappearances. Even as the ordeal taxes her stamina and self-possession, clues begin coming her way from seemingly otherworldly sources. It should come as no surprise that the house is haunted, but by what or whom? Furthermore, is the haunting the root of the problem, or merely a means by which to seek the underlying evil of Annie’s creepy little house?

The Pact is exceedingly dour and moody, but keeps things moving at an engaging pace. It prickles with long moments of dread and does not overindulge in cheap scares, although director Nicholas McCarthy could not resist a few here and there. The performances are good and the threads of the mystery elegantly twisted. It will be harder than average to guess the ending of The Pact, and even if you do it will be a delightful shock to watch the last loose ends unfold.

It has been a pleasure to offer you the fruits of the Halloween season, and I look forward to more spooky delights next year. It is my sincere wish that you and yours have a fun, safe, and relentlessly terrifying Halloween.

Halloween Home Video #3: V/H/S

by Dan Fields
First published October 12, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Promotional picture for horror anthology V/H/S

© 2012 Bloody Disgusting

For The Boozy Bash In Your Dorm Basement

V/H/S is the anthology you should have seen coming but probably did not. A team of hip, twisted young directors offer up a medley of shorts celebrating that troublesome new superfad, the “found footage” horror film. This is the shaky-camera, forced perspective, “faked to look real” style made popular by movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, which amateur directors are working to death in the low-budget horror market.

When Blair Witch hit the scene, the novelty of the idea (and very clever marketing) convinced some people that maybe what we were seeing could have happened. This ambiguity did not last long, and once gone the feeling was impossible to recapture. By the time Paranormal Activity ushered in a new found footage trend, audiences were in on the hoax but still eager to see what frightening tricks directors like Oren Peli could conjure. People are still paying good money to see these movies. And although there have been attempts to push the genre further, as in The Last Exorcism or the ambitious sci-fi tale Chronicle, the limitations of the genre make it hard for any but the most creative directors to serve up something new. Fortunately, the parties responsible for V/H/S approached their task with plenty of imagination. In record time, we have been sufficiently inundated with found footage style that subversion to the point of parody seems appropriate. V/H/S, in all its raw savage chaos, exemplifies both the best and the worst traits of found footage.

The shorts are woven together with a narrative about some ne’er-do-well pranksters sent to commit a bizarre burglary centered around a mysterious videotape. Searching stacks of tapes scattered around an eerily quiet house, they discover tale after tale of ghastly misadventures. Please note that despite the central conceit of a neglected tape stash, little if any of this movie originated in actual VHS form. The only reason malevolent forces might have dubbed these videos to the antiquated format is because it’s cooler and scarier than digital video. Like in The Ring. From a practical standpoint, it looks doubtful that any of these films has a perspective that could reasonably have been captured with a VHS camera. For those of you too young to have used one of those, it was some hefty chore. In order to focus on the best parts of V/H/S, first put from your mind any notion of real VHS tapes. It may be a half-baked style choice, but they made it and stuck to it. Just let it go.

According to the tradition of anthologies, from Black Sabbath to Creepshow to Trick ‘r Treat, not all the shorts in V/H/S are created equal. The most notable name in this mix is Ti West, director of the superb House Of The Devil (just to name his best). While West’s segment “Second Honeymoon” is not the most interesting or innovative in this collection, it demonstrates his proven knack for mining dread from quiet, mundane moments. Like a goodly portion of West’s work, it takes just a little too much of its own sweet time.

There are, in each segment, moments of true inspiration to balance the uneven pace and the over-reliance on “video interference” as a narrative gimmick. Despite the overall laxity of the storytelling, V/H/S repeatedly goes for the gut and pummels the nerve endings raw. Be warned: this is one violent, naked, gruesome movie. From the raunchy frat fable “Amateur Night” to the momentous events of “10/31/98,” via “Tuesday the 17th” and, yes, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger,” be prepared for some uncomfortable brushes with the lower orders of humanity. The hideous, the harmful, and the downright monstrous are on constant parade in V/H/S. Don’t split hairs; just have fun with it. The Exorcist and The Innocents and Kwaidan will still be there when you’re finished with V/H/S. Open your mind to a reasonable level of vulnerability, don’t think too hard about it, and against your better judgment you will probably enjoy yourself a whole hell of a lot.

Movie Review: Silent House

by Dan Fields
First published March 10, 2012 by the California Literary Review

A Poisoned Treat for Sick Puppies

Silent House is a fairly faithful re-staging of the Uruguayan horror thriller La Casa Muda, directed by Gustavo Hernández. In both films, a young woman and her father are fixing up a dilapidated family vacation home to sell it, only to discover secret horrors lurking in its dark corners. The scenario tidily seals its characters in a dilapidated, multi-level house with no phones or electricity, and uncertain means of exit. No good can come of that, as anyone who has seen a movie, or (heaven forbid) actually been trapped in a scary house, will know.

As far as Silent House goes in the remake department, those responsible have managed to pull the original film apart gently, sand off some rough corners, grease a few rusty plot twists, and present the humble horror tale in a more palatable form. Writer and co-director Laura Lau apparently realized that while La Casa Muda had several important scares worth preserving, the audience might appreciate a little more to digest. Continue reading