Beginning in the last week of October, Audiences Everywhere will be continuing its Horrortown series of interviews with renowned horror directors in which we will discuss current and upcoming films, and also get the artists’ take on the contemporary horror.
The Houses October Built is a found footage movie that saw theatrical release initially in 2014 and served as the directorial debut of Bobby Roe. Alongside his childhood friend, creative collaborator, and co-star Zack Andrews, their horror film examined some of the surreal and frightening world and profession of operating and working as performers in haunted house attractions across the country. The film has since become something of a cult hit among genre fans subsequent to its released on home video, and we recently had the opportunity to discuss the making of the production in depth with Roe and Andrews as a part of our Horrortown interview series with budding talents in the horror genre.
Sean K. Cureton (AE): You both obviously hold haunted houses in high regard. What about them is interesting to you?
Zack Andrews: Well it’s kind of how we grew up. We both are from Texas, and Dallas is actually the haunted house capital of the world. So we would got to haunted houses in tenth grade, and then go see a horror film after, and so it was just a nice way to kind of have a full night of fun in the Halloween season. We just kind of always had a love for them, and then we moved to LA and Bobby [Roe] ended up playing baseball at UCLA. But when he was done and I was done with school, we came out here and just wanted to bring something to the screen that really hadn’t been shown. So we just dove into a past love of ours, which was the haunted house world.
AE: Would you say that there might be an element of collaborative fantasy that makes haunted houses compelling as filmmakers specifically?
Bobby Roe: I think so. I think maybe it’s [that] you see people at some time wanted 3D, and now it’s almost virtual reality. People kind of want a little more immersive experience and I think you get that firsthand. You get to go toe-to-toe with whatever monster or whatever theme they have at a haunted house. So I think that fantasy element almost transports you even further than a movie does sometimes. You’re actually put in that environment, and that’s really neat for us because frankly most people if they don’t fear for their life or feel very, very scared, they want their money back. And we kind of like that kind of world, and it’s growing each year and getting a little more and more creative, and maybe even insane.
AE: There’s a lot of documentary footage throughout The Houses October Built that you used from actual haunted house attractions, and you spoke to a number of workers there. How did you go about assembling the footage, and did any of the subjects directly influence the script?
BR: We definitely did. In 2011, which is kind of cool for some of the fans out there, the original The Houses October Built is much more documentary in style [and] is on the Blu-ray as a special feature. And that is kind of how we approached it, in a very much, kind of Borat influence, and we wanted to put ourselves in the environment with real people, but yet telling the narrative at the same time. So there’s a lot of that footage that we kind of built together, and then when the studio came on board down the road it became a little bit bigger and a little more straight line narrative as opposed to the doc. They’re both very interesting movies. The original’s very raw, but we kind of wanted it that way. We wanted to have that kind of look and feel. We really kind of delve deep into the haunt world and there’s a lot more interviews, too.
AE: Subsequent to the release of the 2014 film, you also made a documentary feature called America’s Scariest Haunted Houses to be used as marketing material. What do you think that adds that The Houses October Built doesn’t have?
BR: Oh. We never made that. That was a map for Bloody Disgusting that they asked us [to make]. So basically it was more of a map showing America’s scariest haunts around the world, or around the country, actually, for this one. And then they ended up doing the UK version of that as well. But that was kind of us more giving our list of best haunts in the country to explore in Halloween. So it wasn’t actually a documentary, it’s just kind of a map.
ZA: We had rented an RV, and went across the country, and so we’d been to a lot of those places. Then inevitably we would end up talking to people just about haunted houses, and when places got mentioned more than once to us, we were like, okay, that’s got to be a place that, even though we haven’t got a chance to see it, we’re looking forward to going there. And so we would add those places onto the map, too, just for the entire country.
AE: Were there any locations that you visited that blurred the line too closely between fantasy and reality for you or the rest of the cast?
BR: The studio had us do a press tour for the movie when it came out. We actually went to different haunts, but it was more starting from California and going all the way to Texas. Then we premiered up at Telluride. So we kind of went all down the southwestern United States going to new haunts in each state. So we would talk to the haunt owner and get a little bit more up close and personal with the scare actors, which is fun because they’re pretty underappreciated I think in their occupation. And they work really hard. So it’s kind of cool for them to see themselves on screen and they actually were kind of thankful that we kind of highlighted what they do, because a lot of people don’t know that.
But that brought us to a haunt in New Mexico. It got pretty insane, and they separated us and we each ended up kind of having our own experience. But what was pretty nuts was we had shotguns pulled on us. And when you feel, we were blindfolded, and when you feel cold steel on your chest, you know exactly what it is even though you can’t see it. And that was pretty frightening. And then Mikey [Roe], who’s in the movie as well was with us, and he went down a different hallway, had a completely different experience, and he was blindfolded and kicked off of about a ten foot cliff, which ended up being into a Styrofoam pit. But at the time when you’re blindfolded and you don’t feel the floor anymore, you feel like you’re falling a hundred feet. And that was pretty scary, and they said that they had, what was it, Zack, like seventy-two “piss outs,” they called it for the year? People would piss their pants and had to be exited out.
ZA: When your head is in a guillotine and they bring out a blade, you don’t know if it’s real or not, and that can be pretty scary.
AE: Were there any specific locations or memories from past haunt experiences that went into creating the Blue Skeleton, [the final haunted house attraction], in The Houses October Built?
BR: No, I think a lot of it was isolation is what is so scary to me, and I think everybody has their own fears. But once you start separating people you’re really, really uncomfortable. And then for some people if you’re just solely in the dark, that idea of whatever you’re scared of is possibly in that room with you. So we kind of just basically built things around our own fears and what would scare us. Or what we thought would generally frighten people, and kind of give [each of those fears] a different experience. So it’s kind of a collaboration of haunts.
AE: What films first made or inspired you both in making horror films? Or was it a movie in another genre entirely?
BR: Cannibal Holocaust really influenced me in a different way. The way they’re kind of ahead of the curb. I think Blair Witch gets a lot of credit for that. And I know Cannibal Holocaust isn’t wholly a faux-doc type of movie, but there’s a lot of elements of that. That was really interesting what they did, and then to find out that the director was arrested after the premiere, and just kind of the pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes like that in 1980, that was always really neat to me. So that kind of always stuck with horror.
ZA: And we’ve always looked at The Houses October Built, you know everyone always makes the comparison to Blair Witch, but to answer your question about a movie from another genre, we actually modeled this more after Borat because we wanted to use, you know Blair Witch is fake from frame one, whereas Borat they actually went and used real people and just spun things they way they needed to do it. And so I think that was more of our model. People will direct message us and ask how we made these stages, and we always are like, ‘No, no. You can actually Google these haunted houses. They really exist. And if you want to take a tour the same way we did in the movie, you can do that.’ And that was really important to us to use real places and real people the same way Borat did.
AE: What would you like to see more of in new horror movies, and what projects are you hoping to work on in the future to explore those territories?
BR: I think scaring people in a different way. I’m pretty tired of the same regurgitated stuff that keeps coming out that seems to be the basic story line, or you hear the logline, and think, ‘Well, haven’t I literally seen that movie one hundred times, every which way?’ That’s bothering me a lot, because I feel there’s almost every other weekend you get something along those lines. So I just hope that people start using a different subject matter. That’s what was important for us. We found out that thirty-five million people a year go to haunted houses, but nobody had put it on the big screen before. So that was a way that I think there is a fan base, we already know that, but yet why not try to give a scary film, or different kind of genre film, using that as a base. So I think that the well is not dry, there’s just different ways to scare people.
AE: If there were a horror director Mt. Rushmore, whose faces would you want to see etched into a mountain face?
BR: That’s a great question. I’ve never been asked that before. On influences, probably for us, I would definitely have, the problem is that they’re probably obvious, but I’d have the Wes Craven. I would have John Carpenter.
ZA: Definitely throw in James Wan for his work present day. He’s to me the new gold standard.
BR: Yeah, the way he shoots, and the way, the ambiance he gives to the audience I think is what’s so scary. He does a good job. It feels weird putting somebody I guess that new up in stone, but I’m sure he’s going to give us a lot more.
ZA: You probably have to go [Alfred] Hitchcock.
BR: Yeah, yeah, I think I agree with that. I would put Hitchcock in there. So that would be, that would probably be a good solid four.
AE: Is there a well-known, popular, or classic horror movie that you’re willing to admit that you don’t understand, or just don’t enjoy?
BR: That’s another good question. Any thing you think of, Zack? 1980s, 1990s, that just doesn’t resonate?
ZA: I’m trying to think of something that doesn’t hold up. We’ll have to think about that for a second.
BR: Yeah, because I actually like that question. I’m sure there are, but there’s a lot of things that we try to, it’s not as much critique, but learn from. Right? And taking other peoples mistakes, and it’s very easy to step back and judge somebody’s work once it’s finished. But the hardest thing to do is start it from square one. So you always feel that you could make every movie five to ten percent better. But that’s just unfair to do to someone who created it from the first word on the page. But yeah, I’ll have to think about that. That’s a good question.
AE: Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming or working horror filmmakers that you think deserve more attention or might be unknown?
BR: Well, I haven’t seen the new Blair Witch yet. Zack and I actually had a take on it that we wanted to kind of reboot it. But when I saw that Adam Wingard was doing it, I thought that, you know what, I really enjoyed The Guest. I think he gets genre well. He knows what he wants to do. I’m very interested to see what he does in the future. But I think that he’s a really good director, and it’s not as much from You’re Next. I probably didn’t see that the same way that everybody else did, but it was The Guest that really kind of stuck with me on how his attention to detail. So I’m really curious to see what he did with Blair Witch.
ZA: I’d say Fede Alvarez, as well. Don’t Breathe is probably my favorite movie of the year. And Evil Dead I didn’t like as much as Don’t Breathe, but there’s clearly a lot of good stuff there, and I’m looking forward to a sequel of that as well.
AE: The Houses October Built utilizes found footage as a trope with restraint and finesse, but some people might see it more as a gimmick. What horror tropes do you think could be done away with?
BR: It’s hard, because found footage, if you’re not careful with it, I get that people roll their eyes to it now because it’s just over saturated. But I think when it’s used the right way, and that’s what we tired to do, as much as we could make it a real experience, and kind of going back to the roots of that word and that genre. But I think a lot of people use it just for budgetary constraints. And I don’t think it should be done that way. If the story fits and it makes sense and it’s organic to do it that way, do it. We wrestled with the idea of blood and violence, because it’s a little tough to do when you’re dealing with found footage because your characters would pack their shit and go home. So I think that people really don’t sit back and think. We try and make sure that there’s a reason for every single camera and a reason why you don’t put the camera down. And that’s probably why we’re a little more of a slow burn compared to other films in that area because we wanted to make sure that you stayed on board with our characters and believe that they would not go home just yet, because I think as Zack’s character says in the movie, is that everyone needs to calm down. Nothing’s actually really happened yet. And the line has not been crossed. So when you cross it we have to make sure it’s a point of no return. But I think a lot of people don’t think out their entire plan in found footage, and it’s a shame. Because I do think it kind of has a bad name lately, and there’s other stories that can be told that way as well.
AE: What would be your response to anyone who might say that there aren’t any good horror movies these days?
BR: I think with the world of Netflix out there, there are so many independent films that I think that there’s something for everybody, and even if they’re on the smallest scale that they kind of tap into what people are afraid of. So I think that they need to do some digging before that happens because I think a lot of the mainstream stuff deters them from horror, because whether they feel that it’s recycled or what, they need to do some digging because there’s a lot of stuff out there. And even if they do think that it’s kind of stale, then they should go back thirty years and find some of those lesser known movies. I think there are a lot of interesting things out there that I think the younger generation has never watched because you can’t stream them as easily. You kind of maybe just have to go get the DVD, go get The Criterion Collection, and kind of watch something like that again or for the first time. But there’s definitely something for everybody out there. You’ve just got to do some digging.
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