The House with 100 Eyes (2013) d. Jay Lee / Jim Roof (USA)
Susan (Shannon Malone) and Ed (Jim Roof) are a happily married, all-American couple with a dream: to make the ultimate snuff film. They desire to not only deliver an ambitious, quality product (their latest challenge is to produce a “triple feature” – a three-way sex/murder sequence – “Three stars, three kills”), but also create supplemental materials, behind-the-scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, etc. But as we soon discover, this whole serial killer thing isn’t as easy as it looks, and our enterprising self-taught auteurs are far from infallible, both on and off camera.
I don’t know if I would go so far, as Artsploitation’s new DVD release’s cover jacket proudly trumpets, to call this the “grisliest horror-comedy imaginable, especially for anyone who’s seen Man Bites Dog (2002) or The Last Horror Movie (2003) which two decades on are still exponentially funnier and more disturbing than anything on display here. However, Lee and Roof do manage a pretty decent job of creating a sense of realism and voyeurism, capturing the suburban killers at their most everyday and ordinary as they bloodily fumble their way through the task at hand. It’s like Married with Children gone horribly, horribly wrong.
House is a true family affair (our two leads are married in real life), with Roof handling screenwriting and co-directing duties – as well as playing our bullying weasel Ed – and Malone producing. The faux documentary approach hardly breaks new ground, but is admittedly handled quite well with the security camera set-ups in the happy couple’s home well justified. (Kudos to Lee, who shot the entire film on a single Canon 7D, with the illusion of dozens of GoPros, different camera lenses, and digital static and other effects all created in post-production. It’s an impressive invisible effect.)
Unfortunately, as pointed out above, this has been done before. Like, LOTS OF TIMES, especially in this lousy-with-found-footage era. So, any seasoned horror fan isn’t going to see anything here they haven’t seen before, and all the build-up can’t help but create expectations that your little DIY flick can’t match. I don’t know how versed in the genre Lee and Roof are, because they really seem to think they’ve crossed some line into truly disturbing and depraved material on the audio commentary. (There’s also this passage from the “Directors’ note” on the liner notes: “House isn’t a movie you enjoy, exactly. We hope you appreciate it. We hope it has an impact on you, and that you remember it long after it’s over. But enjoy? Not really.”) This kind of hyperbolic blather can’t help but come back and bite you in the ass, kids.
To wit: an opening title card explains that “In June of 2000, documentary filmmaker Jay Lee received an anonymous package containing fifty-eight unmarked videotapes and DVDs. The footage they contained was so shocking and depraved that law-enforcement agencies and media outlets declared it a hoax. The film you are about to see has been edited from that footage. We believe it to be real. It is being released to the public in order to expose the atrocities being committed in our own neighborhoods.”
I’m sorry, but YAWN. Cue the eye-rolling, scoffing, and coughing from the peanut gallery.
Now, this is not to diminish their accomplishments, because on the whole, this isn’t a bad film. The performances, especially Malone as the perfect twisted Betty Crocker wife with a penchant for poisoning, are all solid and relatively believable, and Patrick Magee’s gore effects work a treat.
There is also decidedly more thought put into the whole mockumentary approach than usual, providing a bona-fide for where the footage might have come from and how it might have come to be assembled and distributed. Then there’s our weird stumpy character Maddie (Lauren Lakis), a marvelous in-camera gag from Magee and a welcome curve ball amidst the familiar torture film tropes.
Lee and Roof also make the “legit journalism” choice to blur out the nudity on the victims (and in one memorably icky sequence, Ed’s dork). The drama is strong overall, and despite the overt unpleasantness of the characters, we do grow attached to all of them to some degree.
However, like their onscreen counterparts, the filmmakers err at times, such as the buzzing audio static that is a) way too choreographed to be bought as diegetic sound and b) why are there static and camera flaws anyway? Why would the picture get all fuzzy and screwed up on the master camera, the presumably good one? It makes no sense, and, more importantly, the screeching gets really frickin' annoying.
To further shatter the façade, our “nude” victims are clearly wearing flesh colored underwear. I mean, COME ON, GUYS. You come at us with all your hardcore warnings and you can’t even get your actors to lose their drawers? I mean, WE CAN SEE IT. IN SEVERAL SHOTS. It’s a problem, especially for a supposedly found footage piece. And if we can see it, then so could you, which means you chose to just let it go and hoped no one would notice, which curries no goodwill from here.
|Click to enlarge photo and see the waistbands in all their glory.|
Returning to the plus side of the scale, there’s the Lee/Roof audio commentary track, in which the directors unveil quite a number of interesting DIY innovations and justifications for their narrative choices, which viewers may or may not agree with, but at least they were bona-fide choices instead of just laziness. The other extras include a “Studio Red” gag reel (the “outtakes” from Ed and Susan’s previous handiwork), SR’s “sizzle reel,” and a promotional trailer (which contains much of the sizzle reel material).
As you’ve probably surmised, this is a mixed bag offering for whom the target audience is a bit of a mystery. On the one hand, Lee and Roof have managed to make a competent found-footage torture film. On the other, so have dozens of other enterprising independents. Sooooo, if that’s your bag, then by all means, pick this one up. But beyond that presumably (hopefully?) small cadre, I can’t advise any discriminating horror fan to knock on this House’s door.
The House with 100 Eyes is available June 16 from Artsploitation Films, and can be pre-ordered HERE: