The found footage gimmick will not die, but two seasonal offers provide minor thrills
by Don Stradley
There is so much to like about The Houses October Built that I dread describing it as a painfully slight idea stretched out into a feature length movie, or as just another found footage tale with a grim ending.
Yet, there have been few horror movies in recent years that have been so watchable.
Give some credit to writer/director Eduardo Sanchez for trying to make Bigfoot scary again. The big critter is the star of Exists, a mildly interesting 'found footage' horror movie about five young people from Texas on a country getaway. As they ride through the backwoods to find an abandoned hideaway where they plan to do some partying, they accidentally hit an animal with their vehicle. The creature, whatever it is, seems to limp into the woods before any of them can get a look at it, though it leaves a nice chunk of fur on the front fender. It's not long before the five friends are being stalked and terrorized by what they believe is a genuine Sasquatch.
Sanchez was one of the creative forces behind The Blair Witch Project (1999), and he uses some of the same techniques here that made that earlier movie so thrilling. Unfortunately, what felt new back then feels rather old hat by now. There are many scenes shot through what feels like night vision glasses, a lot of choppy editing, and since everyone in the movie seems to own a camera, we get the standard found footage gimmicks, namely scenes where people are running and breathing heavily. It's tempting to give Sanchez a pass because he was there at the beginning of the found footage phenomenon, but the gimmick is deader than a doornail and he does nothing now that he didn't do 15 years ago.
The cast of Exists isn't given much to do besides call each other 'Bro,' and hide in the cabin and wait for Bigfoot to kill them. Roger Edwards, a 34-year-old black actor from Oakland, is perhaps the most annoying. He's probably the sort of actor who looks back at Steppin Fetchit and winces at the indignity of the stereotype, but doesn't realize that when he stands on the roof of the cabin and bellows at Bigfoot, "Hey, muthuhfuckuh, where you at?" he's nothing more than a modern stereotype that, with luck, will someday be scorned as well.
The one saving grace of the movie could be Bigfoot himself, played by Brian Steele, an unknown actor who has made a career out of playing various creatures since the 1990s, including a stint on the old 'Harry and The Hendersons' TV show where he played a friendlier version of Bigfoot. He's ferocious here, and because the cast is so drab, we end up rooting for him to gut them all. I also loved the sounds of Bigfoot howling in the forest. It was not only creepy and melancholy, but it was the best dialog in the entire movie.