CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
Ed and Susan appear to be a normal loving couple, however, they are far from it. They are snuff filmmakers and want to make the first-ever triple feature: three victims, three kills, all in one night. In order to provide their fans with everything you’d get on a straight DVD, they have rigged their entire house with cameras and audio for your viewing pleasure. Ed’s plan slowly unravels and it all is captured on tape.
Directors: Jay Lee, Jim Roof. Screenplay: Jim Roof
Cast: Jim Roof, Shannon Malone, Larissa Lynch.
‘In June of 2000, documentary filmmaker Jay Lee received an anonymous package containing fifty-eight unmarked video tapes 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”. “You are about to witness the creation of a snuff film”.
Thus begins another found footage torture porn film in a world in which the market is oversaturated with found footage and torture porn films. Is The House with 100 Eyes something different or just simply more of the same?
Cue shaky hand-held video (for style-sake seemingly shot on the most outdated video camera ever made for that grainy ‘this is video’ look) of women in the street, would be victims of our wannabe killers, then Ed (Jim Roof) and Susan (Shannon Malone) in their basement torture chamber (something we see most weeks in The Following) checking sound levels on the camera and Ed telling us how he’s always seen himself as an artist, then into the usual to camera piece as Ed and Susan explain their calling and how their work is better than that of their tired and dull competitors. They’re going to give their audience all of the special features you’d get on a DVD: director’s commentary, behind the scenes, you name it. There are cameras all around their home (an explanation for the film’s title). The presentation is interrupted by the oven timer because Susan is making a cake. Ed’s concerned that he may have come off an on camera “asshole”. So, it looks like there may be humour in the film rather than the straight misery of your usual gore porn outing.
We get a voice over narration from Ed as to how he began his ‘career’ – killing cats in a cage (as you do). This house is his new cage and they plan to do “some terrible things here”. What follows is the story of Ed the amateur telling us the how-to of killing and the tools you’ll need (trash bags, cleaning products, duct tape, big knife, gun as a last resort etc.) It’s actually quite amusing and well played, then Ed and Susan go driving on the prowl for would-be victims, failing miserably and revealing Ed to be basically an angry man as they can’t find anybody decent to pick up, but happier when they eventually find two women and a man that are street walker/junkie/hustler types – beggars can’t be choosers and $50 is $50, but when the money’s not immediately forthcoming, even the three junkies take off.
But, when we see Ed at home, masturbating in front of his TV at footage of a woman he tortured and killed in his basement, any sense of satire disappears. After a sub – Taxi Driver narration, three hapless victims are found: two young women and a young guy (Jamie, Crystal and Clutch, who have been offered $500 each) and are taken back to Ed and Susan’s house. Crystal opts out, Ed seemingly taking her home (he doesn’t, knocking her out and taking her down to the basement), leaving the other two to stay with a darkening Susan to supposedly take part in a sex film for their money, with increasingly frustrating results for the clearly unhinged Ed, even with the inclusion of a previous victim (a limbless girl in a pet cage whose mind is now clearly warped). Then we enter torture porn territory as Ed starts slicing up the “fat girl”, entering into territory that will delight hardened misogynists that are watching in the audience or at home (if they can be bothered to wait almost 50 minutes into the film for it to happen).
The torture of the girl is supposed to be balanced with the injection of poison into the young guy Clutch by the clearly psychotic Susan, but who cares by this point? It’s as though the filmmakers think they’ve found some get-out-of-jail scene in terms of gender representation. Ed’s annoyed: “Nobody pays to watch a poisoning, they pay to watch violence”. Susan’s unhappy about his idea to have sex with one of the girls to get his “money shot” now that the guy is dead. Susan’s not happy because they took marriage vows and even less impressed that this isn’t the first time Ed’s had sex with a victim. It’s a bit late in the day to try the ‘black humour’ route film wise, but this is the logic of the character that it’s OK in her mind to kill people so long as you don’t screw around outside of marriage. In Ed’s mind, she’s a lousy wife who’s needy and bad in bed. The last girl standing turns the tables in a kind of redemptive ending, but by this point, who really cares?
Films such as Man Bites Dog and The Last Horror Movie had a sense of ‘you were laughing, but now you’re not” to them, allowing the audience to be drawn in and then question their own judgment and reaction to the material. The House with 100 Eyes initially seems to be going down that road before abandoning it to easy torture porn.
In the days since modern found footage films began (all children of the superior Cannibal Holocaust) the world has unfortunately witnessed snuff films for real in the form of beheadings videos posted online by terrorists. Once these grotesque images have been seen for research purposes, no fictionalised attempt can ever be seriously effective and are only done for attempted shock value to sell a horror film. Grainy video FX and the idea that these are real are simply becoming rapidly outdated and generic. Audiences may still be seeing this sub genre, but increasingly horror fans have tired of torture porn and treat so-called found footage as yet another on the pile. They know the tropes. The Blair Witch Project has never really been improved upon since its release. The Paranormal Activity franchise may be a cash cow for its producers, but they are still films in which basically nothing happens except sound cues. Somewhere there is a warehouse (like the type we used to see in The X-Files) where film production company departments keep shelves and shelves of cardboard boxes full of “found footage” just waiting to be edited into a feature film. Hopefully that warehouse burns to the ground (without any casualties, of course, but also including any torture porn scripts that are yet to be made), destroying it all and setting us on a new road of more imaginative horror. We can only hope.
Uninspired and surprisingly dull.
David Paul Hellings
Available from June 16 2015.
Images provided by Artsploitation Films & IMDb.