2013 - 76 minutes
Directed by: Jim Roof, Jay Lee
Written by: Jim Roof
Starring: Jim Roof, Shannon Malone, Larissa Lynch, Liz Burghdorf, Andrew Hopper
The House with 100 Eyes attempts to justify its tightly edited found footage gimmick with a very serious opening crawl. Several VHS tapes showing hours and hours of disturbing deeds were given to authorities, who dismissed the depravity as a hoax. Documentary filmmakers trimmed the videos to a compact 70 minutes or so to help warn us of the terrible things that can happen in our neighborhoods. Then we’re told we’re about to watch a real life snuff film. But, of course we’re not. We’re about to watch another tired translation of the found footage aesthetic, following phony evil people doing terrible things.
There’s definitely some promise with the premise narratively, but the artificial feel, and occasionally plain annoying filmmaking choices, saps the potential for effective dread. Ed (Jim Roof, who also wrote and co-directed) and Susan (Shannon Malone) live in what looks like a normal Los Angeles home. But this home has been outfitted with cameras everywhere and is sound-proofed so no one can hear the screams of the couples victim’s, coming from their basement torture chamber. The psychopathic couple records all of their murders and makes DVDs (but I thought VHS tapes were dropped off?) under a label called Studio Red.
Ed is determined to make his masterpiece – pick up three young victims, two female and one male, film them having sex and then record him and Susan murdering them. Apparently, three kills in one movie is the holy grail of snuff. When three teens are lured to the lair with the promise of $500 each, things being to unravel and don’t go as smoothly as planned.
The first half of the film is almost akin to a Christopher Guest mockumentary, with Ed going through the necessary items for an effective murder kit and the oven dining (Susan made Bundt cake!) right in the middle of one of his manic rants. The couple unsuccessfully trolls for victims (they call it “casting”), the black humor intended to show that it can sometimes be hard to be a psycho and quench your urge. The lucky souls who have no idea how close they came to being snuff stars are clearly acting (horribly) and shatter whatever illusion of truth existed to begin with. A select few smaller moments of dark humor work, including Ed making Susan taste dinner before feeding him because she’s had some bad history with ex-husbands. All of this comes after Ed’s story about torturing cats when he was a kid, so nothing he really says after that can be really funny.
The three doomed teens (Larissa Lynch, Liz Burghdorf, Andrew Hopper) never really become characters, staring a lot and saying little. Two of them even literally take an extended nap. When the torture begins it isn’t easy to watch, Roof and co-director Jay Lee not flinching when showing the cutting of flesh and breaking of bones. It’s also hard to watch and listen to due to incredibly loud and off-putting audio static during the moments of extreme gore. It’s all about reinforcing the lo-fi recording and adding to the terror, but it only irritates and doesn’t upset. Nudity is blurred out, so I guess the documentarians wanted the torturers and tortured to keep some semblance of dignity, which of course makes no sense.
Performances don’t aid the illusion, either. Malone’s ironically June Cleaver-esque housewife helps balance out Roof’s mania, but is one example of the movie trying too hard. It comes off as affected and not natural. When things start to fall apart – for the teens and the married murderers – there’s no method to the madness; no titillating, no cautioning, and no satirizing.
Strangely, a film that uses vérité as its main hook would’ve been better served by a more traditional production. The more we’re reminded that this is “real” and how f’d up it is because it’s real, the more fake it feels. Real evil exists, but the evils of The House with 100 Eyes are clearly manufactured.
The DVD of The House with 100 Eyes features commentary from the directors, a gag reel, and a trailer.