The Interview October Built: A Chat With Genre Icon Bobby Roe

Image courtesy of Bobby Roe

BJ: I hope this doesn’t sound like a ‘gotcha’ question: did you guys get any backlash from friends or family when you told them you were filming a movie then?

Bobby: No. We didn’t, but most people didn’t know. The two villains in the movie are good friends of mine, and they came and helped, and we were like, you’re in masks, and that’s all I told them. Then I gave them actual horror masks and a gas mask that they were going to have to wear. They were great! It’s funny—back to sports, Nick Lyon, who’s the bald skull guy, he used to play for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Todd MacCulloch, who is the big fellow that comes in with the gas mask, he’s an ex-NBA player and over seven feet tall. That’s the one mistake I would actually take back is casting Todd and Nick. Nick is 6′ 5″, so you don’t get to see the height differential the way I envisioned it ’cause there wasn’t a big casting call for it. I needed to use what I had, and that was part of the ground of the movie. But they were both awesome and went with whatever I needed them to do. They were great assets to the movie.

BJ: So you’re still plugged into the sports world?

Bobby: Yeah. There’s a lot of guys I played with that I enjoyed watching throughout the years. Chase Utley is one of—probably the best example I played with, who will hopefully one day be in the hall of fame. The sports side of things was such a huge part of my life and a huge part of college. Those guys are great, and we still do something together each year. Every year we have an annual UCLA baseball trip, where we go somewhere.

BJ: Before moving on to The Houses October Built, was there anything else you wanted to add about Isolation? Will that be getting a physical or VOD release?

Bobby: The VOD release is going to be, I think, November 1st or the first week of November.

Brandy is trapped in the trunk at the climax of Houses 1
Brandy is trapped in the trunk at the climax of Houses 1.

BJ: Now, the movie I’m sure everyone is really interested to hear you talk about: The Houses October Built. You made a film that quickly became a cult classic, immediately. I don’t know if it felt like that to you. Where did the idea for this movie come from?

Bobby: It stems all the way back from the idea of, “Does a tree make a sound in the forest when it falls and no one’s around?” Zack and I used to always talk about, well, have you ever seen a dead body in a haunted house? This seems like a far-out question, but you can’t answer it. You don’t know. I mean everything is literally created to be as real as possible in those things. They sell body scents, like a corpse’s scent that you can break like a stink bomb. That idea was kind of the premise we wanted to work around, but what we wanted to also make sure of is, with a lot of found footage, the characters are like cardboard cutouts. You can tell they don’t know each other. We wanted to make sure to course correct that problem with chemistry. That’s a big deal. I think you need to also care about somebody before you kill them [off]. It works in stories. Even if you hate someone, then the kill in the movie is paid off, and people feel satisfied.

Casting friends, and my own brother, I think was a start and shortcut to kind of have that chemistry already rocking and rolling by day one. We wanted to make sure we shot in real places. I remember the studio wanting to build sets for these haunts. I said you couldn’t possibly replicate this, and they were talking about casting for so-and-so. I was like no, I want to use scare actors because some of these guys and girls have perfected something for ten years. They have their own dialect. Their own look. Their own costumes. They’ve made it, and it’s their character. And they own it! Why would I ever bring in somebody to try and catch up with that in three weeks? It didn’t make any sense.

The Haunt community has been awesome; they’re family. We learned that real quick. Being around them and so many different types of haunts, different locations, and watching how locations build the haunts was super interesting, just going throughout America. We just wanted to make the most authentic movie you can until it’s not. We took—I know I’ve said this before—but we took a Borat approach, as opposed to Blair Witch. Blair Witch is fake from frame one; Borat is not. Even though it sounds like a weird comparison, with it being a comedy, we took the same approach. We peppered in Blue Skeleton throughout both movies, and people had heard of it. A lot of that is very organic, their answers. In every one of those interviews, you see it peppered through. All of those interviews are completely authentic.

The whole Haunt world was very inviting. […] I promised to highlight them the best I could. It’s our love letter to Halloween. The scare actors and the sets they build are incredible. Absolutely incredible. I don’t think people give them enough credit. Hopefully, we’ve kind of shown the world a small piece of that.

BJ: That pretty much answered my next question about whether the Haunts were actually real Haunts. When you’re talking to the people at the Haunts, those are real conversations.

Bobby: Correct. Basically, I would give the actors direction of A to D. I don’t care what you do in B and C, just get us to D. Because these audibles are going to have to come into play. They’re going to have to make calls on the way somebody else reacts but keep with the spirit of what we’re trying to do and make it as authentic as possible. Your directions are bookends. Just start here and end here. Whatever happens in between, sometimes you get magic. Sometimes somebody says, “We’re close to gang-r*ping these people.” When he says that line, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Some of the stuff out of these guys’ mouths, if I wrote it on paper for a character in a feature script, you’d throw it out and say, “No one would ever say that.” That would never happen in real life. But they did.

The crew is moments away from being captured by the Blue Skeleton
The crew is moments away from being captured by the Blue Skeleton

BJ: One of my notes when I rewatched it last week was that the dialogue feels too natural. I feel like there are so many found footage movies that try and make something feel like a documentary, and then it fails miserably. You guys, it really feels like you just set up a bunch of cameras and all this crazy stuff happens. And you deliver it to us on a platter.

Bobby: There’s a scene with, it’s funny ’cause you’ll hear people call it out sometimes like why is this in there, and it was kind of a fight to keep it in there, the scene where we read Jeff’s poem that he wrote. What I’ve kind of learned from this is an inside joke doesn’t need to be that you understand the joke, you just need to understand as the audience that we get the joke. Therefore the chemistry is tight-knit, and you understand we have history. I think that leaving some of that fat on in a movie Houses where you’re trying to somewhat dupe the audience the fat works because if it’s cut too thin by the bone you smell it out. You feel it. You’re like okay we’re hitting all the beats we’re supposed to but when I start taking away those beats that you know should be there then it starts to feel a little more real. Like is this real? Could it be snuff? I wanted you to be a tad uneasy. Hopefully, it came across.

BJ: It did, very much! The opening [news] scenes, was that real footage?

Bobby: Yes. We got a bunch of news footage. There’s maybe one element in there we had to fabricate cause we didn’t have a picture. But yes those are from real news reports and real Haunt videos.

BJ: While you were filming the first one, how willing were the Haunts to have you come out and film? I’m not too sure about the logistics of filming inside of a Haunt. Were they cool to have you guys come out, were there things that you guys had to do before you could go in and film there?

Bobby: I don’t know if you know, there are three versions. The Houses movie before the Houses movie. We made it. Then the studio bought it, and we remade the same movie with a much bigger budget.

BJ: That was in 2011 right?

Bobby: Right. So at that time, we were a super small crew, nobody knew who we were to even trust us to do it. I really appreciate all those Haunts that did that. It’s funny, we had some discussions with some of those guys the past couple of weeks about the Haunt Society, which we started. It was so great because these guys, some of them we haven’t talked to in several years and they were like you came out to the Haunt. You said you were going to do something. You executed it. And they really admired that from a business standpoint. It was a gamble for us, and it was a gamble for them. We didn’t know, and we didn’t let them in on everything, obviously, but I was very upfront that we’re going to give your Haunt a platform. That it would be on screen. Even Bloody Disgusting had us do a map of everywhere we went so people could come to follow, which I thought was really cool. The whole Haunt world was very inviting, but you still have to have your guard up a little bit. I get it, it’s their business. I promised to highlight them the best I could. It’s our love letter to Halloween. The scare actors and the sets they build are incredible. Absolutely incredible. I don’t think people give them enough credit. Hopefully, we’ve kind of shown the world a small piece of that.

BJ: It does feel like a love letter. I’m probably just gushing at this point, but it’s fantastic. One issue I have with a lot of found footage movies is they’re rife with jump scares that aren’t even actual scares. One of the things that I think you guys do really well is you give the jump scares a reason to exist by being inside a Haunt. It doesn’t feel cheap or like a gimmick.

Bobby: I’m glad you see it that way. When you make something that you want to be as real as possible, it’s tough because you…well, it’s why we have Zack’s character say right before we go to New Orleans at the end of Houses 1, he’s like, “What are you scared of, what has actually really happened?” I needed him to talk for the audience in that scene because for anyone that’s like, “I would have gone home,” why? Why would you have fully gone home? Nobody had seen the footage except for my character and Zack’s character of them coming in the RV.

One thing I had to remove, I remember the studio in post [production] put blood on the lens for this scene, and I had to remove it. The second you see blood, the audience is gone. I’ve lost you on all that realism that we would have had. With the jump scares, and with found footage, I think a lot of people, and I mean this especially to Brandy who had to put a lot on her shoulders for both these movies, but an actor in a found footage movie doesn’t get the luxury of different angles. Or different takes. It doesn’t really work that way. If I cut that movie up, it’s not going to feel right. You need to get it right on everything. I think that’s a testament, especially to her. She did an incredible job, she lets you get your guard down and did that with everyone she interviewed. I think that is a great talent she has; she’s the anchor to both those movies.

BJ: She does a fantastic job! How do you feel with…well, the found footage subgenre, even more than slashers, seems to have the most die-hard fan group. And I would assume that has a correlation with the Haunt community. How do you feel with the outpouring of love for your movie from these die-hard fans?

Bobby: It’s amazing. Each Halloween it resurfaces like there’s a new audience each fall, which is really cool to be in people’s rotation for Halloween. It’s been awesome. You know what, it’s been funny because both movies are divisive to some people. They want a bow wrapped around their story sometimes, and I can’t give you that. If I do, we’re going to lose a lot of the real factor. It’s hard to keep that up. I like a movie like Lake Mungo is probably one of the best examples of found footage done right—it’s fantastic. There are moments in that that, to keep the realism, you can’t make that movie perfect or you’ll lose it. I hope audiences see it that way and understand why we do what we do. The people that don’t like found footage are like, “Oh, the jerky cameras, and what are they doing, I could do that better.” There’s just so much more that goes into it.

BJ: It’s like okay, then do it!

Bobby: You have a phone! Go for it!

BJ: Was a Part 2 always planned? Or was it based on the popularity of the first one?

Bobby: We always, well, actually, we have about four designed on what this whole arc of the group and Blue Skeleton and where that comes from. It was always the idea. We always wanted to cliffhang the first one. I always give this example because some people are like, “Well, what about Halloween?” And for me, it was Karate Kid that stuck out. Daniel Russo leaves the tournament in the first one, and then we watch Part 2, and he’s going out to the parking lot. I love the idea that three years go between the release of those two movies, and it feels like you didn’t leave Daniel and Johnny at all—it’s them leaving the tournament.

I liked a movie like that where you could watch both together as one. I kind of always designed 1 and 2 to be that way. Sure, there’s this shock value that’s taken away from some of it in 2, but ultimately, these movies are Halloween adventure movies before straight horror. Trying to build a big cinematic Haunted House through these stories—that’s what it is. A Haunted House doesn’t exactly mean four walls and a roof. A Haunted House is an experience, and I think there are many, many different ways to do that. People have gotten incredibly creative, from escape rooms to immersive theatre, so I put all that under the Haunted House umbrella.

A bird's eye view of the setting for the climax
A bird’s eye view of the setting for the climax.

BJ: Going off that, in one of the scenes in The Houses October Built 2, you guys are in Anoka, MN. I think it’s interesting that Halloween has spawned many things from zombie runs to zombie pub crawls. One of the funniest scenes in Houses 2 is when you guys go to the eating contest with Kobayashi. Was that a real contest?

Bobby: Brains. Veal brains. Yes, it was.

BJ: And you guys actually participated?!

Bobby: Yeah. The throw-up scene is real.

BJ: That was my next question!

Bobby: It was disgusting. But Kobi’s been great! I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story, but we were doing the eating competition…well, the big thing about Houses 2 was we tried to show different facets of Halloween. If I went and did the Haunts again, and as incredible as they are, I didn’t want it to feel like another labyrinth in the dark. How else can we show Halloween celebrations? So we got the zombie 5K, the zombie pub crawl, the eating competition, and in all that makeup is catered to the Halloween crowd ’cause we were eating brains: brain tacos. They were pretty raw and disgusting. But the competitive side of me went, “Oh wait, if I get to go toe to toe with the best eater on planet Earth, I don’t care if he’d wipe the floor with me.” I finished 18, and he finished 52. The fact is I got to go in the ring with Tyson for just a second, and that was cool. So did my brother!

If you watch closely, he pukes in a Dixie cup and quits. That was all very real. We didn’t know how it was all going to pan out because we were doing the competition. They invited us out, knowing we were going to do this whole scene, but we couldn’t get a hold of Kobi. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t have the normal agent route. It’s the night before shooting. Myself, Zack, and Mikey were out to dinner. The crew wasn’t coming until the next morning. We were just out, and in typical Mikey fashion, he was hitting on the waitress and asking, well, told her he was here ’cause we were making a movie and that we were doing the brain-eating competition the next day. She goes, “You’re going against Kobayashi?” We’re like, “Yeah we are, we hope so,” but we didn’t have the release from him, so we thought we were going to have to shoot around him. She goes, “Oh, he’s inside eating dinner.” I mean we’re in Minneapolis, who knows how many restaurants there are. The chances of him being a hundred feet away from us the night before we needed to get in contact with him were insane.

We went over there, he invited us to sit down for dinner and said he’d always wanted to be in a horror movie, let’s talk. Ever since then, we’ve kept close contact, and he’s been awesome. He did a live run-through of Blood Manor in New York for u; he’s wearing all the Houses gear and stuff like that. He’s a really interesting guy and has an incredible story, if you’ve ever seen his 30 for 30 on ESPN. I highly recommend it—it’s really interesting, it humanizes someone that people think just shoves hot dogs down his throat, and there’s so much more to it. He’s a really interesting guy. It’s a cool relationship that kind of came out of nowhere.

The crew goes up against the one and only Kobayashi in a race to eat veal brains
The crew goes up against the one and only Kobayashi in a race to eat veal brains.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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