The found footage approach to low-budget filmmaking has been around long enough to be used in all sorts of fun and clever ways, each attempt toeing the line between committing to the gimmick and admitting it. We’ve witnessed ghostly activity on home surveillance equipment (“Paranormal Activity”) and a giant monster trashing New York on a bystander’s camcorder (“Cloverfield”), so it makes sense that the found footage concept has now given us a fake snuff film. Hell, it’s probably not the first, but The House with 100 Eyes certainly wants to be the first and its eagerness to tell such a story is in itself somewhat off-putting.
Then again, anyone sitting down in front of a movie that ominously opens with a title card stating that you are about to witness the creation of a snuff film should have a good idea of what they’re getting themselves into. And that’s the thing about a flick like The House with 100 Eyes; it makes no bones about being what it is, thus rendering criticisms of its depravity somewhat moot.
That doesn’t make it a good or recommendable movie, though. Even in the realm of decidedly low expectations where found footage flicks mainly reside, The House with 100 Eyes is a bit of a blunder, more gross than scary in terms of the horror and not all that convincing in terms of the faux reality. This certainly isn’t found footage pioneer “Cannibal Holocaust,” which could legitimately make even tough seen-it-all viewers squeamish and inspire them to question the truth behind the footage.
Directors Jay Lee (“Zombie Strippers!”) and Jim Roof build up to the main event well enough with their introduction of serial killer couple Ed (Roof again, who also wrote the script) and Susan (Shannon Malone), whose pleasant-seeming suburban house is outfitted with loads of hidden cameras. They’re planning a particularly gruesome triple feature torture-a-thon and they’re so giddy about it that they walk us through their plans and procedures.
It’s all pretty disturbing stuff, mainly because Roof has clearly put a lot of thought into this, but the main performances are okay enough that they don’t totally ruin the illusion and the scenes where the couple patrols the streets in their van, looking for a trio of victims, at least achieve an eeriness. For a short feature, The House with 100 Eyes takes it time getting to the punchline, which might instill a sense of dread in any viewing trying to predict what Lee and Roof must have in store for us.
But once the victims have been scooped up and we learn they’re a group of homeless teens looking to cash in on what’s being sold to them as an amateur porn shoot at Ed and Susan’s house, the movie adopts a somewhat pathetic vibe. It’s still not particularly scary, because even though the movie’s disclaimer at the start warns us of the horrors unfolding in our neighborhoods, all Ed and Susan can muster up in terms of snuff stars are three teens desperate for money.
The story just feels sad at this point and the story still drags on further, teasing out the inevitable in a manner that no longer feels suspense-driven and just seems like stalling. When things do finally go south, Lee and Roof apparently lose confidence in their straightforward in-our-face approach and decide to throw in multiple plot twists, all of which feel wholly derivative and uninteresting. Characters start making dumb decisions (well, dumber than before) and the big build-up seems to fizzle as if Lee and Roof got cold feet about really taking the concept as far as it could go.
Of course, complaining about the amount of gore in a faked snuff film is either futile or ridiculous. If there’s too much, well, of course it’s bloody, but if there’s too little, uh, why are you begging for more, sicko? This is the strange place where The House with 100 Eyes exists, practically immune from criticism, but too lame and unimaginative to truly earn a pass.
Despite this wishy-washiness, though, the problems with the movie seem pretty clear by the end. What starts off as something that wants to make us believe in the disgusting terror of a true snuff film slowly devolves into a nearly generic thriller that ties up its ends a little too neatly. But there are a few good moments here and one character introduction in particular shouldn’t be spoiled for anyone still intrigued enough to sit through this thing.
It’s just an uphill battle for grindhouse gore flicks that want nothing more than to gross us out because we’re living in a world that has already seen the likes of “Cannibal Holocaust” and “The Human Centipede 2.” Depravity probably knows no bounds, but those movies skirt pretty close to the edge. It’s hard to find much use for The House with 100 Eyes then, even though falling short of being the next “The Human Centipede 2” should really only be seen as a good thing. So The House with 100 Eyes finds itself in a lose-lose situation; it’s only fitting that it puts its audience in one as well.