United States. Directed by Jay Lee & Jim Roof, 2013. Starring Jim Roof, Shannon Malone, Larissa Lynch, Liz Burghdorf, Andrew Hopper. 75 minutes.
Two and a half years ago, I saw a movie called The House with 100 Eyes at the Chicago Horror Film Festival. The story of Ed (Jim Roof) and Susan (Shannon Malone), a married pair of serial killers who produce snuff movies under the banner Studio Red, it was a curious mix of found-footage and torture-porn. (If you want the tl;dr version of this review, go read my write-up of the festival.) I was a bit surprised to see it, after all this time, showing up on Artsploitation Films’ roster of summer 2015 video releases.
When I first saw it, I felt it had potential, but it also had a lot of problems. That hasn’t changed. Roof delivers a clever and insightful script that explores the sexual underpinnings of Ed and Susan’s relationship and individual psychoses, along with some social commentary. The major performances are all strong, the highlights being Malone and Larissa Lynch (as Final Girl and prospective victim Jamie). Roof is the loudest and most flamboyant, but he never goes too far over the top. Even Liz Burghdorf and Andrew Hopper, in cannon-fodder roles as (respectively) Jamie’s anxious friend Crystal and cocky boyfriend Clutch, are better than one might expect.
The problems largely come in the form of the direction, by Roof with Jay Lee (Zombie Strippers!, Alyce Kills) and cinematography. The found-footage format gives filmmakers a narrative device to explain footage clearly shot on consumer-grade cameras, but it comes with a caveat: the director, cinematographer and editor (likely the same person filling all three roles) must make certain that they compose and present every shot as if it were really happening. (Or at least, that’s how I feel: the acclaim for The Taking of Deborah Logan, which prominently features much footage that the camera crew wouldn’t have been able to get, proves this isn’t a universally-held opinion.) And it’s this element of the film that provides the most problems.
The most obvious example is the film’s approach to nudity: there simply isn’t any. Most of the time, the offending bits are just blurred out. That’s an odd approach to take to a film like this to begin with–a horror film whose setup specifically includes the victims lured into a trap on the premise that they’ll make a porn video–but it gets weirder when it’s time for the characters to actually Do the Deed. The blurring doesn’t do much to disguise the briefs Clutch obviously wears while he’s supposedly naked (and never mind that you can see several unblurred glimpses of them at a couple of points).
That’s just the most obvious example of the conceit failing. There are others: Ed instructs Jamie to take her top off for the camera, but the shot remains an ECU of her face while she does so. Hidden cameras abound throughout the house (the “hundred eyes” of the title); all the better to provide “behind-the-scenes” footage, but they pick up odd angles. For example, a cam installed in the shower aimed at the tops of occupants’ heads. (If you’re making a snuff-porn movie, what would even be the point of that?) Audio distortion makes its way onto the soundtrack seemingly at random, and at one point, a gunshot seems to deafen a camera’s microphone.
It’s possible that Roof and Lee intend The House with 100 Eyes as a meta-satire à la Funny Games, that the “mistakes” are not only intentional but part of the point of the entire enterprise. I don’t expect filmmakers to spoon-feed me everything, but if that’s indeed the case, I don’t feel Roof and Lee have done a good enough job of making it clear.