Color, 2013, 75m.
Directed by Jay Lee and Jim Roof
Starring Jim Roof, Shannon Malone, Larissa Lynch, Liz Burghdorf, Andrew Hopper, Lauren Lakis
Artsploitation (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The evocative title of this found-footage horror film should be a clue that there's a bit more going on here than your average shakycam fare, and fortunately that turns out to be the case for the majority of The House with 100 Eyes. Essentially running with a basic concept explored way back in the controversial French film Man Bites Dog, what we have here is an edited journal of an ambitious project by a married couple specializing in committing brutal snuff murders and selling them on the online black market (or so we're led to assume by their talk of an audience). Ed (co-director and writer Roof) has big dreams of revolutionizing his craft by pulling off the unprecedented feat of a "triple feature," three murders committed on innocent people who think they're taking part in a run-of-the-mill amateur porn shoot. Aiding him is his chipper wife, Susan (Malone), who also has an itch for poisoning people in her spare time. In an amusing twist, they also plan to deliver a deluxe presentation of their masterwork by loading it with great special features: "director's commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage!"
However, the execution turns out to be far more problematic than the conception as they troll their usual hunting ground, the homeless and aimless youths around Hollywood Boulevard, and keep getting rejected or attacked by their potential prey. Eventually they find the ideal candidates, or so it seems, in the form of Jamie (Lynch) and her friend with benefits, Clutch (Hopper), as well as their friend Crystal (Burghdorf), a sweet soul who wants to bail as soon as the cameras start rolling. Unfortunately the house has been rendered sound- and escape-proof and rigged with a hundred cameras throughout the walls, offering the ideal setting for Ed and Susan to go to town throughout the property including a creepy torture dungeon basement. On top of that they also have a quadruple amputee "pet" named Maddie (Lakis) they haul around in a pet carrier, and it's clear that the trio have a very nasty fate awaiting them.... but at least one of them is also capable of fighting back as mounting setbacks turn Ed's dream project into a nightmare.
Shot on varying digital formats with dark, moody lighting for much of its running time, The House with 100 Eyes is at its strongest when it offers a darkly comic gender war between Ed and Susan, the latter getting a particularly effective early moment discussing her thoughts on marriage while putting on her make up. The two actors have terrific chemistry and really bite into their parts with gusto, while the gimmick of using found footage (sold as a real discovery sent to co-director Jay Lee in the reality-baiting opening titles) actually makes sense here with the house itself rather than the increasingly desperate characters handling all the recording duties. The supporting cast is strong as well with Burghdorf in particular eliciting a tremendous amount of sympathy, but that also ties into the film's biggest stumble, a five-minute torture scene in the basement that feels like a pandering move for a dire trend that was already well past its expiration date. The screaming, mutilation, and ugliness of the scene aren't frightening at all and leave an ugly aftertaste, especially after the film has already proven it can elicit far stronger chills by showing Ed smiling in nostalgia when he finds an old clump of a victim's hair on his roll of industrial duct tape. The use of sound effects and peripheral glimpses of the past tortures on TV screens also do a more efficient job of getting the point across and conveying the depraved nature of the film, so just stick through that one needless scene so the film can get back on track for a lively, climactic cat and mouse game through the house that winds things up on an audacious, ambiguous note that's pulled off quite cleverly but may ambush more literal viewers.
Not surprisingly, Artsploitation has opted to release this on DVD rather than Blu-ray since the grubby visuals probably wouldn't gain much beyond the resolution seen here. It looks very good considering the way it was shot (with lots of intentional artifacts and distressed signal effects working their way in at times), and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds fine given the source. (Those loud static feedback sounds during the attacks could've been toned down though!) The main extra is an audio commentary with Lee and Roof, who talk about how the whole thing came together and how the device of so many cameras was pulled off; if you're curious about more details on the ending, forget it -- they ain't telling. Extras include a "gag reel" from the film's fictitious production company, Studio Red, running just under 8 minutes and featuring everything from wedding home movie snippets to closer looks at the prior victims seen only fleetingly in the end product, as well as a 2-minute "sizzle reel" created by Ed to sell his brand. The disc rounds out with the trailer (which is somewhat heavy on spoilers) and bonus ones for Hidden in the Woods, Horror Stories, Memory of the Dead, and Wither.