Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive

Release and Reception

House of Dreams Ad, New Moon World Premiere

Newspaper ad for the world premiere of House of Dreams.

After more than a year of newspapers following the film’s progress and locals participating in the creation of some scenes, residents and reporters of Decker and Vincennes were able to see House of Dreams. On September 11, 1963, Knox County residents crowded into the New Moon Theatre to get a first glance at the film heralded by Berry as a ‘story of psychological terror.’37 Residents were excited to see the production, as one reporter noted the rare scene of a nearly full theater balcony.38 The film would play at the New Moon Theatre until September 14th, thanks to the aforementioned deal struck to include Lester Lucas in the Vincennes bus depot shot.39 For an independent film created by non-professionals, getting the film to release was a phenomenal achievement, but for Berry there was always  to do.  

After initial release, the film made its way to a few movie theaters in the Midwest. Across state lines from nearby Vincennes, House of Dreams would also play on the Lucas-managed Allison Drive-In in Illinois.40 Other showings in Indiana included the Mt. Vernon Drive-In Theater and the Colonial Theatre in Bicknell.41 Thanks to connections with producer Ed Stewart and Republic Pictures, the film was shown with affiliated studio productions in select theaters across the Midwest.42 Other sources point to a possible regional distribution deal with Alliance Theater Group based in Chicago or United Artists Corporation, but specifics on this are lacking.43 Besides the initial three day run at the New Moon, these showings would all be second films in double features.44 Discussions with international film distributors presented the possibility of House of Dreams playing in theaters across the world. Isam Yusbachi of International Films Co. became interested in a potential placement of the film in Belgium and “other French speaking territories.”45 Peli-Mex also contacted Berry for a screening copy to gauge interest in a Latin American and European distribution run.46 It is unclear if any international deal became a reality. Although exact box office numbers are not known, Berry would later confirm that House of Dreams was not a financial success.47 Regardless, Berry accomplished his vision and successfully released an independent film to audiences around the Midwest.

Bargain Nite

After initial release, House of Dreams played in other theaters and drive-ins within Indiana and the region. This showing included an autograph session afterwards by Berry!

Reviews of House of Dreams report a film with flaws due to its amateur origins, yet a charm worth seeing. Initial reviews focused on the challenge of creating and releasing a non-professional film to provide context to critiques.48 Highlighted flaws included issues with the script, acting, camera work, and post-production. Writing and pacing issues were major detractors, with clunky or cliché dialogue in places.49 Camera decisions on lighting and shot angles were also called out. Even so, reviewers at the time of release encouraged readers to see the film. Two major reasons for watching House of Dreams were for promoting non-Hollywood productions to spur new directions in cinema at a time of claimed stagnation and as a way to support local independent talent.50 So interested in audience feedback, Berry was noted to have stood outside of showings, soliciting responses via flyer to leaving moviegoers.51 Perhaps more important than numbers, the local residents who gathered together during the premiere in the New Moon and at other theaters, enjoyed a night of cinema about and by themselves. As local reporter William Bridges stated in his review of the premiere, “It is also one of the few pictures at which you can watch the audience on the way out and try to guess which ones were on the screen.”52

After its initial theatrical release, House of Dreams continued to find audiences through alternative distribution methods. By creative marketing and film enthusiast interest, the film garnered new understandings and status within regional horror film circles. Much of this was accomplished through steady comparisons to other major independent horror films in the space. A key player in establishing this connection was LSVideo, Inc., a film distributor specializing in the purchasing of rights to older films to sell via mail order catalog. In particular, House of Dreams appeared in several advertisements for the company in 1993 and 1994. Directly marketed towards horror film buffs, LS Video, Inc. focused on the rarity and obscurity of the film in promotions, and cherry-picked newspaper reports from the time of initial release for comparisons to other noteworthy films and filmmakers. Examples of comparisons included the likes of Igmar Bergman and Federico Felini.53 Targeting the same audience, LS Video also featured House of Dreams prominently for it’s negative quantities, making it a center of their “Floor Sweepings Contests” which highlighted films that have a reputation of being noteworthily bad; having a catchline on one announcement of, ”The author of the best suggestion wins a complete collection of our Floor Sweepings tapes. The second place winner gets an even better prize: he doesn’t get any of our tapes at all!”54 While seemingly paradoxical to lambast and compliment a film at the same time, playing both ends of interest by film enthusiasts likely resulted in a higher chance of sales and continued viewing. Marketing by LSVideo, Inc. helped keep House of Dreams relevant after the initial theatrical release and between rare screenings of the film by Berry in the years after 1963.

A Camera Angle Issue During Filming

An example of a camera angle issue. New theories speculate that nobody was behind the camera during the filming of these scenes, leading to framing issues.

The rise of the internet furthered film enthusiast interest. Online forums dedicated to horror films circulated the actual film and interpretations of House of Dreams within horror enthusiast circles. Forum posters levied direct comparisons of the film to major works in the genre like Carnival of Souls.55 Fandom included the release of a version of the film with a rescored soundtrack by Jason Coffman. Coffman, in search of a higher quality version of House of Dreams apart from the available VHS copies, reached out to Robert Berry. According to a post by Coffman, Berry revealed he held a complete 35mm film print of the film. The surviving print had been sitting in a closet since the last screening of the film in 2005, about 15 years between screening and contact by Coffman. Using a digital scan of the 35mm print Coffman replaced the background organ music, a sore spot of the film pointed out by many.56 Reviews and detailed posts online about House of Dreams have also been created in recent years. Positive or negative in tone, these posts and reviews help to further cement the film as an independent regional horror film through repeated identification and association of House of Dreams by users to other films in the genre. Occasionally, the internet even assists in revealing new details about the film. One review expanded on the problematic camera shots, long a major point of criticism of House of Dreams. As an independent filmmaker themselves, the poster pointed to a new potential reason for the lackluster angles in some shots. Instead of blaming inexperienced crew, they posited that the camera was potentially left unmanned. While the film credits and newspaper reports name multiple camera operators, Robert Berry may have been left as the sole camera operator in select scenes. Needing to appear in these scenes himself, as an actor and to set up the other actors’ lines, Berry potentially set the camera angle, pressed record, and hoped everything stayed in frame.57 Limited funds for film likely reduced the chances to take more takes of a scene, thus leaving Berry with imperfect shots. New viewers, like the ones mentioned above, have allowed House of Dreams’ legacy to continue into the twenty first century.

LSVideo, Inc. Floor Sweepings Contest Ad

After initial release, House of Dreams was branded by LSVideo, Inc. in a positive light through comparisons to other famous independent horror films, but also by branding the film negatively like in the ad above.

Seeking a permanent repository for House of Dreams, Robert Berry would go on to donate the film and corresponding materials to the Indiana University Moving Image Archive (IUMIA). According to Jason Coffman, he encouraged Berry to preserve the film once found. This led to Berry donating the print to the Indiana University Moving Image Archive.58 Along with a 35mm print, Berry also donated a cache of newspaper clippings, correspondence during post-production and distribution, the script, and other documents relating to House of Dreams. These materials are key resources for providing a glimpse into post-production and release talks. Further, much of the newspaper clippings come from small market publications with few, if any, surviving and accessible copies. Archival holdings by the IUMIA can be researched further via finding aid. Assistance from the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative at Indiana University has allowed for Robert Berry’s donated 35mm House of Dreams film to be digitized and publicly hosted. Screen the film here.

Berry himself would go on to achieve many pursuits after House of Dreams. In the summer of 1964 after graduating college, Berry would move with his wife and son to Indianapolis where he began teaching speech and theatre at Ben Davis High School.59 Along with instructing the next generation on acting and theatre, Berry continued acting in his own right. He would star in a number of regional theatre productions including Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana and Audition along with assisting other local films.60 Other roles throughout his life have included teaching classes to professionals and amateurs as well as lecturing on independent filmmaking and acting.61 More recently, Berry launched the podcast A Walk in the Dark, a “dark drama” short format experience filled with exciting twists. The series is highly rated and produced locally in the Indianapolis area. Although Robert Berry never created another film after House of Dreams, the experiences gained during that time has continued to guide him decades after the initial release.