Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive


Robert Berry Directing During the Filming of the Vincennes Bus Depot Scene

A still image, potentially from Dave Jackson, of Robert Berry directing at the Vincennes Bus Depot scene. Challenges for independent filmmakers included much outside of directing and acting in order for their film to be shown in theaters.

Larger trends in the United States film industry leading up to House of Dreams contributed to the path of creation and distribution for the film and the growing number of small, independent films of this era.  In 1948 the U. S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. which would have profound impacts on theaters, major film studios, and independent films. Commonly referred to in short as the Paramount Case of 1948, this legal action centered on the ability for major film studios to own networks of movie theaters vertically integrated into their larger studio structure. Prior to the case, large studios owned the entire means of film creation, directly keeping talent under in-house contracts, paying for production of the films, and then directing distribution of releases to their movie theaters. Concerns centered on the challenge that major film studios were becoming anti-competitive monopolies, as they controlled just about every aspect of major filmmaking.62 In response the federal government filed suit against Paramount Pictures and the other major studios, like Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, on antitrust grounds. After years of litigation and rulings, in 1948 the Supreme Court found the major studios to be in violation of antitrust laws and ordered the studios to divest from their theater businesses.63 A byproduct of this transition was the interruption of the film pipeline directly from studio to movie theater, which had been optimized by the studios to release films in concentrated times of the year corresponding to attendance fluctuations. After this ruling, newly-independent movie theaters now required additional content to fill out play schedules and had to intertwine major releases with other film content. Adding to the need for content was the standard procedure to play double features - two separate films, usually with the latter being a second run film or smaller studio or independent movie - with every ticket sale. To make up for this, movie theater operators started showing smaller, independent films to fill the need.64 For House of Dreams, the film was able to be created in part with help from Ed Stewart and Lester Lucas, local movie theater insiders who were influential with getting the film shown in local theaters.65 Other theaters in the nearby region also showed Berry’s film, sometimes on discount nights or as second features - likely to help fill airtime between Hollywood productions and to lower expenses.66

Shot of Congregation Exiting Church

The lack of diversity is clear throughout the film, especially in shots including local townspeople as extras.

The lack of racial diversity in casting of House of Dreams also reflected the reality of the times and location of recording. Filmed in 1962, two years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and three years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, racial integration within Indiana was limited. While Indiana did not join many other states in creating legalized segregation in public places, the state often did not enforce its own Civil Rights Law of 1885 which provided equal status for Black Americans in public settings.67 Individual establishments, like hotels, continued segregation practices in the state well into the 1950s, and Indiana did not legalize interracial marriages until 1965.68 Small Indiana towns, like Decker, were often predominantly or exclusively white. Reviewing the 1950 U.S. Census records for the town of Decker, the most recent publicly-available individual census records, showed not a single individual not noted as white in the race category. Further, while Indiana University did have Black students at the time, during the 1960s only about two percent of the student body in Bloomington was African American.69 In contrast, 4.7 percent of students were categorized as African American in 2022.70 Understanding the informal and official segregation realities in Indiana at the time along with Berry’s casting limitations among locals and friend networks sheds light on the lack of racial diversity within the film.

Street Scene in House of Dreams

Many of the scenes in House of Dreams shows the standard and way of living in Decker, like this scene following a Cadillac.

Lee Hansen Exploring the Mysterious House

A mainstay in horror and mystery films is the exploration of dark, abandoned houses. House of Dreams would be no different, as captured above. You would not find me here without extra flashlights!

Additionally, House of Dreams highlights the folkloric abilities of films, especially local or regional films. Movies with heavy regional and local emphasis can purposefully or accidentally be carriers of local folklore; that is, traditional beliefs and customs of a community which are often spread informally among members. Even commercial films not dedicated to recording folklore can aid in its transmission and documentation.71 In folklore the usual focus of transmission is in informal oral communications. Films, particularly horror films, can spread folklore due to the similar storytelling structures. Both, horror films and folklore, serve to educate and provide warnings on critical situations, life trajectories, and morals.72 These lessons are evident in House of Dreams’ narrative arcs, serving as a warning to others on navigating work-life balances and the importance of being active in one’s relationships with family and friends. Although a work of fiction with a clear story to tell, House of Dreams also exhibits nuggets of local folklore that could otherwise not be recorded in other forms. For instance, the film perpetuated the local legends surrounding the supposed haunted nature of the Sam Jordan House for which the film is centered and recreated the lore surrounding murder within the house. Horror films, like House of Dreams,relate traditional folklore elements to mainstream audiences through a modern medium.

Easy to consider as individual efforts by filmmakers, horror film scholarship is developing a new area of study for local, independent horror films. By analyzing these films as one group it allows for new understandings from a previously disconnected body of materials. While definitions of regional horror films vary between film scholars and enthusiasts, three main criteria are often used to define entrance into the genre. First, films must be created in a single geographical region or state away from traditional centers of filmmaking. Instead of Hollywood or New York, think small towns in Pennsylvania, Texas, or Indiana. Secondly, regional horror films must be independent productions, created without money from major film producers or even connections to traditional film power structures. Extremely limited budgets are the norm, with films frequently veering on the edge of being shut down due to financial difficulties. Lastly, casts and crews of these films are from the areas of filming and not already stars or Hollywood insiders.73 Not a requirement to all scholars, regional horror films also often use experimental techniques including camera work and plot creation compared to mainstream their mainstream counterparts.74 Regions and geographical locations do not have to be connected to the United States to be qualified as a regional horror film, but most scholarly focus is on American films. Some point to the low bar for entry and the idea of just one audience enjoyment away from success as an embodiment of democracy.75 That may or may not be true, but focus will be on American films. 

Bob Warth, the Local Knox County Deputy Sheriff Reviewing Lee's Car

Local deputy sheriff Bob Warth made a brief appearance in the film. Here he is inspecting Lee's Jaguar.

Shot of the Vincennes Bus Depot Scene

An intracate scene to film, the Vincennes Bus Depot scene sourced authentic residents using the bus depot and proved to be popular with local audiences.

Diving deeper into the regional horror film classification reveals a rich history and a continuing practice. Given the general definition of regional horror films defined above, these films are not bound to a specific time period. That being said, the 1960s are pointed to as a budding era for the category. This is attributed to continuing advances in filmmaking technology and industrialization - making it cheaper and easier for amateur film enthusiasts to create their own works, the need for films from newly independent movie theaters due to the United States vs. Paramount Pictures rulings, and favorable U.S. tax codes for film investors at the time.76 Horror film fans and scholars point to three films in particular that embody the regional horror film label successfully: Carnival of Souls (1962), Blood Feast (1963), and Night of the Living Dead (1968). Then, in 1974, perhaps the most exemplary film in the genre was released: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.77 Becoming a popular title upon release and a horror genre classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was filmed on a minimal budget by locally sourced talent, and shot within the state of Texas. That’s not to say most of the releases are financial successes or well-reviewed, many - perhaps the majority - of regional horror films lack in some aspects. These deficiencies may make a film endearing, or hard to watch.

 Many of the well-known or successful regional horror films date back more than 40 years, but the genre has been growing in the last few decades. With new movie making technology, from the rise of VHS and other tape formats in the 1990s to the new transition to digital recording, filmmaking has become even cheaper and more accessible.78 A regional horror film of particular note in this early era of digital filmmaking was the smash hit 1999 release The Blair Witch Project. Made with two cameras, a digital and a 16mm, from a first-hand perspective of its creators, the film was made with a mere $60,000 in rural Maryland. Word of mouth and advertising lifted the film to mainstream movie goers and a multi-million dollar box office debut.79 The popularity and efficiency of the internet has allowed small filmmakers to reach larger audiences through online viewing or targeted marketing campaigns. One of the most successful regional horror movies to benefit from the internet was the 2009 film Paranormal Activity. Made by Oren Peli in his house in San Diego for $15,000, the subsequent internet advertisement campaign grew interest and an eventual release by Paramount to theaters nationwide. Paranormal Activity would go on to make millions of dollars and spawn studio-sponsored sequels, making it a rare example of how regional horror films can transcend to large studio productions.80 More commonly, regional horror films may be found online with limited marketing or in local or regional horror film festivals.81 Thanks to new technology, interacting with regional horror films now is easier than ever.

Under the Table Camera Shot

Independent films often include interesting film techniques or stories. This shot, filmed from below the kitchen table via a transparent table was one instance of unique takes on filmmaking in House of Dreams.

House of Dreams should not be left out of regional horror film discussions. Overlooked in existing scholarly works on the topic, House of Dreams exemplifies the genre. A truly local affair, the film was entirely centered and sourced within southeastern Indiana. Robert Berry, a local of Decker, Indiana, wrote, directed, and starred in the film shot within Decker and nearby Vincennes, Indiana, some 12 miles away. Berry and the rest of the cast were Indiana residents. Only one person was from farther away than Bloomington, Indiana, and that was actress Charlene Bradley of Indianapolis.82 All other identifiable members of the cast were either residents of Decker or Vincennes, or students of Indiana University in Bloomington, a distance of 87 miles.83 So local was the production experience that marketing materials for the film introduced it as a distinctly Hoosier film with the label “Decker becomes Hoosier Hollywood.”84 The only connections to traditional power structures within the film space came from Berry’s friend Ed Stewart and his ties to local movie theaters and potentially film distribution.85 Stewart’s ties to film distribution within the Midwest was potentially the reason behind House of Dreams being shown as a double feature behind reruns of larger films at a few theaters in the region. Even with this in mind the film was not considered financially viable at the time.86 Within production, Stewart had responsibilities operating the camera in some scenes and assisted with final editing.87 Although Stewart had some exprience operating camera equipment, camerawork was a major criticism of the film then and now.88 

Although holding limited sources of potential insider connection, House of Dreams should be considered a regional horror film as the main source of inspiration, passion, and direction came from Robert Berry, a young, independent filmmaker, and due to the work being almost exclusively done by new, nonprofessional Hoosiers. Furthermore, Robert Berry was noted at the time to be a “heavy” financial investor in the film, implying that Stewart and other individuals were not.89 House of Dreams was also labeled as a de facto regional horror film by the various newspaper reports detailing the film’s production and release. Reporters continuously contextualized the film as an outside production, using words and phrases such as “novice,” “homemade,” and “non-professionals”  in reference to the production or production staff.90 It should be noted Berry was the source for much of these pieces and could have influenced wording being used.91 Regardless, Berry's hoosier horror film has survived for over sixty years, revealing much about the creation of independent films of the era and the entrepreneurial spirit of Indiana University students.