Studio: RLJE Films
Director: Bobby Roe
Writer: Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe
Producer: Zack Andrews, Steven Schneider
Stars: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, Jeff Larson
Having survived their previous experience with the mysterious ‘Blue Skeleton’ group, five friends return to the road to document extreme Halloween haunts.
“Found footage” film “The Houses October Built” (review here) left such a blasé impression in 2014 that there was no enticement to re-watch it in advance of screening its 2017 sequel. I did however reread the detailed synopsis from my review of the first movie, hoping to refresh a fuzzy memory of where things left off so I would be ready to roll at the pickup point.
SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST FILM
“The Houses October Built” was about five friends (Brandy, Zack, Bobby, Mikey, and Jeff) who tangled with a mysterious, perhaps murderous underground group known as ‘The Blue Skeleton’ while searching for the most extreme Halloween haunts in America. According to my three-year-old notes, the movie concluded with Jeff having been murdered by masked men in an alleyway, Mike being butchered inside a haunted house room, and the remaining three friends buried alive in separate coffins underground.
Now, I don’t remember those scenes well enough to recall exactly how clear-cut the depictions of apparent death were. Regardless, although I can get onboard with the buried alive trio potentially being rescued, my summary seems satisfied that the other two were pushing up blue baptisias when we last saw them. So if continuity is something you care about, you’ll definitely have an Annie Wilkes “Misery” moment when “The Houses October Built 2” opens one year later with all five friends miraculously intact.
Jeff at least vaguely acknowledges some sort of confusion regarding whatever happened to him in that alleyway, though Mike’s resurrection doesn’t even earn that much of a mention. Whatever. “The Houses October Built 2” is far from the first horror film to jettison previous plot beats when they are inconvenient for a sequel, and it likely won’t be the last.
END FIRST FILM SPOILERS
Anyway, “The Houses October Built 2” has an almost identical single-sentence logline to its predecessor. Five friends (Brandy, Zack, Bobby, Mikey, and Jeff), having survived their entanglement with the mysterious underground collective called ‘The Blue Skeleton,’ return to the road to seek out notable Halloween haunts across America. The main difference is that due to the trauma suffered during their previous trek, Brandy doesn’t agree to participate until a second round of coaxing from her compatriots about 25 minutes into the movie.
Outside of that wrinkle, “The Houses October Built 2” is essentially indistinguishable from the original. Part two basically spends 70 minutes creating a Travel Channel special exploring several real-life Halloween haunts. It’s about as drably engaging as such programs usually are too, making for fine background noise while drying dishes in the kitchen. Then for the 25-minute finale, The Blue Skeleton brigade finally catches up to put everyone through the paces of “is this real or still part of immersive fiction?” terror once again.
“More of the same” means opinions of the first film carry over directly to this sequel. If you want more tiny tours of random October attractions where teens in latex masks jump out of blacklit corners to rattle amused patrons, “The Houses October Built 2” has your back. If vicariously living a 3D experience in 2D makes little sense to you as enthralling entertainment, prepare for a second serving of dull disappointment.
People have all kinds of pet peeves when it comes to “found footage.” Mine is that too much of it often feels like a first-person sprint through a Halloween maze, with someone huffing and puffing while ghoulish ghosts lunge at the lens shouting “boo!” And that is literally the specific concept behind both “The Houses October Built” films.
Halloween haunt thrills are specifically crafted to work in the moment on the individual immersed. Reflected in film form, these intimate encounters translate into passive experiences.
At least a generic jump scare in a traditional horror movie considers how camera angle, editing, and audio timing can be combined to jolt a viewer. When a first-person camera merely records people walking through a maze, the audience only ends up watching something happening to someone else.
Filmmakers Bobby Roe and Zack Andrews seem to have garnered a fervent following among haunt enthusiasts through “The Houses October Built.” That’s a nice niche for them, though I don’t see sustained satisfaction for broader horror audiences because haunted maze walkthroughs offer limited cinematic appeal.
Do you want to see Mikey and Bobby lose to champion hotdog chomper Kobayashi in a zombie brain-eating contest? What about watching them violently wretch their stomach’s contents into a dumpster afterward? There’s an illusion of being informative what with segments such as three minutes spent by Brandy discussing fear with a sociologist. But the bottom line is that five minutes devoted to documenting a zombie-themed fun run, four more waiting for an escape room to remain unsolved, and who knows how many shots of a drone capturing crowds from overhead adds up to a lot of activity that isn’t all that entertaining to experience secondhand.
Review Score: 40