More trick than treat, this sequel pales beside the creepy joys of its predecessor.
2014’s The Houses October Built is a found footage-ish horror film about a group of friends whose pursuit of the scariest haunted house attractions in the country finds them targeted by an extreme collective known as the Blue Skeleton. Two of the friends are murdered, the others are buried alive, and the mysterious and masked group behind it all passes into online legend and infamy. The film is loaded with many of the found footage issues that sink most others using the format, but it succeeds anyway thanks to strong chemistry between the friends and some terrifically creepy sequences. The unsettling imagery and frightening beats were even enough to land it on my list of that year’s best horror movies.
The Houses October Built 2 commits all of those same found footage sins, but it lacks the scares to make them forgivable.
It turns out Brandy (Brandy Schaefer) was released on the side of a road shortly after the first film’s story ended, and she, along with her four friends — yes, including Jeff (Jeff Larson) and Zack (co-writer Zack Andrews), who earlier appeared to have been murdered — went on with their lives. A news report details how that adventure wrapped up, and now a year later the reporter says it’s happened again but with “far more violent and far more tragic” results.
And with that, we jump back into the familiar handheld footage as Zack, Bobby (Bobby Roe, who also co-wrote and directed the film), and Mikey (Mikey Roe) arrive at Brandy’s house hoping to convince her to hit the road again and visit some haunts. They’re social media stars now with Brandy being the most infamous, but as she was also the most terrified last time she has no interest in repeating the experience. The boys begin the holiday week without her but eventually use peer pressure and guilt trips — the haunts will pay more if “coffin girl” makes an appearance — to bring Brandy back into the fold. Together again, the gang has fun checking out a few attractions, but it’s quickly clear that they’ve once again caught the attention of the Blue Skeleton.
The realization that the first film’s story was nothing more than an illusion, specifically that the deaths were faked (within the confines of the narrative), is something of a double-edged sword. One the one hand it deflates the drama and danger of it all knowing these characters were never actually at risk. The flip side, though, is understanding that the film then becomes less of a horror movie about extreme haunts and more of a haunt experience itself. It’s just a fun ride offering some thrills and chills in the moment and — in hindsight — a safe exit, and that’s not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, the problem for part two becomes an early loss of tension and suspense. Once we discover the last round was all a show there’s no reason to expect anything different this time out. Those lowered expectations are damaging enough, but the film pairs it with an absence of its own creepy scenes and scares. Porcelain (Jayme Wakefield) returns, but nothing she does even approaches the terror of her boarding the bus in the first film. Other Blue Skeleton members are equally neutered as their actions feel far more elaborately orchestrated and… professional?
While the scares and suspense are lessened (or absent all together) the film steps things up in other areas including the haunts themselves. We still get the traditional walk-thru attractions, but they’re a lead-in to an escape room, a hayride, and a legitimately cool zombie 5k. Roe adds drone photography into the mix throughout, and in addition to some attractive wide shots the drone captures the fun and mayhem of the 5k experience from overhead. It takes place in what appears to be an abandoned and partially destroyed factory compound, and it leaves you wanting to book a trip to Perry, GA immediately.
That travelogue aspect is ultimately what works best here as the film advertises various real-world haunts and attractions, and the five leads continue to showcase a believable camaraderie more often than not. It all leads to an interesting beat at the end that sadly loses its punch far too quickly — after meandering through earlier scenes we’re suddenly rushed through the film’s first truly intriguing turn. There’s no time to savor it.
The Houses October Built 2 is once again cut to include the friends’ footage and scenes shot by the Blue Skeleton folks — the former sometimes with songs and onscreen text, the latter always with ominous score. Toss in some flat ADR work, questionable filming choices, and pacing that leaves the supposedly scary scenes for the third act, and you have a sequel that’s more found footage trick than horror movie treat.