With haunted attractions being taken to the next level in recent years, immersing thrill seekers so deep into those terrifying worlds that the lines between fiction and reality have begun to blur, it was only a matter of time before a horror movie came along and asked the question: “How much do you REALLY want to be scared?”
That movie was 2014’s The Houses October Built, a standout found footage film directed by Bobby Roe. A mash-up of real haunted attraction footage and fictional terror, the film centered on a group of friends on a road trip to find the scariest haunts in the world, ultimately ending up inside of their own horror story. It was a hit with Halloween lovers in particular, tapping into the thrill of the haunt experience like no horror film before it.
The Houses October Built found itself such a sizable fanbase that a sequel was announced for Halloween season release just a few months ago, coming out of nowhere at the time. Again directed by Bobby Roe, The Houses October Built 2 reunites the same five characters from the first film, who managed to survive the events that seemed to have left a couple of them dead and the others buried alive… soon to die themselves.
We learn in the sequel that nobody actually died in the first film; rather, everything we saw was part of the immersive haunt experience put together by the mysterious organization known as Blue Skeleton. Footage of their terrifying experience has gone viral, and the gang’s newfound fame in the haunt community sends them back out on the road one year later to cash in on their internet fame and make profitable appearances at haunts across the country.
Of course, they inevitably come face to face with Blue Skeleton once more.
The organic charm of The Houses October Built is mostly absent from The Houses October Built 2, which chooses to rehash the storyline from the first film rather than expand upon any of the interesting threads that were laid out in it. Rather than digging deeper into Blue Skeleton, Roe has decided to again put the focus on all of the same characters and put them through the same motions, resulting in a sequel that never quite manages to justify its own existence.
The first hour of The Houses October Built 2 plays out like a haunt travelogue you’d find on YouTube, with the friends hitting up various attractions across the country. To the film’s credit, Roe expands upon the first one by visiting bigger and better attractions than before, including a zombie pub crawl, haunted hayride and zombie 5K race… but he seems to forget that he’s making a horror film along the way. It becomes clear early on that the gang is again being pursued by Blue Skeleton, but it’s not until the final 20 minutes that anything resembling an actual narrative storyline, or a horror movie, begins to take shape.
Roe spends much of the runtime building to the characters’ arrival at “Hellbent,” a next-level attraction that they repeatedly hear about during their travels. You quickly get the sense that nothing much is going to happen until they get to that final destination… and nothing really does. Furthermore, by rewriting the events of the first film and telling us right off the bat that Blue Skeleton doesn’t actually kill its victims, all tension is completely robbed from the proceedings. You know it’s all just a game, so it’s hard to really care.
Worse yet, Roe manages to make nearly all of the main characters extremely unlikable, a side effect of him struggling to find a way to make sense of them all coming back. Brandy, the lone female in the group, is still deeply traumatized from the previous year’s events, but her four male friends continually disregard her feelings and treat her like crap so they can make a quick buck off their viral fame; since she’s the real star of the viral video, it’s her that the purveyors of haunted attractions want at their events.
Whereas the characters were a whole lot of fun to hang around in the first film, this continual disregard of Brandy’s well-being accomplishes little more than making you hate the people you had a blast with just three years prior. They almost become the villains of the film, cruelly lying to Brandy and intentionally dragging her deeper and deeper into an experience that they know full well is going to further scar her.
So, is this a found footage movie, like the first one? Mostly, yeah. Roe adds a drone camera into the mix to expand the scope, allowing for (overdone) overhead shots that attempt to make The Houses October Built 2 feel more like a traditional film. And he cheats a great deal along the way, often arming characters with cameras for no real reason and sometimes even filming scenes in the POV style when there seemingly isn’t even a character present who’s holding a camera. It’s clear he was constricted by the found footage format in this one, and he struggles to break out of that box.
On the whole, The Houses October Built 2 comes off like one big struggle to expand upon a story that was never intended to continue past the first film. In order to continue the story in a believable way, Roe was forced to mess around with what we *thought* we saw in the first one, which weirdly has the worst possible effect: the sequel manages to hurt the first film, retroactively making it something less interesting than it was 3 years ago.
And after the final act plays out, it’s clear that The Houses October Built 2 has also tanked the franchise potential that Roe and the team so effectively paved the way for back in 2014. What was once an interesting and terrifying world is reduced to total silliness; and a final coda at the very end is likely to make you roll your eyes into the back of your head.
But hey, at least it leaves you with a list of crazy haunts to check out for yourself. The zombie 5K race, in particular, looks like a bucket list item for horror fans.
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