In the interest of full-disclosure I will say that I love found-footage horror movies. This sub-genre that once sounded like the future of horror now gets savaged by critics and audiences alike with each new entry. But I love them all and find merits in found-footage tales that others disregard.
Having said that, I was initially ambivalent about The Houses October Built. The 2014 film by writer/director/actor Bobby Roe follows five friends who set out to film a documentary about seasonal haunted house attractions and the potentially illegal or dangerous activities that sometimes happen at them. Of course they get more than they bargained for, running afoul of some very dangerous haunt actors who turn their quest fatal. I found the idea clever, but the execution lacked something. Yet the more I watched it, the more the film grew on me until I grew quite fond of the doomed documentary film adventure. But does the 2017 sequel, The Houses October Built 2, have the same charm and invoke the same desire for repeated watching?
It’s impossible to discuss The Houses October Built 2 without stating the big reveal that occurs in the first few seconds and is on all the film’s promotional material: the crew from the first movie survived. The mysterious Blue Skeleton organization who kidnapped them and buried them alive really were just an immersive extreme haunt and the five friends were released unharmed. The stunt actually gives the documentarians a degree of celebrity status and they soon find themselves inundated with offers to review and promote haunted houses. Despite the reservations of the most traumatized member of the group, Brandy (Brandy Schaefer), they reunite to make money doing what they love: going through haunted houses, this time with the threat of Blue Skeleton long behind them.
As one can imagine, however, it’s not going to be that easy.
The Houses October Built 2 clearly benefits from a higher budget than its predecessor, and there is some great visual candy as we visit some impressive real-life haunts around the United States. People who need a scare every two minutes might not enjoy the first two-thirds of this movie as it really is just the viewer sitting on the shoulders of the five friends and experiencing some terrific haunted house fun secondhand. If you’re a viewer like me who has come to enjoy the characters of Brandy, Zack, Jeff, Bobby, and Mike over the course of these films, then you will feel at home in the time you spend with them.
But this is still a horror movie and somebody out there really has it in for this little band of thrill seekers. By the time the film reaches its climax our heroes once again don’t know what is real and what is pretend and if the twist introduced at the end proves effective, the audience won’t either. Like the haunts these films comment upon, the ending goes further than its predecessor and takes us to a more shocking place. The Houses October Built 2 has become meta-commentary upon the franchise’s own meta-commentary.
One thing that damages the immersion I experienced in the film is the heavy blue filter used whenever the POV switches to that of the bad guys’ camera. It did not feel natural to the events happening, but rather like it was stuck on in post-production in order to scream “These are the bad guys filming now” in case viewers aren’t smart enough to notice. It’s a cheap effect that just detracted from what is otherwise an interesting little script with some good acting from actors who are very solid in their characters at this point.
With its slow build-up and lack of danger until the final act, The Houses October Built 2 will not be for every horror fan. It certainly won’t reinvent the found footage genre. But if you liked the first film in the series – or even slowly grew to appreciate it – you will like this one as well. It may not be the ultimate horror movie, but it’s a great way to have a little Halloween celebration any time of year.
The Houses October Built 2 will be available for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 2 of 2018.