‘THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2’ Review
Found footage may not be a theatrical sensation anymore (if it ever really was), but the genre is alive and well on the VOD market. Well, alive at least. It’s accessible in a DIY sense due to not really needing actors or a budget in order to create, quality be damned. A few years back one of the most notable entries was The Houses October Built, which was a hybrid of documentary footage (the full documentary is included as a bonus on the first film’s Blu-ray) and a narrative through line. The doc is about haunts around the country and how extreme they arrange things to one up each other. We follow a group in pursuit of what’s rumored to be the very best: Blue Skeleton. It turns out that Blue Skeleton found them instead, and gave them the ultimate scare. So what’s next?
This sequel is made the same way with visiting and filming actual haunts mixed with fiction to create a story around it. Instead of doing what I expected them to do and make a sequel with Blue Skeleton and a new group of victims, this is a continuation of the story. As it turns out, Blue Skeleton live streamed Brandy’s (Brandy Schaefer) terrifying experience and it became a major news story. Based on the notoriety of the story the same group of guys from the first film are back at it, this time being paid to review haunts and make a public appearance for promotion. Naturally, Brandy is the real draw that these haunts want, so the guys lure her back into the group somehow to begin another road trip tour of terror. Her stipulation is no traditional haunted houses, but soon that goes by the wayside. Hell Bent is the word of mouth scariest thing to find this time around, and so they plan to seek it out…but Blue Skeleton may not be done with their scare just yet.
My main complaint with the first film is that there was an easily defined line between what was real and what was staged, and that the real documentary footage was more interesting than the insertion of horror movie elements. Everything feels like a whole this time, as it should, yet this film feels more cinematic and manufactured than the original did. Somehow that’s better for me; I’d rather not have found footage masquerade as the real thing – that ship has sailed, and we’re too jaded as a culture to fall into that anymore. But like Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch reboot, this is TOO cinematic and edited, and switches perspective to the Blue Skeleton crew from time to time. Not only is this horribly distracting and pulls you out when it happens, it even manages to spoil how a big reveal toward the ending happens. Rather than have the audience as perplexed and frightened as our protagonists and to reveal it later somehow, we already know what’s going on. That isn’t just an oversight or a mistake, it’s some poor storytelling.
Really when it comes to found footage style, it’s all about how natural the characters are in order for me to properly get into the movie. The less natural, the less I get absorbed and feel like it’s my perspective. Now even during the unscripted documentary stuff they feel more jilted and stiff as if they’re playing characters instead of just…being people. It’s also really hard to relate to these characters making the exact same mistakes AGAIN and feel any empathy for their situation. But aside from these issues, I still found more to enjoy and felt more tension than I did in the first film. There are two “walkthrough” sequences that are effectively creepy: a haunted hay ride and at a strip club (aka Laser Tits). It’s difficult to determine what is effective with the haunts themselves and the way they’re shot; I don’t know what’s scripted to happen and what’s staged. Regardless, I found them visually interesting and even startling occasionally. Returning director/star Bobby Roe has grown dramatically as a director between the two movies, partly due to working a drone camera into the story to allow for a bigger scope. I’m interested in what he could do with a traditional style of film.
Look, I’ve got a confession. The big secret I’ve hid here is that the movie ends in a very elaborate way that ultimately won me over. I won’t express any of why that is because it would be a disservice to potential viewers. It retroactively made the first movie work for me. I’ve seen sequels eclipse the original. but I can’t say that I’ve seen many sequels to actually make the original better. It may not do it for everyone, but The Houses October Built 2 worked for me. Bravo.
Good atmosphere at times, some thrills, and a strong finale that actually improves the original.
Problems that pull me out of the found footage genre like acting and editing are readily apparent.