Should I start off conversation on The Houses October Built 2 by addressing the logical miscalculations of its very first scene, the cold open which picks up where the first film left off. Last we saw of Brandy (Brandy Schaefer) she was buried alive in a shallow grave, screaming for her life. Now, we find her back in the trunk were she was before being buried in a coffin, being dropped off on the side of the road by the Blue Skeleton haunt crew.
So, did she fall unconscious again before the masked men took her out of the coffin? Are they magicians? Or was their an awkward moment where they unburied her and dragged her screaming back to the trunk? That would be a bit anti-climactic.
The Houses October Built 2 follows the same formula as the first film, in which the crew of haunted house thrill-seekers travel to real-life haunted houses and film their experiences while also adding a fictional narrative on top. What occurs from this is some blatant promotional sponsorship from these small businesses.
Perhaps this is less cynical than major studio films that feature prominently huge brands like Coke, but it is still off-putting to be introduced to a scene by seeing a prolonged closeup of a sign that brands the business they are filming at.
The “haunts” in this case are coming from across the country, as opposed to just the Texan haunted houses of the first film. The same crew from the first film are returning to the haunt scene, including the reluctant Brandy. The group all consider the first incident a bad “extreme haunt” experience, even though the poorly-staged news broadcast at the top of the film leaves the question open as to what the masked figures’ real motives were.
This attempt to be ambiguous is neither eerie nor suspenseful. It is merely bad writing. Why would the question be left open when the group of tourists were let go? If the Blue Skeleton group were really criminals, why would they make it easier to get caught by police by letting their victims go and then going after them again?
This film answers this question, I guess. But the real answer to the question is that the creative team behind the film needed some sort of conceit so that they could make a sequel. What’s a better conceit than doing the exact same thing again?
Similarly to the first film, the suspense is introduced via the masked band of rogues appearing in frame and then disappearing. The first sighting of little Porcelain (Jayme Wakefield) is a surprisingly well-placed shot, but mostly these instances are more of the same.
The added twist this time is that one of the Blue Skeleton crew has a camera of his own, and is seen covertly filming our protagonists as they travel cross-country.
This twist is not scary, but inadvertently hilarious. At one point he is seen crouched behind a glass railing. At one point he is flying in a helicopter (another person is filming him while he films the other characters from above). At one point he is seen holding on to the bottom of their RV while they are driving on the highway.
Jokes aside, this footage (captured through a gross blue filter) is cross-cut with the footage of the protagonists, thereby ruining the found footage facade of the film.
In this way and others, this film is all over the map in terms of logic. The foreshadowing that occurs throughout the film surrounds this idea of “Seeking out Hellbent.” Like the Blue Skeleton, it appears to be an underground extreme haunt. It is underground and secretive, yet so widespread that people and signs around the country make mention of it.
Aside from minor alterations, The Houses October Built 2 feels like a beat-by-beat remake of the first film. Some of the tweaks, like when the invasion of the RV beat is amped up to include moving the vehicle to a new location (as unlikely a possibility as that is, realistically), make for fleetingly intriguing moments.
Mainly, though, it all feels like lazy craftsmanship. Like the first installment, the film is a lengthy setup to a climactic final sequence. At least this climax, unlike much of the first film’s, is visible. It also introduces some well-staged haunted house moments. But the film at this point feels so contrived and nonsensical that any reality that the narrative is trying to convey is broken.
Even with the twists that the climax introduces, there is no reason for the audience to either feel scared or care. If anything, it is merely frustrating to behold the avenues that the climax explores. The film leaves you with an image that is meant to be jaw-dropping and spine-chilling, but it is an empty moment that acts to nullify whatever may have been scary about this film or the previous one, not to mention render certain scenes from both films as contradictory.
The Houses October Built 2 feels like a cash-in on the unlikely VOD success of the first film. The creative minds behind the films had nowhere to go creatively, so they made the same film twice and added a two to the title. As a result, the film comes off as lazy and self-indulgent. It also comes off as terribly lacking of anything that could be considered horrifying.
The Houses October Built 2: D-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)