Back in 2014, The Houses October Built brought a different perspective to low-budget Halloween horror movies by profiling the experiences of a group of thrill-seekers touring a series of “extreme” haunted house attractions and the frightening consequences of their recklessness. Never especially distinctive in its filmmaking, storytelling or performances, it certainly wasn’t the type of horror film with “franchise” written all over it.
If its sequel could be considered a step up in profile, since The Houses October Built 2 is being distributed by RLJ Entertainment (which handled home video duties on the original), it certainly doesn’t demonstrate an improvement in quality. Exhibiting all of the same weaknesses as its predecessor, as well as a fatal lack of originality, this iteration will probably mean the nail in the coffin for this smugly self-regarding series, at least on the theatrical circuit.
This tale twice told makes for one time too many.
The film picks up a year after the events of the original, finding Brandy (Brandy Schaefer) still badly shaken after her kidnapping and live burial by the Blue Skeleton scare collective that concluded The Houses October Built. She’s so traumatized that she instantly refuses her friend Zack’s (Zack Andrews) entreaty to join him and the rest of his crew on a new haunted-house adventure. The difference this time is that a horror website has hired the guys to visit various haunts around the Midwest and East Coast to provide their video-recorded reviews in return for an attractive fee. Everybody’s payout will increase, though, if “Coffin Girl” (as Brandy is known in the viral universe) will agree to join the tour, but once she declines, Jeff (Jeff Larson), Mikey (Mikey Roe) and Bobby (Bobby Roe) head out with Zack in a rented RV.
With Jeff (who’s also the designated pilot for the group’s new camera drone) at the wheel, their first stop is “Scream Town,” a labyrinth of freaks, open coffins, threatening snakes and creepy clowns. That’s followed by scare shop “Paranoia Quest,” a complex challenge to avoid infection by a deadly virus, and “The Soap Factory,” a fairly routine tour through an abandoned factory’s basement. Zack continues to pursue Brandy in the meantime, and once he offers her a large enough cut of the fees, she agrees to join the trip, just as they’re getting wind of a fabled haunt known as “Hellbent,” somewhere in the wilds of northern Michigan.
For a while, it seems like Brandy’s stipulation that they avoid extreme attractions will hold the group back from finding anything more interesting than a dementedly haunted hayride through a large parkland deep in the North Woods. After numerous visits to these almost quaintly regional haunts, the movie takes on the appearance of a cable TV travelogue, with the guys and Brandy providing wisecracking commentary for their web-based fans.
None of these highly imaginative real-life attractions or their dozens of demonic denizens is remotely scary or even very interesting, although a few reveal some truly dedicated creative input, from handmade props and costumes to enthusiastic scare actor performances. Others, like the “Zombie Pub Crawl,” are little more than corporate ripoffs proudly displaying their beer-company sponsors’ logos.
By the time the travelers reach Hellbent after a particularly unnerving encounter with a persistent masked stalker, there’s a sense that even they want something more interesting, or frightening, to take hold. Unfortunately that’s not gonna happen, as the haunt proves to be a rather intense, but decidedly uninvolving, venue.
Although their IMDb profiles identify them as actors, the castmembers’ smattering of mostly extra and non-speaking roles would do little to convince a casting director to give them an audition, and any reels submitted that featured footage from the documentary-style The Houses October Built movies would only confuse matters further. Indifferently presented by Bobby Roe in a sometimes stomach-churning handheld format, the film would actually benefit from a more straightforward documentary approach, as opposed to the offhanded treatment that the filmmakers give it.
Production company: Foreboding Films
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
Cast: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, Jeff Larson
Director: Bobby Roe
Screenwriters: Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe
Producers: Zack Andrews, Steven Schneider
Directors of photography: Ricardo Sanchez, Andrew Strahorn
Editor: Cesar Martinez
Music: Steve Yeaman