2017 | Unrated (light R equivalent)| starring Brandy Schaefer | directed by Bobby Row | 1 hr 44 mins |
Halloween Horrorfest # 10
The Houses that October Build 2, is a strange and bizarre experience that feels more like a self-indulgent art project than a movie. It has a lot of ideas that it just throws into this stew even when some of them are at cross purposes. The best way would be to start at the top. Is there poster art in existence that misrepresents a movie more than that of these two? Look at this thing. It looks like a moody gothic slasher flick, not a staged found footage travelogue of Halloween haunts that takes a solid hour to even hint that something like a horror movie is buried in here. Even then, I would be completely ok if there wasn’t.
There is a richly imaginative core idea here that, at some stage, propelled these movies into existence. It proposes the very plausible idea that amateurs haunted houses and the rise of extreme haunts is the perfect place for a real serial killer (or killers) to hide in plain sight amongst the theatrical blood and monster masks, butchering guests who willingly walk in looking for a scare and won’t realize it’s all to real until it’s way too late. Not only is it full of creative potential but with the protagonists actively looking for scares, it solves the usual “why don’t they just leave” complaint people throw at slasher movies. But by the end of our first go-round with The Houses that October Built it’s clear that creator Bobby Row and his crew don’t have the horror movie literacy or intestinal fortitude to take this concept anywhere interesting, or scary, or inventive.
The bait-and-switch that got our heroes out of seeming certain death that ended the first film makes going into a sequel seem like a case of not being fooled a second time. Seemingly completely unphased by the trauma of being buried alive, these guys are back at it for another year of touring the country’s weirdest and most extreme haunts. But they need the group’s only girl, Brandy (Schaeffer), dubbed “Coffin Girl” after her burial was live streamed by the ever-witty internet, reluctantly piling into their RV to make the trip a success. The movie bone-headedly walks right past some opportunities to play with horror movie tropes such as the typical guy who insists nothing weird is happening despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary or exploring in a meta way why we are so much more compelled to watch women then men survive these situations. Nope. Onto the next haunt.
So despite that ominous-looking poster art, the vast majority of these movies plays like a Travel Channel series that rolls around the country and checks out some of small town America’s scariest and weirdest haunts. While that is completely at odds with the core idea, while it’s designed as filler to add realism to the supposed horror to come, it’s really the most entertaining section of the movie. If you pulled out any pre-text for genre horror and this movie was just a Travel documentary, Houses October Built would be far better for it. The most interesting segment features a creative Zombie Run where joggers are chased through a mock freeway lined with abandoned cars, a subway car and a flooded neighborhood. We also see a Zombie Apocalypse Escape Room, a haunted hay ride and some gruesomely inventive extreme haunts.
2 even loosens up on the found footage mechanic, giving the guy’s a drone and an excuse to open up some more cinematic shots. It makes no sense at all, but it looks nice. At some point these guys had to pay for that drone. You can almost see the point in the movie where they remember that they promised to deliver an actual horror film to the financers and start slapping one together. For reasons unknown The Blue Skeleton, a mysterious group of said psychos using said haunts to presumably commit real murders (I think), are singularly focused on Brandy and after the aborted attempt to kill her (I think) last year now lay in hot pursuit of the gang as they go on tour. This stalking involves recording them with a blue filter, going through the haunts with them and – in a particularly hilarious scene – a guy in a rubber skeleton mask rides under the RV like Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear.
As our group tours the country they are constantly pointed toward something called “Hellbent”, the latest haunt so extreme it is spoken of in hushed tones like something in myth. Not to be confused with Helltrack in Rad, the large abandoned building populated with creeps in clown masks is where October Built’s heroes ultimately wind up. Then, what happens next, this movie’s final 20 minutes to the end, is almost indescribably bizarre. It wants to be a horror movie and it doesn’t. It wants to be a story of trauma and friends you may not trust, and then it doesn’t. It wants to be a realistic found footage documentary and then it wants to be more theatrical. It wants to trick us and trick us that it’s not tricking us. It wants to make us fear the Blue Skeleton and then it doesn’t and then it does again. In a very short span of time there is a series of twists that not just flip back and forth on themselves and retroactively actually crumble the reality of everything we’ve seen before them (in both movies). It wants to have it’s cake and eat it too and then make a comment about the cake and then back away from the comment and say it’s just cake. None of it, all the way back to the film’s loopy first scene to it’s final “scare” to it’s – I kid you not – cast curtain call, make any sense.
Explaining some of the oddball behavior we see in the movie but only opening up more questions, Houses October Built 2 takes the wishy washy ending of the first film and doubles down on it. It can’t decide where to go and picks all the options. What was the point of any of this? I don’t think even Row knows. Long on scenes of friends trading not-so-witty banter, flippantly dismissing trauma when it isn’t a horror film and deeply silly and obviously manipulative when it is a horror movie, the movie is made of several parts that don’t just not fit together, but work against each other.