The Houses October Built 2 (2017)
Out there in the murk of the ever-proliferating found footage horror boom, unheralded franchises are being born … two Grave Encounters movies, and now a follow-up to found footage mock-doc The Houses October Built (retitled Houses of Halloween in the UK), which was itself a remake of a doc-doc of the same title. Some squirming is required in the opening to revoke the fatal implications of the ending of the first film and bring back the entire cast relatively unscathed so they can go through the whole thing again – albeit with a different, even more twisted endgame in view. We might still be no wiser about the real motives of the Blue Skeleton group of ‘extreme haunted house’ fame, but what they do here is more complicated than the simple scare-the-unwary-beyond-the-limits-and-maybe-kill-them MO of the earlier film.
A year after their first encounter with the Blue Skeleton gang – who wear skull, clown and porcelain doll masks – the quintet of filmmakers who set out to document Halloween attractions across America get back together. The hitch is that Brandy Schaefer, who suffered a youtube sensation ordeal that got her a gazillion views and the tag ‘Coffin Girl’, quite credibly wants nothing more to do with Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe and Jeff Larson, while the guys can’t get a fraction of the sponsorship for their project if Coffin Girl isn’t among the crew. They set out nevertheless, and the film pretty much sticks to visiting real attractions – an arthouse haunted house installation, a puzzle-based game-maze, a zombie version of ‘capture the flag’ and a zombie brain-eating competiton – while periodically begging Brandy to come back to the fold and join the guys in their camper van. Of course, she does … when her friends plead poverty and promise only soft attractions (a haunted hayride), then nag and wheedle her into getting beyond her comfort zone and back into the scary stuff. Finally, after the van is pumped full of knockout gas, the five wake up driven across a state line and in the environs of an impressive found location (an old sea-fort?) that the Blue Skeleton group are running as a personalised haunt called Hellbent. Surely, this time there’ll be real deaths? And are there even crueler revelations to come.
Like the first film, this dawdles a bit in the first hour – though the varied haunts show a lot of creativity and some wit – and then gets a bit conventional when it comes to the protracted torture of the patsies. But it’s all redeemed by a finale that goes into unexpected areas – maybe even setting up a part three which is more character-based. In retrospect, the most horrific aspect is the way the four guys, whose characterisations are more subdued this time round, constantly urge the sole girl into things she doesn’t want to do using emotional blackmail, promises of more money and just plain pleading, all the while resenting the fact that the budget is only there for Coffin Girl (‘nobody wants to see Bearded Man’). Wrtten by Andrews and director Roe.