Sometimes movies just come around and hit you in that sweet spot – that was the case with The Houses October Built and its sequel. To be honest, the first one, released back in 2014, absolutely slipped past me, but when I received an email about the sequel and whether I’d be interested in talking to any of the principles involved, and I went back and watched the original.
I loved it. The Houses October Built is a found footage/documentary style story about a group of friends looking for the most extreme haunt in America (haunts is the vernacular for haunted house attractions). Legendary among fans is The Blue Skeleton, which as the film shares, is supposed to be the most extreme of the extreme. Which means, of course, that our leads wind up facing off against what The Blue Skeleton has to offer.
The Houses October Built 2 picks up immediately following the first film, and serves as a chapter two rather than a sequel or follow-up. Both films give audiences a look into what goes into making a great haunt, as the ones depicting are the real deal. They also feature believeable performances from everyone involved, and make a strong case for the ongoing use of found footage in horror films, especially when its done right.
On that note, here is my email interview with series director/co-writer/actor Bobby Roe and co-writer/actor Zack Andrews. Be warned – there are spoilers contained for the first film here:
Andy Burns: Congrats on a great new franchise. I love what you guys have created with The Houses October Built. How did you two come up with the concept?
Zack Andrews: Thank you very much. We wanted to take a setting that we loved, Halloween haunted houses, and make a film around them that felt unique and not just the same old thing that has run the genre stale. We knew we had an audience: over 35 million people a year go to these attractions and Americans spend over 8 billion dollars on Halloween every year. So it was about finding a narrative that would allow us to shoot on real sets using real scare actors in order to take the audience on a genuine Halloween adventure.
Andy Burns: For those of that don’t know (including me), how did you two meet in the first place?
Bobby Roe: AP English. We grew up in the same town playing basketball and both loved movies. We’ve known each other for 25 years. And actually, in high school in October, we used to love going to a horror movie and then hitting up one of our local haunted houses.
Andy Burns: I think we all know that at this time in the horror genre, found footage/documentary style films are really hit and miss. I’m happy to say you nailed the genre in my mind. Did you have any concerns with the first film wading into those waters?
Bobby Roe: We always have concerns because we try to be ahead of the curve. Before Paranormal Activity, living in our shared one bedroom apartment, we had The Houses October Built Part 1.0 already on paper…but to have something become tangible takes years of hard work, so by the time you saw the 2014 version (no one really saw the 2011 version)…found footage had been over-saturated. So with Part 2, we wanted to inject life with a little different and more cinematic feel…but still following the rules.
Andy Burns: One of the things I loved about both films was how you managed to meld a world of fictional storytelling with a look at the real life world of haunted attractions/extreme haunts. When you visited the various haunts in both films, was it hard to get access? Were the owners/participants wary of outsiders? If so, how did you convince them to let you see behind the curtain, as it were?
Zack Andrews: I hope, and we think, the owners know this will always be our love letter to Halloween and the Haunt Industry. So far everyone has had open arms and in return I hope they thrive on the exposure we are fortunate enough to give them. We see it as a win/win. We make sure to thank and credit every haunt and many scare actors specifically that participate. For Part 1 we made a map for viewers to follow along and go to every haunt in the movie. We are going to do that again for Part 2.
Andy Burns: The first film ends on what I’m now calling a Twin Peaks Season 3 note – somewhat ambiguous and extremely compelling. There was the assumption that everyone was done for…but it wasn’t totally obvious. What led to that creative decision – was a sequel already in your heads?
Bobby Roe: The sequel will button up to the end of Part 1. We also wanted both movies to be able to play back to back as one whole story. As a kid, the first movie I can recall that did this was The Karate Kid 2. That may be a strange reference for a horror film, but the idea that the sequel started right where we left Daniel LaRusso, exiting his victorious All Valley tournament blew my mind as a child. So even though two years have passed in our world, we never missed a second of Daniel’s life. I loved that. So that’s what we did with Houses Part 2.
Andy Burns: How much time passed between the release of the first film and knowing there would be a second? And how quickly did you guys go about working on that second film? Were there holdover ideas you knew you wanted to explore?
Zack Andrews: Like Bobby was saying, we looked at the end of Part 1 as more of an intermission. We had to have that movie end, but we always hoped we would be able to complete the story as we had planned it. Fortunately, there was enough positive reception to the film that the studio wanted a sequel. This isn’t a movie for everyone. We know that. But we love that so many fans say it’s one of their favorite horror movies and is in their Halloween rotation. We don’t mind being polarizing, rather than everyone just say “it was OK.”
Andy Burns: What was the experience like on the second go around – how did things change making the sequel? Was it harder or easier to access to haunts? Were there new haunts you wanted to explore that opened up between the shooting of the two films?
Bobby Roe: We still go to haunts, and they were very receptive once again, but we wanted to add more Halloween events to make the second film feel bigger and different.
Zack Andrews: We also needed to have a believable way to get Brandy back into the adventure. We didn’t want to just show up and her say “okay.” I think we made it organic and real and this allowed us to see some other experiences like a Zombie Pub Crawl and Zombie 5k that would warm Brandy up to the road trip.
Andy Burns How much room for improvisation was there on the second film – there’s a natural, unscripted feeling to the performances and the experiences in both films that I really appreciated. As creators, does the screenplay become a blue print with room for movement, or do you want things delivered pretty close to how you’ve written it?
Bobby Roe: We want story to stay close to script. But on live sets, dialogue can…and should… get a mind of it’s own. That’s the only way to make these films feel natural. So it’s a credit to the actors for knowing what was needed, but rolling with the punches based on the actual experience.
Andy Burns: In all of your filming and research and experiences, I need to know – is there anything remotely close to a Blue Skeleton experience out there?
Bobby Roe: We all always wanted The Blue Skeleton to feel like an All-Star style group that was cherry picked from the best haunted houses all over the world. Haunters are getting more and more creative every day…so I’m excited to see what comes this Halloween.
Andy Burns: The Houses October Built 2 is about to be released. What is next for you both? what are you working on, and could we see a third?
Zack Andrews: It’s always nice to have different films in different processes of the creative process. We have another horror franchise we want to start for the studio (RLJ) as well as finishing an 8-month rewrite on a project for the company that started The Walking Dead. We also think that the “entire” world of haunted houses needs to be explored…and hope that fans of this franchise continue to want to explore that with us.
Thanks to Bobby Roe and Zack Andrews for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop! The Houses October Built 2 is out Friday, September 22nd.