The Films (House 4/5, House II: The Second Story 2/5)
Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a famous horror novelist who’s trying to recover from the disappearance of his son and the subsequent divorce from his wife (Kay Lenz) while writing a nonfiction book about his experiences in Vietnam. After the aunt who raised him as a kid commits suicide, he inherits her old house and decides to live there so he can work on his book in peace. Of course, the house is haunted as all heck and Roger is besieged by all kinds of ghosts and goblins, the worst of which is his old Army buddy Big Ben (Richard Moll) who’s now a big pissed off zombie with a machine gun. When it seems like there’s a chance that he could save his son from the clutches of the house, Roger becomes even more obsessed with the supernatural goings on.
Man oh man, House is a slice of nostalgia from the mid-1980s that has aged very, very well. The Friday the 13th power team of Steve Miner and Sean S. Cunningham along with writers Ethan Wiley and Fred Dekker doubled down on the comedy for this haunted house romp and made out like bandits. The horror scenes are constantly being interrupted by the kooky neighbor, “Cheers” alum George Wendt, and the sexy neighbor, Bond girl Mary Stavin. Well, I guess Stavin is pretty kooky and Wendt is also pretty sexy. Throw in some Vietnam flashbacks and you can actually hear my kid-heart swoon on the soundtrack. For reasons I still can’t explain, I was obsessed with movies about the Vietnam War as a youngster. Damn yo, House has got it all!
Wow, I’m so glad that I waited so long to revisit this old favorite. The only thing that I could nitpick House for is the lighting of the interiors of the house itself. I wish that this film’s look was just a tad more atmospheric in places. The bright and stark reality of the house sets off the crazy monsters and weirdness but an old dark house this is not. And speaking of monsters, there’s so many groovy ghouls on the screen in this one that make today’s CGI creatures look like hot pixelated crap. Wow, I actually played the “practical effects” card in a review. I’m officially old, y’all.
House II: The Second Story is about Jesse (Arye Gross) who inherits his family’s butt-ugly old house where his parents died mysteriously. Well, they were shot to death by a skeletal gunslinger, so not so much mysteriously as unlikely. He and his buddy Charlie (Jonathan Stark) end up having some wacky adventures with Jesse’s great-great zombie grandfather Gramps (Royal Dano) because this house is also a time machine. It’s powered by a crystal skull -the same exact one as the one they used in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull- which is also what that pesky skeletal gunslinger is after. Hilarity ensues.
Ethan Wiley, the screenwriter of the first House film, writes AND directs this goofy follow-up which is a perfect example of a love-it-or-hate-it horror comedy. It’s crap but it’s competently made crap. The jokes and the effects are cheap but the film is never boring. And holy shit, could they have picked an uglier house to set this in? At least they found the musical equivalent of the architecture with Harry Manfredini’s score. Oh doctor, the fiddling in this film just makes my flesh crawl. The rest of the music is fine but all of the House II hootenanny shenanigans are just aggressively awful.
My biggest problem with House II: The Second Story is that my mind starts reeling as to how it could have been a better film while I’m watching it. I really dig the cast -who are clearly having a good time making the most of the zaniness- and the screenwriter is IN LOVE with his characters but in a John Steinbeck kind of a way. This all could have worked if the tone of the film had been darker. I’m not saying this should have been a gore or sleaze fest but I wish the goofiness was mixed with some actual scares or horrific consequences with all of the danger than time traveling to magical lands bring. On a directorial level, I don’t think that Ethan Wiley was ready to step into the director’s chair on this film. Large sections of House II feel like a poorly directed episode of “Murder, She Wrote” or a really well directed episode of “Knots Landing”.
Will House and House II: The Second Story ever look better than this Blu-ray set? The answer is a resounding NO! I’ve read some other reviews complaining about incorrect framing but I honestly don’t see anything wrong with either film on this set. House II: The Second Story especially looks frickin’ gorgeous! I think fans of that film will be pleasantly surprised.
Where do I start? Jeez Louise! Both films get brand new and rather extensive cast and crew interview featurettes, vintage “making of” featurettes, TV spots, theatrical trailers, etc. I think that the It’s Getting Weirder: The Making of House II doc is more enjoyable than the film! There’s also feature commentaries for both films with cast and crew. Everyone involved has great stories to share and very nostalgic about working on these two films. As if all of this wasn’t enough, the boxset also comes with a huge booklet featuring new original art, tons of productions stills, vintage promo art, and an essay by cult film researcher Simon Barber. And honestly, this set just looks amazing sitting on your shelf. It’s a beauty!
When I was a kid, House was more than just scary and fun for me, it was inspiring. I actually wrote a short novel about a guy living in a haunted house. It was partly inspired by Evil Dead II but most of what my carbon copy imagination “came up with” was stolen right out of House. That New World Video VHS got a lot of play in the Schmidt house. So yeah, if you’re a fan of this film, then you owe it to yourself to snatch up this set from Arrow Video. This is easily one of their best releases to date.
As for House II: The Second Story, I really tried to go into this one and give it a fair shake. I remember strongly disliking it as a kid and it has a rather divisive reputation, to say the least. It’s definitely energetic but I hated this film’s overuse of good-natured humor. If this had had a strong sense of dread to back it up, some really dark and -I can’t stress this enough- horrifying black comedy to go with the goofiness, I would have loved it. And take those cutesy puppets out! Maybe if the US version of the Arrow Video set could have secured the rights to House III: The Horror Show and House IV: The Repossession and included them, then the first sequel would look much better to me. But hey, House II: The Second Story is better than Back to the Future Part III (but nearly everything is)!