House: The Complete Collection Limited Edition Box Set
Directed by Steve Miner/Ethan Wiley/James Isaac/Lewis Abernathy.
Starring William Katt, Kay Lenz, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Lar Park-Lincoln, Amy Yasbeck, Bill Maher, John Ratzenberger, Dean Cleverdon, Lance Henriksen, Brion James, Rita Taggart, Dedee Pfeiffer, Terri Treas, Melissa Clayton, Scott Burkholder, Denny Dillon, Kane Hodder.
1980s VHS rental hit House and its three sequels are brought together on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a lavish box set from Arrow Video.
A hugely popular VHS rental back in the day, 1985s House is a film that was put together by a team of people that included producer Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th/The Last House on the Left), writer Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps/The Monster Squad), director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2/Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later), screenwriter Ethan Wiley (Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror) and actors William Katt (Carrie), George Wendt (Cheers) and Richard Moll (Evilspeak), so looking at it as a project on paper it couldn’t really fail.
But looking at the credits of the people involved is a little misleading as House isn’t a horror movie in the Friday the 13th/Halloween/Children of the Corn model of its creators but is instead a horror comedy with its foot a little further over the line of comedy, and that is mainly thanks to the involvement of screenwriter Ethan Wiley, who took Fred Dekker’s original idea of a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD and expanded it into a haunted house story, giving you the idea that all the creepy goings-on could be real or they could all be in the head of the protagonist, Roger Cobb (William Katt). Cobb is a writer struggling to write an account of his experiences in Vietnam when his elderly aunt hangs herself, leaving him her house which is the house that he grew up in and also the house where his young son went missing. After he moves in Roger has some weird experiences as he starts to have flashbacks from the war, visions of his dead aunt and missing son, midnight visits from strange monsters appearing from the cupboards and his ex-wife Sandy (Kay Lenz – Death Wish 4: The Crackdown) turning up unexpectedly and changing into a murderous witch – are Roger’s demons getting the better of him or is there something else going on in the old house?
When put up against the other mainstream horror hits of the day House does feel a little tame in comparison but if you go into it with the mindset of watching a bit of nonsense – in the best possible sense – for 91 minutes then it remains a hugely enjoyable bit of ‘80s silliness that still works incredibly well and is immensely rewatchable, something that many of the disposable horror movies of the time cannot claim to be. Most of the charm of it comes from having a strong lead in William Katt, brilliant support from an on-fire George Wendt as Roger’s nosey neighbour Harold and the right mix of light-hearted comedy to go with the many prosthetic effects that litter the film, most of which do look a little hokey and comic book-ish but listening to the commentaries that was the intent and, thankfully, the excellent 2K restoration has cleaned up the picture immensely without showing the joins in all of the make-up (or at least, without showing up the joins that you couldn’t already see in any previous releases).
As stated by William Katt in the Ding Dong, You’re Dead! documentary on the disc, House is a great entry-level horror movie that you can show to a younger audience without them getting too traumatised, and this Blu-ray edition looks fantastic and gives the film a really shiny and modern look. However, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio did appear to give the actors’ voices an echo so switching to mono may be the preferred option. Nevertheless, time has certainly been very kind to the film and House remains good fun.
And fun is the order of the day with House II: The Second Story, the unrelated sequel that came along in 1987. In this one Jesse (Arye Gross – Exterminator 2) moves into his old family home with his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park-Lincoln – Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) where they are joined by Jesse’s friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark – Fright Night) and his girlfriend Lana (Amy Yasbeck – The Mask). As wannabe singer Lana smooches with music industry scout Kate and her boss John (Bill Maher – Religulous) in order to land a contract, Jesse and Charlie delve into Jesse’s family history and discover that Jesse’s great-great-grandfather is buried nearby, possibly with a valuable crystal skull that can open doors to other dimensions, so naturally Jesse and Charlie go and dig ol’ cowboy Gramps up and discover that the skull is still very much intact, as is Gramps (Royal Dano – The Outlaw Josey Wales) himself who is now a zombie.
Naturally, crystal skulls are a much sought-after item in the world of House II and this particular trinket is also on the radar of Slim Reeser (Dean Cleverdon), Gramps’ partner back in the Old West who turned against him when Gramps wouldn’t give him the skull. Slim has been haunting Jesse’s family home since Gramps shot him and left him for dead decades ago and with the skull back in its rightful place the dastardly cowboy sets about taking it for himself as Jesse, Charlie and Gramps try to keep it from him and from the stone age monsters that keep appearing out of the jungle that has appeared in one of the upstairs rooms and also the Mayan priests that are sacrificing virgins inside the temple that is also in the house. Confused? You have no idea…
Yes, House II: The Second Story is something of a sore point in certain sections of horror fandom as it isn’t really a horror film; it’s an adventure movie more in line with Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom or Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy than it is connected to the rubber monsters of the first film. There is no blood, no gore and the violence is no more brutal than you would see in a classic James Bond movie so on that basis you can understand why this doesn’t get as much love as the original House. However, based on entertainment value alone there is a case to be made that House II: The Second Story is perhaps – if you think about it really hard – a little more consistent and – whisper it – enjoyable than the original.
Despite the mish-mash of ideas going on and the tonal shifts between swashbuckling adventure story, a western and dark fantasy, House II: The Second Story scores pretty highly with the cast as Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark are terrific as the sensible Jesse and joker Charlie, riffing off each other like a proper double act, and Royal Dano as Gramps adds a bit of authenticity having starred in so many westerns. The supporting cast of Lar Park-Lincoln, Bill Maher and Amy Yasbeck have pretty thankless roles but their performances are fun, especially Maher who does slimy to perfection. Kane Hodder – who did the stunts on the first film – also pops up in a minor role taking on a hulking Neanderthal man looking for the skull but the best character in the movie is Bill (John Ratzenberger – Cheers), the electrician and part-time adventurer who comes out with the immortal line “Looks like you’ve got some kind of alternate universe in there or something” as he knocks a hole through a wall. Pure coincidence that two actors from Cheers appeared in this and the first House movie but it gives both films a fun little connection.
Backed up with an informative documentary titled It’s Getting Weirder: The Making of House II, which should clue you in on what to expect given the title, and looking as sharp and colourful as its predecessor (although that 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio is still a little echoey, but not as much as the first film), House II: The Second Story is too light-hearted and silly to be considered a horror movie of any kind but it is a damn good time and flies by, coming in at just under 90 minutes. You won’t ever flinch or be even slightly scared by anything you see but you will laugh a few times and probably be won over by the prehistoric animal puppets that cause most of the chaos, making this an amusing side-step in the series but nothing to be taken seriously.
Something which cannot be said for House III: The Horror Show, a film that appeared in 1989 just as Wes Craven was releasing his silly serial killer romp Shocker. Why mention that movie? Because the plot of both movies is basically the same – a serial killer goes to the electric chair and comes back to take revenge on those who put him there. And just as Shocker owed a huge debt to Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street and tried to force a new horror icon onto audiences lapping up franchise sequels, House III: The Horror Show also looks to the same source for inspiration, with Brion James (Tango & Cash) playing crazed killer Max Jenke, who gets sent to the chair after getting caught by strung-out cop Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen – Aliens), as if he were auditioning for the role of Freddy Krueger. The comparison also holds weight when you look at the special effects provided by a fledgling KNB, with the prosthetics looking like they came straight out of the later Elm Street movies, such as the scene where the turkey the McCarthy’s are having for dinner sprouts Brion James’ head and starts cackling at Lucas being particularly reminiscent of Freddy’s ‘soul food’ pizza scene.
A lot drier and more serious in tone, House III: The Horror Show is a House movie in name only as many of the same crew – producer Sean S. Cunningham, stuntman Kane Hodder, composer Harry Manfredini, etc – involved in the first two movies were helming this one but in the US this movie was simply known as The Horror Show and was nothing to do with the House franchise, as Kane Hodder alludes to in the special features. So if you are in the US and pick up this set you only get House and House II (they couldn’t really put in House IV and not have a part three) which is a bit of a shame as, despite it not sharing anything with the earlier films other than a few crew members, House III is actually a fairly decent late ‘80s horror movie and is one you can rewatch a few times and still enjoy on a no-brainer level. Granted, it isn’t very original and if it wasn’t included in this set then it is doubtful it would warrant a 2K restoration as it isn’t a film you would go out of your way to own but it is a solid serial killer thriller, it looks pretty good despite most of it being shot in darkness and it doesn’t have the same audio issues that the previous two films have if you watch it with 5.1 surround sound on. You even get an audio commentary by producer Sean S. Cunningham and interviews with Kane Hodder and actress Rita Taggart so there is a bit of additional content to not make it feel like an afterthought added on despite it not really being a House movie at all.
Which brings us to the final film in the set, 1992’s House IV: The Repossession, and the return of William Katt as Roger Cobb so technically this is the first and only sequel to the original movie, except it isn’t really a sequel as Roger Cobb has apparently no memory of what happened to him before and his son has mysteriously become his daughter. No, there is no surgery involved but the film was already written as an unrelated story about a mother and daughter who inherited an old house and then director Lewis Abernathy thought it would be a good idea to bring William Katt back into the franchise, which makes financial sense in order to sell the movie but he really is an afterthought as he could have been a completely different character given there is no reference to his supernatural adventures that would no doubt have been an after dinner story worth telling for the rest of his life, and what are the chances of being left two haunted houses by dead relatives in your lifetime? Exactly, and that is the level of storytelling that House IV has throughout.
So what we have is a story about Roger, his wife Kelly (Terri Treas – The Fabulous Baker Boys) and their teenage daughter Laurel (Melissa Clayton) who live in Roger’s old family house (another one, apparently) out in the middle of nowhere. Roger’s step-brother Burke (Scott Burkholder – Crimson Tide) is desperate to buy the house in order to knock it down and use the land as an illegal dumping ground for the Mafia’s toxic waste business, but driving home one night Roger is killed and Laurel is crippled when the tyre bursts on their car. The house is left to Kelly and Laurel but Burke wants his widowed sister-in-law out and soon spooky things start to happen in the house that force Kelly to stand her ground as she comes to believe that Roger’s soul is still there.
Or something like that as the actual plot to House IV: The Repossession is a bit of a garbled mess, as we get a mixture of daytime TV family drama, Poltergeist II-style Native American mythology and a weak attempt at some David Lynch-esque surrealism that misses its mark completely and comes off as just plain dumb. The acting is awful, except for William Katt but that is because he has nothing to do and is only on the screen for around 10 minutes with very little to say, the story is muddled, it looks like a TV movie that a 2K clean-up couldn’t fix and tonally is nowhere near the horror-comedy hybrid of the first two films or the straight-up horror of the third, languishing somewhere in stylistic limbo and sucking away any goodwill you may have had going into it, making this the dullest and least memorable movie in the set, and being dull and not very memorable goes against what the other movies – particularly the first two – are all about.
But overall, House: The Complete Collection is another lovingly put together set from Arrow Video that will provide plenty of nostalgic thrills if you saw the movies the first time round and will still provide you with a decent amount of entertainment if you didn’t. As a franchise House is wildly inconsistent and like most film series it has a duffer, in this case House IV: The Repossession, but the fun to be had with House and House II: The Second Story is well worth the investment, and although House III: The Horror Show veers away from the comedy and is hardly essential it is still a decent horror movie in its own right. Each disc comes loaded with extras including commentaries, interviews and making-of documentaries, and despite the audio niggles with the first two films the 2K restorations look fantastic, except for House IV which looks quite grainy and fairly flat but that is more likely due to the original production not being so great to start with. Nevertheless, three good movies and a curio if you’re interested – not a bad hit rate and a box set that will be most welcome to sit on any collector’s shelf.
House – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
House II: The Second Story – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
House III: The Horror Show – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
House IV: The Repossession – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★