When I was a kid, I grew up watching a lot of T.V. I remember on weekends watching cheesy action flicks, sci-fi movies, and horror flicks that played on basic cable. Films like The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, the Puppet Master movies, and more would play on lazy Saturday afternoons when my folks were busy with other things. House and House II were films that I caught under those circumstances and I fell in love with both. I mention this because House and House II have never been highly regarded within the horror canon, often times they have been missed altogether by horror fans. It may be the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia speaking but i really love these films.
House (1985) stars William Katt, a popular horror novelist, who inherits his aunt’s home that he grew up in. Wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, he moves into the house to begin working on a novel about the Vietnam war that his publisher doesn’t want. Once inside the home he’s reminded of the painful memory of his son’s disappearance from the home, years before. His aunt told him that it was the house that stole his child but he never believed her. Strange things start to occur as the house comes alive, tormenting him at every turn.
I remember distinctly watching House on a lazy weekend while my mother slept. It scared the hell out of me and i loved it. The film doesn’t play by traditional haunted house rules, with creatures vomited forth by the house, strange rooms that lead to different times and places, inanimate objects with a mind of their own, and a general sense that anything could happen at any time. I loved the imagination in the film and to this day i feel that it stands alone in that department. The film was directed by Steve Miner who also directed Friday the 13th part 2 & 3 as well as Warlock. The film was produced by Sean Cunningham and the music was done by Harry Manfredini and the story was written by Fred Dekker, so it’s a great grab bag of horror favorites all working together to create this unsung gem of the genre. True the film doesn’t feature much gore and the effects are cheap by today’s standards but what it lacks in gore and pricey effects it makes up for with creativity and a genuine sense of identity. I like this movie so much that i’ve dug into William Katt’s spotty filmography from time to time, hoping for another hidden gem. If you like your horror films unique, strange, and filled with creatures, House is your jam.
House II: The Second Story (1987) is a film I caught every time it aired. A young artist inherits his ancient ancestral home and moves in with his talent agent girl friend. Accompanying them are his goofy dufus best friend and his singer girlfriend. Together they dig up an old grave and find the artists’ great great grandfather still alive (though mummified), through the power of an ancient crystal skull. Once returned to the house, strange things start to happen that lead the pair through a wild adventure that spans genres. House was 100% pure horror but this sequel is a different beast entirely. None of the cast return from the first film, nor does the titular house. This time around instead of a Victorian abode the house looks more ancient, being built out of stone. House II is part comedy, part adventure, part buddy film, part sci-fi, part western, with a smidge of horror thrown in. It’s as if the writer (who is also the director, and served as screenwriter on House), used horror as a general framework and explored the many genres that could live in that space. Make no mistake though: this movie is silly from the beginning. It features more unique creatures, great make-up work, goofy comedy, cliche characters, and many surprising twists that although do not exude scares, are filled with child-like exuberance and wonder. If you walk into the film thinking you’re going to get more scares, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you can get with the silly and imaginative vibe of the film, you’ll enjoy it plenty.
Both of these films are worth checking out. They both are unique within the horror genre and unique when compared to each other as well. Both are fun, creative, and inventive, something that can be lost when horror films decide to play by genre rules. The pair were followed by two sequels, in fact the U.K. release includes these films but honestly, they pale in comparison to the first two. The third film is available as The Horror Show, and it stars Brion James and Lance Henrickson. Sadly, it lacks the creativity and vibe of it’s predecessors and honestly has nothing to do with the first film either thematically or spiritually. The fourth film brings back William Katt from the first movie and tries hard to re-live the vibe of the first movie. It does have some inventive scenes and is certainly more enjoyable than the third film but is still inferior to the first two films. Unfortunately the fourth film has be stuck in release limbo and isn’t readily available in the U.S.
Again, Arrow has done a fantastic job of restoring these films, they have never looked or sounded better. I was able to pick up on little things that previously i had never noticed before. The supplementals are also impressive with interviews and making-of featurettes. I watched the 57 minute documentary for House II and it was a wonderful supplement chock full of great interviews and information about the film. This is the definitive release for a pair of films (a group of films in the U.K.), often ignored by horror fans. Hopefully this new release will allow a reappraisal of the films and their proper place in horror history will be secured.