Ding dong, you're dead!
When you talk about all the horror films that came out in the 1980s everyone always brings up the same titles. You've got your Friday The 13ths, your Nightmare On Elm Streets, and your Halloweens. There's also Hellraiser, The Return of the Living Dead movies, and a few Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels. Those are all popular movies, but what about some of the great titles that weren't huge blockbusters? Such was the case with the 1986 flick House, produced by everyone's favorite horror hack, Sean S. Cunningham (he created Friday The 13th series, so for some he is partial devil spawn). Directed by Steve Miner (Friday The 13th Parts 2 and 3, Lake Placid, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later) and starring an assortment of ghouls and ghosts, House was a big enough hit to warrant a sequel, 1987's House II: The Second Story. Both '80s relics are resurrected in a double disc set featuring both discs (in a limited pressing of only 20,000) from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Roger takes a trip up to his aunt's house and makes the decision to stay there a while for some peace and quite to write his book. Yes, nothing says R&R like living in the same house where a beloved family member offed herself. While there he meets his new nosey neighbor, Harold (George Wendt, Cheers). In the words of David Spade, Harold is a "big, dumb animal." He lets Roger know that he's his biggest fan, and sticks his schnozzle into as much of Roger's business as he can. Roger, however, has bigger troubles than Harold. Roger is starting to see things, such as gooey, dripping monsters in his closet and bathroom. In an act of defense, Roger shoots his ex-wife who'd mutated into a hideous purple beast (now I know how Jim Bakker must have felt). Soon other beasties are popping up, and Roger is forced to deal with the house's evil apparitions and monstrous demons. To make matters worse, Roger's son is caught in the limbo of the house, and Roger must now battle his rocky Vietnam past to get back his life, his son and his sanity!
Welcome home, Roger.
• House II: The Second Story
Gramps also explains to the boys that the magical skull must not fall into the wrong hands (though it's never quite clear what its intrinsic powers are). He places the skull in a shrine on the fireplace, making sure that it's close to him at all times (as it's what has kept Gramps alive all these decades). Soon a prehistoric warrior steals the skull while Charlie throws a Halloween party, and the boys are off on a supernatural adventure that will take them into the jungle, the old west…and the heart of the House. When all is said and done, they must protect the skull from the forces of evil…and Gramps old nemesis, Slim.
I find it hard to believe that any horror fan dislikes the two House movies. It had been quite a few years since I'd seen either of these films, and though the first House moved a little slower than I remember, both movies were a lot of fun and held up well after almost fifteen years.
What's so good about them, you ask? Maybe it's the fact that House II: The Second Story features a half caterpillar/half dog creature. Or maybe it's because the original House includes Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court) as a raging, rotting Vietnam zombie. These are very good reasons why both House movies are good flicks. However, I'd argue that the reason House and House II: The Second Story are such great movies hinges on the fact that they both have Cheers alumni in them. The first movie has George Wendt (Norm) and House II: The Second Story stars John Ratzenberger (Cliff). Where else in the history of cinema can you find such a random event occurring? You'd be more apt to see a blind man find a single marked grain of sand in the Sahara Dessert than see a miracle of that magnitude happen. To cap it off, Bill Mahar of Politically Incorrect appears in House II: The Second Story. I'd like to point out that I saw a taping of P.I. a few years ago, and when the audience was given the chance to ask Mahar questions, I probed him about his role in House II: The Second Story. I assume it never showed up on his future resumes, as Bill was none too amused by my inquisitive nature.
Both movies have loose scripts, but who cares? I'm all for schlocky horror films as long as they don't bore me and keep the pace moving rather briskly, which both films do. The first House tends to be a bit sluggish at times, though always kept me entertained. I find that only the cynical in heart wouldn't laugh at the sight of a cute puppy carrying around a rotting, severed monster hand. House II: The Second Story isn't so much horror as it is comedy, though there are moments of tension and terror that will satisfy those looking for some scary, old fashioned fun.
Neither House movie has anything to do with the other, save for the fact that they take place in a large, spooky "house." Unlike traditional sequels, each story free floats in its own world (care of writer Ethan Wiley), unconnected to the other film. The first movie has a more serious tone while House II: The Second Story plays mostly for laughs. Both casts are very good, with leads William Katt (from the original House) and Arye Gross (from House II: The Second Story) playing well off whatever material is thrown at them. The supporting cast is unusually good for horror movies, with the two Cheers alumni, Richard Moll, and Bill Mahar giving goofy, funny performances. Even Royal Dano (Killer Klowns From Outer Space) plays it up as Gramps, the oldest living man in need of some serious plastic surgery.
Both House and House II: The Second Story are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and all I can say is wow! For two films that are relatively old, and pretty low budget, they look excellent! Anchor Bay has really done a fine job of giving fans the best looking House transfers you'll ever come across. Colors were very bright and sharp, blacks solid and dark. I spotted only the slightest edge enhancement, though nothing that will be a problem during the viewing. Both of these films are on an equal plane in terms of quality, and I'm happy to see Anchor Bay do such good work on them.
Audio includes Dolby Digital Mono on both discs, and the sound is passable, if a bit less impressive than the video portions of the disc. The track had no distortion, and all effects, music and dialogue were mixed well. Just like the video, both discs rank equal in audio presentation. Though nothing great, they both do a fine job for the task at hand.
Both House and House II: The Second Story contain some very nice features, including commentary tracks on both discs. Like the movies themselves, these tracks are both fun to sit through. The House commentary track features director Steve Minor, star William Katt, producer Sean S. Cunningham and writer Ethan Wiley. House II: The Second Story features producer Sean S. Cunningham and writer/director Ethan Wiley. The first film's commentary tends to be a bit lighter and enjoyable, mainly because there are more people there to poke fun at the movie. They all seem to have a good time, and think highly of the film they've created. The second film's track is a bit less fun, though I found it more informative than the first track. Both are very nice extra features, and any fan who likes House will surely get a kick out of either track.
House also includes a full frame, 12-minute "Making Of House" documentary. Though relatively light, it's still a fun behind-the-scenes look at the making of House, including some 1985 interviews with the cast and crew. Also included are two anamorphic trailers for House, as well as some promotional materials featured in a still gallery. House II: The Second Story also includes an anamorphic trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though both films suffer slightly from age, House and House II: The Second Story are ultimately a lot of fun. If you're looking for a really gory, terrifying movie, then neither film will work for your needs. If, however, you're looking for good old '80s fun, this may be a "house" you'll want to settle down in. I have absolutely no complaints on the discs as Anchor Bay has done a commendable job on both House and its sequel.
Anchor Bay once again brings us some lesser titles in a fantastic package! Though certainly not Oscar winners, House and House II: The Second Story are both fun romps filled with dastardly delights and fun nostalgia. If you don't get some kind of weird chuckle from seeing a prehistoric bird trapped in a cupboard while Bill Mahar makes wisecracks…well, then you've got some serious soul searching to do. The fact that both films are anamorphic, include excellent supplemental features, and come in a two-for-one set makes this DVD package worth picking up!
FYI: House II: The Second Story will be released separately down the road by Anchor Bay, though I'm not sure when. If you're interested in owning both films, now is the time as it's limited to 20,000 copies.
There's just no way I can lock up House in the "big house." Both films are acquitted, and Anchor Bay is commended on doing fantastic work on such small films!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary by Director Steve Minor, Producer Sean S. Cunningham, Writer Ethan Wiley, Actor William Katt (House)
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