House & House II: The Second Story
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
Director: Steve Miner
Stars: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll
House II: The Second Story
Director: Ethan Wiley
Stars: Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Bill Maher
Once upon a time, in the yesteryear of 1985, a writer by the name of Fred Dekker (he who gave us the wonderful Night of the Creeps and Monstersquad) got together with producer Sean S. Cunningham (the father of the Friday the 13th franchise) and director Steve Miner (who directed Friday the 13th Part II, Halloween H20, and Lake Placid) and a horror comedy called House was born. And it was a hit. So naturally they did a sequel two years later, but without the original director, cast, and only one of the writers. Yeah, it bombed. Big time. But was it really that bad? Well Arrow Video has just released House: Two Stories double pack for both films. Is it worth a buy, or just a rent? Well let’s find out.
William Katt plays a horror author, Rogger Cobb, who has some darkness in his past. Not only is he still tormented from his time in the Vietnam War, but some years back his young son disappeared out of his backyard, in the middle of the day, and was never seen again. And then his aunt dies, but at least he inherits the titular house, so that’s some bitter luck at least. Right?
He soon learns that his dear auntie didn’t just kick the bucket, but was driven to suicide by some dark force that lives in her house. And now that darkness is focused on Roger. And while he has a good-intentioned neighbor, played by the always enjoyable George Wendt, he’s going to have to solve this mystery, and face the horrors, all by himself. That’s the basic setup, and if, for some reason, you have yet to see this 32-year-old movie, I’m not going to go into the plot any more than that.
I will say that House is one of the rare horror/comedies that actually succeeds as both a horror movie and a comedy. This film alternates between laugh-out-loud funny and truly chilling again and again, and it pulls off that no mean feat wonderfully. This might be the best thing Steve Miner ever directed, and is one of the best things William Katt was ever in (can’t forget Carrie). There are also great performances by Mr. Wendt, and excellent work by Richard (TV’s Night Court) Moll as Big Ben. And then there are the effects that are both comically goofy, carefully creepy, and wonderfully imaginative. House is a great slice of 80s genre-defying cinema that is a load of fun and a classic in every sense of the world.
And then there is the sequel.
Ethan Wiley, who wrote the screenplay for the original movie, is given his first chance to direct here, and sadly he’s just not up to the challenge. Furthermore, this sequel is a follow-up in name only. It is a different house, with different characters, and a different mystery. Sadly things here skew far, far, FAR more to the comedic side of things, with any aspect of horror being completely forgotten. There is also an air of cheapness to everything here, as if this was a direct-to-video cash grab sequel, and not something that actually came out in theaters, which it did. The special effects are laughable looking, the direction, as I said, is amateurish, and the acting is not that much better. When Bill Maher is the high water mark for acting talent in your film, you know you’re in for a rough ride.
As for the story, Jesse and Kate are a yuppie couple that moves into a big old house that’s been in Jesse’s family for years, and they are joined by Jesse’s “goofy” friend, Charlie. The boys soon get wrapped up in a time traveling buddy story about undying cowboys, dinosaurs, Aztecs, a caterpuppy (easily the best thing in the movie), and the same thing that spelled doom for Indiana Jones: a crystal skull. Things are just silly, and mostly not in a good way, and while there are a (very) few funny bits here, there’s not enough to really recommend this one.
Enough of that, let’s take a look at the extras and special features on this two-pack from Arrow Video. For the original House, there’s an audio commentary with director Steve Miner, star William Katt, screenwriter Ethan Wiley, and producer Sean S. Cunningham. There is a brand new making-of documentary that’s a very respectable one hour and six minutes long, and a vintage making-of featurette that was put together to promote the film when it was released back in 1985 that’s 24 minutes long. The always-present trailers, a teaser, TV spots, and still gallery are also included here.
Moving on to House II: The Second Story, there is an audio commentary track with now writer/director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham. There is also a new making-of doc for this one that’s 57 minutes long. There is another vintage bit of marketing, this time from 1987, that’s over 14 minutes in length. There is also a trailer, TV spot, and still gallery. Not as many goodies as the first movie, but then this sequel isn’t as good, either, so that makes sense.
Perhaps the coolest extra in this collection is a full-color, 147-page, mini hardcover book called The House Companion. It is chock full of art and pictures and cover not only the two movies in this release, but the two sequels that would follow them. For the serious House fan, this book is a must have.
House is a legit fun and good movie. It blends horror with comedy, with both parts of that equation getting equal treatment, and both being done equally well. It is a true 80s classic. House II is far more slapstick, going for laughs over any sort of chills, and then only eliciting a few chuckles at most. In all ways it’s the lesser of the two movies by far, but it’s not completely without some good points. It does have a caterpuppy in it, so there’s that. On the undeniable strength of the first movie, the cool collector’s book, and some of the uneven charm of the Second Story, I can give this one-two punch an easy recommendation.