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House (1985)/ House II: The Second Story (1987)

Arrow Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/11/2017

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House:
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House II: The Second Story:
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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/5/2017

When we think of lost or forgotten films, we often picture movies from the 1920s or 1930s which mostly likely had only a few copies made or weren't properly preserved. However, there are also semi-modern movies which have faded into obscurity. Let's face it, there are thousands of films made each year and not all of them will lodge themselves into the public's conscience. When House was released in 1985, it made a mild splash at the box office, but you rarely hear it mentioned today. This may have to do with the fact that this little movie was ahead of its time and deserves to be re-discovered. And thanks to Arrow Video's near Blu-ray Disc set, perhaps it will.

Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a successful author of horror novels. However, things aren't going so well in his personal life. Learning that his aunt has died, he's moved into her house in order to work on a book about his experiences in the Vietnam War. This is also the same house from which his son disappeared -- an event which lead to the dissolution to his marriage with Sandy (Kay Lenz). As Roger gets settled into the house, and meets his neighbor, Harold (George Wendt), he begins to notice some strange occurrences. Roger starts to suspect that his aunt is trying send him a message from beyond the grave and that his son's disappearance was no simple kidnapping. Using his military training and his wits, Roger decides that he will get to the bottom of the house's secrets.

I actually saw House in the theater back in 1985 and I remember thinking that the movie was a hoot. I recently showed it to my teenaged daughters and they both hated it. Why? Are our tastes that dissimilar? No, House is one of those movies which suffers from the fact that it was original when it was released, but now that many other movies have traveled a similar path, it may seem trite. But, believe me, the movie was definitely ahead of its time. House was released a year before Platoon made movies about the Vietnam War bankable, but it was right there, dealing with Roger's PTSD. This very serious idea, blended with the story of a man distraught over his missing child, was blended with some no-holds-barred horror sequences. House is never gory, but there are monsters and jump scares a-plenty. This is then combined with a playful, comedic sense. Horror-comedies are now the norm, and House certainly didn't invent the genre, but it was one of the first to have dark horror sequences followed by laugh-out-loud moments.

Is House perfect? No, as it strays a little too far into goofy at times, and I've always felt that the subplot with the sexy neighbor was unnecessary. But, it is a very solid movie strikes a very nice balance between scary and funny. Having graduated from Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th Part III, this was the beginning of Director Steve Miner's slowly branching out into other genres and he shows a very steady hand here (especially given the movies on which he'd previously worked). Despite the R-rating, there is not much objectionable material here, and, my kids' opinions withstanding, this would be a good choice for adolescents who want to dip their toes into the horror pool. Blending monsters, surreal images, creepy moments, a study of the horrors of war, and some laughs, House shows that a movie can have a serious backdrop, but still be fun.

House has made me forever wary of trophy fish on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only very, very slight grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, most notably greens and reds, and this transfer really shows off how Miner juxtaposed the bright daytime with the dark night. The level of detail is acceptable, but I did not some sight blurring in a few shots. The depth looks fine. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.1 Mbps. (Please be advised that the PCM 1-channel track is the default setting here.) This sounds like exactly what it is -- a mono track which has been re-purposed into a 5.1 track. This means that we get some stereo effects, but the surround and subwoofer effects are quite weak.

The House Blu-ray Disc has a handful of extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring William Katt, Screenwriter Ethan Wiley, Producer Sean S. Cunningham, and Director Steve Miner. "Ding Dong, You're Dead!" (66 minutes) is a modern-day featurette which offers comments from Story Creator Fred Dekker, Wiley, Cunningham, Miner, Katt, George Wendt, Kay Lenz, as well as some of the painters and effects crew. The piece is incredibly detailed, as it starts at the beginning and traces the genesis of the film, from the seed of the story to the production. There are some on-set stills featured here. We learn a lot of secrets from the low-budget shoot. "Vintage Making-Of" (24 minute) is a featurette from 1985 which provides a nice amount of on-set footage and interviews with Cunningham, Miner, and Katt. We get two TRAILERS, a TEASER, three TV SPOTS, and a STILL GALLERY.

Sean S. Cunningham, the man behind the Friday the 13th series, also produced House, and if anyone knew how to jump on a success, it was him. So, when the first film turned a profit, he put a sequel into motion. Cunningham asked Screenwriter Ethan Wiley to write a new film, and Wiley asked for the opportunity to direct. The result was House II: The Second Story, a movie which actually deserves to be lost.

Jesse (Arye Gross) has just inherited his parents' house despite the fact that they died like 20 years ago. He and his girlfriend, Kate (Lar Park Lincoln), come to check out the house, and they are soon joined by their friends, Charlie (Jonathan Stark) and Lana (Amy Yasbeck). Jesse begins to research the history of the house and decides that his Great Grandfather (Royal Dano) was buried with a priceless crystal skull. So, he convinces Charlie to help his exhume Gramps' coffin. However, they are both surprised to find that Gramps is the living dead! They sneak him back into the house, along with the skull. Unfortunately, the skull's presence awakens the house's supernatural powers and soon, portals to other worlds are opened. Will Jesse and Charlie be able to protect the skull?

Cult filmmaker Fred Dekker came up with the central premise for House, and when he found that he didn't have time to turn into a completed screenplay, he allowed his friend Ethan Wiley to finish it. As noted above, when it was decided that a sequel should be made, Wiley was given the chance to both write and direct. I don't begrudge him the urge to want to direct, but perhaps he should have let someone else take over the writing duties, as House II's story is pretty dreadful.

As you've probably guessed, the only link between the two films is that they deal with men inheriting a house. (Cunningham's plan was to create an anthology of unrelated House films. But, the disappointing box-office of House II sort of nixed that idea.) From there, this film takes off in its own direction, which is fine, but it goes off of the rails very quickly. For starters, the characters are not very likeable. Jesse is stiff, Charlie appears to be Jim Carrey's long-lost brother, and the women are all mean. Jesse's reasons for digging up Gramps are a bit vague, and Gramps is simply an odd character. Sure, the house in House allowed Roger to visit other dimensions, but they were creepy. Here, Jesse and Charlie find themselves in an Aztec pyramid, a pre-historic jungle, or the wild-west. Things get even worse when cartoonish creatures follow them back to our world. In a word, it all comes across as silly. This all makes the story feel very episodic and there is never a true narrative flow. Also, it doesn't help that the villain doesn't show up until the third act.

I get that Cunningham and Wiley wanted to do something different with House II and they certainly did. They took a good movie and created a film that was the exact opposite. This sequel makes no attempt to be scary or even creepy, and it wears it "80's-ness" as a badge of honor. (Did they really think that those costumes would remain in style?) Today, the only reason to watch House II is as a curiosity piece, as this is yet another movie from the 80s that features a small role from Bill Maher that he'd probably rather forget.

House II: The Second Story should be condemned on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. However, some soft focus was used in some shots, and it takes on a gauze-like look here. The colors look good, as the movie doesn't shy away from bright 80s colors. The image does get a bit dark at times though. Overall, the depth is OK. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I played this track immediately after checking out the one on House and the difference is quite noticeable. This track has much more presence, displaying a wider sound-field and more noticeable stereo and bass effects. However, the surround sound effects are still weak.

The House II: The Second Story Blu-ray Disc provides a small selection of extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Ethan Wiley and Producer Sean S. Cunningham. "It's Getting Weirder!" (58 minutes) is a modern-day documentary which offers comments from Cunningham, Gross, Stark, Lincoln, Dekker, Composer Harry Manfredini, Make-up Designer Chris Walas, and some of the effects crew. This is very similar to the documentary seen on the House Disc, as we get a very detailed and loving look at the making of the film, filled with anecdotes from the speakers. Again, there is no on-set footage here, but we get some stills. "Vintage EPK" (15 minutes) comes to us from 1987 and delivers some behind-the-scenes footage, as well as comments from the cast and creative team. The extras are rounded out by a TRAILER, a TV SPOT, and a STILL GALLERY.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long