What do you do once you’ve created a successful slasher franchise inspired by another franchise in Friday the 13th? Well, when you are Sean S. Cunningham, you collaborate with the guy behind Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps. With that, you create a horror comedy franchise about a haunted house. In House: Two Stories, Arrow brings us the first two films in that franchise.
In House, the greatest American hero, William Katt plays Roger Cobb. Roger, a Vietnam vet and author, hasn’t had the easiest time as of late. His life was turned upside down when his son disappeared without a trace. Following this, he and his wife separated. And then his aunt commits suicide on top of it all.
After all the personal tragedy, he moves into his aunt’s house to write his next book. Focusing his latest book on his experiences in Vietnam quickly drags up painful memories of his time as well as ghastly visions of a former comrade. He also finds apparitions and strange phenomena occurring around the house. Roger has to balance these otherworldly issues with suburban struggles of an overly chummy neighboring fan and a neighbor who ropes him into babysitting. Roger’s problems just seem to keep growing.
House is not a straight horror by any means. Pretty much all of the frights are balanced by humor. His all too friendly and fanboyish neighbor keeps popping up at the most awkward moments. Some of the scares even include some humor to balance them in the moment. Few of them are really all that frightening to begin with and some even are on the verge of being goofy. The music even brings some levity to it. This is firmly entrenched in the horror-comedy/comedy-horror territory and it is all the better for it.
It is even kind of entertaining seeing someone trying to balance all of this in real world perspectives. Roger has to deal with hiding his crazy behavior as eccentric to his neighbor and has to give excuses to cops after firing his gun at an apparition in his house. And after you have dispatched what goes bump in the night, how does one dispose of it? One even has to wonder if your method of disposal would even be eco-friendly? The real life implications of these events are staggering. And only House bothers to broach such topics.
House seems to be a somewhat divisive film. Many love its humor, while to others it falls flat. Those who don’t buy into the humor will likely find that the movie doesn’t hold up today. Those who can find joy in the humor will likely still enjoy the movie today.
House II: 3/5
In House II: The Second Story, we have yet another individual moving into a family home despite tragic deaths of his family. In a flashback we see the tragic deaths of Jesse’s parents in this same house. Back in the present, the grown up and professional Jesse moves into the house with his girlfriend. Soon enough, his irresponsible friend Charlie and his pop star girlfriend crash the housewarming.
Not much time passes before Jesse and his friend come up with the bright idea to dig up Jesse’s great-great grandfather and a mysterious crystal skull. The antics just continue from there. While gramps is blending in at a costume party, a caveman joins the party. Then they take a trip to prehistoric times to recover the crystal skull. They return not only with the skull but also with the wonder that is the cater-puppy. Eventually, they go on a swashbuckling adventure with an electrician/adventurer and even take on Gramps’s arch-nemesis. There sure is a lot going on here.
I said earlier that you have to enjoy the humor in House to be able to enjoy the movie. That is even more so the case in House II. Where House used humor to balance the scares and horror tones, House II jumps straight into goofy humor. It abandons most of the horror tones of the original and instead plays more like a fantasy adventure story. There are a few moments of light horror, but it is very tame. It might actually serve as a good entry-point to horror for a child with the original House being the next step. But those expecting a true horror movie with real scares will be quite disappointed in it.
John Ratzenberger is probably the best part of the movie overall. He pops in as the electrician/adventurer. He is a goofy, seemingly incompetent electrician but conversely turns out to be an experienced and skilled adventurer. Arye Gross is fine as the main lead, but doesn’t do much interesting. John Stockwell is a little more interesting as the goofy friend but is pretty one-dimensional. Royal Dano as gramps is pretty entertaining. He works rather well as the ancient member of the group with an entertaining inflection to his words and laughs. This is the zanier, goofier of the two films and you need that personality for it.
If House is divisive, House II seems to be just as divisive if not more so. It abandons so much of the horror and spookiness that many will never consider it to be a horror movie. House II also does not carry on any of the story from the first movie nor does it utilize any of the same characters or actors. This is a completely freestanding story that only borrows the basic premise of someone moving into a house and finding weird phenomena happening. I think if you can look at it in that manner instead of a follow up to the original, it makes it more enjoyable.
Sigh. This is a bit of a mixed bag. Now the two movies look relatively pretty for their age. Unfortunately, the transfers do have their issues. And this has been a point of contention amongst viewers since the set has gotten in people’s hands. Both films suffer from a framing issue where too much information on the left side is included. You see things that aren’t supposed to be in the frame. More than occasionally in House you see crew and pieces of the production environment. It is unfortunate, but not too distracting. Probably the worst part about it is that it does change a bit of the composition of the film and that is likely to bother some. Casual film viewers are probably unlikely to be bothered by this. House II isn’t as hampered by the framing despite appearing to be slightly misframed as well.
Now people are going to fall on both sides on the fence of whether the framing is a bother to them or not. What I consider a bigger issue in House is the brightness. Scenes are often brighter than they should be. This does affect the mood that is being set in the scenes, but it is far from a deal breaker. For House II, the big problem comes in the last third of the movie. There is an off colored line that appears and persists through this part of the film. It is obvious, but not terrible. It bothers me a little, but it became easy to ignore over time.
House comes with LPCM Mono, LPCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. The mono and the 2.0 tracks sound good and dialog is always crisp and clear. The 5.1 track is a little surprisingly active. House II comes with an LPCM 2.0 and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Dialog is solid on both. The 2.0 track sounds natural and as expected. Once again the 5.1 track adds a surprising amount of emphasis and activity. Many will probably prefer to not listen to the 5.1 tracks since they are not how it was originally produced and does result in some flaws that wouldn’t be noticed on the original tracks.
Special Features and Packaging: 5/5
Audio Commentary: Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, Steve Miner and William Katt get together for this commentary. This was a pretty enjoyable commentary track and it seemed like they were having a good time together.
Ding Dong, You’re Dead! An in-depth making of feature. Interviews featuring Sean S. Cunningham, Steve Miner, Ethan Wiley, William Katt, and George Wendt.
Vintage Making Of: This reminds me of TV shows that would run at odd times on the weekend when I was a kid. It clearly has bumps made for commercial breaks and a format. It is nice to see an old making of from around the time the movie was made.
Still Gallery: ‘Nuff said.
Trailers: 2 trailers and a teaser
TV Spots: Three TV spots.
House II: The Second Story
Audio Commentary: Sean S. Cunningham and Ethan Wiley get together for another commentary track. Much like the first, they seem to enjoy themselves and it is a fun listen despite fewer participants.
It’s Getting Weirder! A new retrospective with Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark. It is a fun set of interviews. Especially when Chris Walas talks about never knowing how to describe the movie.
Vintage EPK: This feature includes a chunk of behind the scenes footage blending interviews together.
Still Gallery: ‘Nuff Said
TV Spot: A TV spot. What more you want?
The House Companion: This book is approximately 150 pages. Written by Simon Barber, a UK-based researcher and all around fan of the House series. This is a fairly in-depth book on the series full of information about the series, including why House III is also known as The Horror Show, and press materials. It is a fun read and a worthy companion to this set even if I feel the season on House II: The Second Story is a little short. I especially enjoy the artwork included in the back of the book.
This set comes with the two movies in their own individual cases. The book covering the series fits right into the box with the movies.
One of the harder things about this gig is reviewing movies I’ve loved for years. Even harder, then, is when I review a series that I love. The series doesn’t hold up as well as I would hope. It is best to look at this as a set of comedy horror movies rather than horror movies. The comedy is its strongest suit and even that is aged. But these are still just fun little movies with some minor horror tones interspersed. Just watch them to have fun.
Now the technical aspects are a little troubled. Still, this release is worlds better than the DVD release in my eyes. The extras are fantastic. The book is a real delight for fans. And the box is pretty nice. There is no way I could imagine a more complete set of extras for this series. I suggest giving this a watch. I only recommend it as a blind buy if you find it for a good price, as the series is quite divisive. But if you already enjoy these movies, this set is a no-brainer (unless you can get the UK set that is region A compatible).