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House

tn_houseThat’s a good feeling when you watch a movie that you don’t remember being all that special back in the ’80s but now it seems like a gem. Last Halloween that happened to me with FROM BEYOND, this year it was HOUSE (1986).

All I remembered was haunted house, George Wendt (and/or John Ratzenberger), something about Vietnam. Maybe kinda funny. All those things are true except for Ratzenberger, who is in part 2. But the star is 10-years-after-CARRIE William Katt as Cobb, a Stephen-King-level-popularity novelist who’s going through some troubles. First we think it’s just that his old Auntie who raised him (Susan French, JAWS 2) hung herself. Then we find out he’s still hurt by his divorce from a soap star (Kay Lenz, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN). And writing his memoir is dredging up painful memories of Vietnam (“The war?” a fan asks). And he still hasn’t given up on finding his missing son.

Jesus, that’s alot of problems.

He decides to go stay in his Aunt’s house where he grew up, partly to be secluded and work on the book but partly because he remembers his Aunt believed the house was haunted and had somehow taken little Jimmy. And he’s just low enough to look into that theory.

mp_houseAs he sits at a computer and writes he flashes back to the war, but also keeps sensing something in the house, or thinking he sees his son, or noticing things in his Aunt’s weird paintings. He needs solitude to write, but also it’s driving him crazy. After a whole lot of creeping around peeping behind doors and finding nothing he suddenly gets grabbed by a huge roaring mass of misshapen flesh coming out of the closet like a freight train from another dimension. It’s the kind of elaborate latex creation that we never get to see anymore, and its abrupt switch from quiet leave-it-to-the-imagination chills to screaming-in-your-face monster extravaganza exemplifies the movie’s just-right balance of scary and funny.

It actually reminded me of the EVIL DEAD movies. Inanimate objects attacking, resurrected taxidermy trophies (a huge swordfish violently slapping itself against the wall), loved ones turning into hideous, saggy demon ladies, the haunt-ee driven crazy by what happens, burying bodies, a living severed hand, even an important workshed! But it’s not just the content. It’s the humor, it’s the energy.

Oh my god you guys, it’s a spookablast! This is a spookablast!

But it’s probly a coincidence because this is much more openly comedic than the first EVIL DEAD and came out the year before the second one. And one major difference is that it doesn’t happen secluded out in the woods somewhere, it’s in the suburbs in a big house with a swimming pool. It’s in polite society where a grocery boy, a concerned neighbor or the police can come across the craziness. When he’s alone Cobb gets deep into it, dressing up in his army gear, setting up dozens of cameras, but whenever someone else intrudes on his writerly solitude he gets embarrassed, like they caught him playing with dolls or something. He tries to act natural. Too hard to explain.

One of the most intense sequences is when his ex-wife turns into a monster and he shoots it, and it turns back into her, now dead. And now all the sudden our protagonist, who we have been rooting for, is a murderer trying to hide what he did from the police and the neighbor. And he’s not a great liar in my opinion. It’s very uncomfortable.

They excuse alot of his weird behavior because they know he was in ‘Nam. That’s not really why he’s acting that way, but it is relevant to the situation. He’s literally haunted by his experiences in the war. I think it’s used more in a colorful this-would-be-interesting way than a DEATHDREAM war allegory type of way. But I’m okay with that. It works.

Alot of FRIDAY THE 13TH people are involved with this one. Original FRIDAY director Sean S. Cunningham is the producer, Part 2 and 3 director Steve Miner is the director, Harry Manfredini did the score (so it’s good), pre-playing-Jason Kane Hodder is stunt coordinator. But the idea came from Fred Dekker (director of MONSTER SQUAD and NIGHT OF THE CREEPS), who planned it out but didn’t get around to writing it so his friend Ethan Wiley (who more recently wrote the Roel Reine movie BLACK OPS) asked if he could use it. Smart idea.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 at 10:10 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “House”

  1. I have actually been to the house where House was filmed for a film shoot. The family inside has a whole glass display case of the movie’s memorabilia it’s pretty cool. It’s in L.A. and it’s a huge old house built long ago.

  2. HOUSE! Amazing that this kind of foam-rubber-and-blue-lasers surreality was considered mainstream horror in the mid-eighties. I miss it. Now when that shit comes out, it’s a niche product that’s usually a bit too self-satisfied to really do the trick.

    For some reason, I’ve always preferred the sequel, which is more of a kid-friendly adventure with puppet sidekicks and a bunch of old-fashioned derring-do. I kind of assume there’s a review forthcoming so I won’t get into it, but suffice it to say that HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY is my favorite sequel title ever.

  3. I’m another HOUSE 2 fan. I think it has so many Fred
    Dekker-esque quirks like the grandpa corpse or the major revelation of the house’s true identity that it’s hard not to love.

  4. It’s funny how, as an easily spooked kid, I happily sat through parts 1 and 2 and was hardly ever scared, just entertained by the weirdness and invention. I always assumed that that was due to them being more like a horror comedy, but reading this, it seems that the movies have a real horror pedigree. A lot of it apparently flew over my head as well. I’ll be looking to revisit these in the future, thanks Vern.

  5. HOUSE 2 was a huge part of my childhood. It totally blew my 12 year old mind and I couldn’t stop telling everybody about its awesomness. (I re-watched it a while ago. Of course all its flaws are now more obvious to me, but it stll entertained the shit out of me.)
    I only saw part 1 for the first time a few years ago and yes, I like it. It’s nothing too special, but a cool little fun horror.

  6. Yeah, they were both good starter horror movies. I definitely saw them when I was still too much of a pussy to watch the FRIDAYs or the NIGHTMAREs, and they didn’t bother me. There’s something very Scooby-Doo about them. And I mean that as a compliment.

  7. I actually didn’t see any of the HOUSE movies until I was around 8 or 9. Whereas I was seeing everything from the Freddies and Jason’s to MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE when I was like 4. Between that and all the action movies I also watched I’m surprised I didn’t grow up to be some kind of sociopath. Then again I always knew the difference between reality and fiction even at a very young age so I’m sure that helped.

  8. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 3rd, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Haven’t seen any of the HOUSES, but I will always remember the back of the VHS cover of HOUSE 3. It was full of gory screenshots including a guy cut in half. That shit gave me nightmares. My own fault for browsing the horror section at age 6 or 7 I guess. I was afraid of Freddy for years before I ever actually saw one of the films. Then I saw Freddy’s Dead and that fear vanished pretty much instantly.

  9. Alternative 1980s Sam Raimi filmography by increasing setting/budget:
    Cabin (Evil Dead), House, Skyscraper (Poltergeist III)

  10. This movie has one of my favorite tag-lines on its poster: “Ding-dong, you’re dead.”

    And I’ll never forget the way George Wendt talked about what a crazy old coot Katt’s aunt was before finding out they were related and he coughs up “Heart of gold, though, heart of gold!” To awkwardly smooth it over. It still makes me giggle.

    This is one of my favorite horror films from the 80’s and it’s great to see it get some love. I need to revisit the sequels.

  11. I prefer HOUSE 2 the same way I prefer WAXWORKS 2 and EVIL DEAD 2 to their predecessors.

  12. Hey Vern – off topic, sorry – but have you seen this awesome AVClub interview with El-P about his studies in Seagalogy? He’s got the energy drinks and everything.

    For a second I thought El-P was Outlaw Vern, but you wouldn’t have made the mistake about which movie the butcher shop scene was in. Or maybe you are just trying to throw us off the scent?

  13. Saw this one a couple of years back and wasn’t much a fan. Just didn’t feel like Miner behind the camera or Katt in front new how to hit that mania-hilarity sweet spot the way Raimi/Campbell or Dekker/Atkins did in their similarly toned spookablasts.

    Those monsters are really cool though.

  14. The 80s really knew how to do the horror comedy without overbalancing and losing the horror. People have already mentioned EVIL DEAD, but this movie also reminds me a lot of THE FRIGHTENERS, which I always liked. Now that I’ve looked that up, that came 10 years after this one, in 1996. I guess that one was more of a throwback than part of the original pack.

    Spielberg did a great job of that balancing act in POLTERGEIST. He overbalanced a bit with GREMLINS, but I think that was meant to be more goofy and kiddy. I also really liked his TV show AMAZING STORIES.

    These kinds of shows always make me nostalgic. Not everything from the 80s was a good thing, but they sure had some fun movies.

  15. This movie blew me away as a kid, it was just the right mixture of scary, cool and funny that made it the perfect horror movie for me, where while it scared me it didn’t scare me enough to make me afraid to go to sleep at night because all the monsters and stuff were also really cool looking (especially the undead Vietnam soldier).

    I’ve been meaning to watch it again, I think the last time I saw it was around 2007 or so, but in the meantime about two years ago I watched HOUSE 2 and it too is awesome, although it’s much more of a kid’s movie, but I love cool details like how every room in the house is decorated to reflect what alternate dimension it leads to and it has a cameo from Bill Maher, of all people.

    By the way, does anyone think the whole “raised by his Aunt” thing might be a reference to HP Lovecraft’s life?

  16. Vern, you really need to give both HOUSE 2 and the Japanese HOUSE a try.

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