Friday, October 13, 2017

The House series (1985-1992) [31 Days of Gore]


There's just something magical about a Friday the 13th falling in October, isn't there? If you're wondering why I'm not featuring the Jason series, it's because I already did that earlier this year. Instead, here's a series that's stained by the Friday the 13th franchise: Jason creator Sean Cunningham produced them all; Harry Manfredini, who created Jason's signature music, provided all four scores; Kane Hodder, everyone's favorite Jason actor, does the stunt coordination; and Steve Miner, who directed the second and third Jason movies, helms the maiden film.

This is the first time I've seen any of these movies as an adult. In the case of House III, it's the first time I've ever seen it. (More on that piece of shit, later.)

House (1986)


William Katt is probably best remembered for Carrie and The Greatest American Hero, but this is the movie I'll forever associate with him. Katt plays horror writer Roger Cobb, a veteran of the Vietnam war whose son has gone missing sometime prior the film's opening. The aunt who raised Roger has recently hanged herself and Roger moves into her old place.

Surprise! The house is haunted. That would be a pretty big let down if the house weren't the centerpiece of a movie called House, right? Well, don't worry. The series doesn't make that mistake until House III. (Again: more on that piece of shit, later.)

Roger has a lot going on in his life. The fact that he's an extremely popular horror writer doesn't matter to the plot in the least, nor does the fact that his wife is a super famous actress. Meanwhile, Roger's exceedingly boring flashbacks to his war experiences, which look like they were filmed in the garden section of a home improvement store, don't figure into the plot until the very end. The 'Nam pay-off is a lot less exciting than the setup was worth, but it involves Richard Moll who I'm always excited to see in movies.


Speaking of sitcom actors, Roger's next door neighbor is Norm from Cheers (George Wendt) who's more or less playing Norm from Cheers (not a complaint). He's the comic relief in a movie that can't decide whether it wants to be a straight horror film or a horror-comedy along the lines of Evil Dead 2. The horror-comedy elements actually work, but the straight horror and the straight comedy bits kind of stink.

Here's a silly nit-pick: when you first see Norm, his hands are covered in grime. When he shakes hands with Roger, you expect the old cliche where he doesn't realize his palm is dirty until he rubs it on his shirt. I usually like it when a movie spares us the cliche, but here it feels like a sneeze which won't dislodge. Earlier in the movie, a delivery boy wanders into the house and carefully places a sack of groceries on the table in the entry, then wanders upstairs only to find Roger's aunt hanging from her neck. Listen, I needed to see that sack of groceries topple when the boy goes running out of the house. It's easily the biggest disappointment of my life.


I still like House after all these years, but my biggest complaint is it's awfully slow to get started. It really could have done without some of Roger's many subplots because you just can't believe this man recently lost his son or that he experienced a great trauma in the war.


House II: The Second Story (1987)



House II has nothing to do with House, which is just as well because House struggled to fill its 90-minute running time. I used to flip-flop on which one I liked better, but today it's clear to me House II is the winner. I don't expect this opinion to be popular (House II currently holds a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and the horror elements are pretty much gone), but there are no boring flashbacks, no cluttered backstories, and it offers a more focused attempt to entertain.

The movie also speeds us right through the setup: a young couple played by Arye Gross and Lar Park Lincoln (Tina Shepard from the Jason movies) inherit a house which was constructed as a kind of modern day temple for a Mayan crystal skull. When Gross's party-hardy friend (Fright Night's Jonathon Stark) shows up for a weekend of drinking, Gross's relationship with Lincoln is strained to the point she runs off with Bill Maher... yes, the smug comedian used to be an amusing actor, and while the subplot isn't nearly as egregious as the ones in the original movie, it's really not worth going into here.


Gross and Stark dig through a stash of ancient documents and discover the crystal skull was buried with one of Gross's ancestors. Dollar signs glimmering in their eyes, the boys dig up the grave only to discover Gross's great-great grandfather (Royal Dano) is un-dead. I would say the hi-jinks which ensue were obviously inspired by Weekend at Bernie's, but this movie preceded that one by almost two years. It's basic 80s comedy (along the lines of Mannequin), which is somehow elevated by its lite themes of horror. Later, the movie will add a prehistoric bird and some kind of puppy/centipede creature to the cast, and the animatronics are charming as all hell.

Anyhow, their possession of the crystal skull causes a number of strange things happen in the house. It's a movie that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it doesn't have to. The special effects are good, the pacing is swift, and the filmmakers know exactly what kind of movie they're going for... until they go full western in the end.


I wouldn't say the Gross/Stark duo is hilarious, but they work, more because of Gross's ability to play a straight man than Stark's comedic timing. There are jokes in this movie I wouldn't laugh at in other movies. When Bill the electrician, played by John Ratzenberger, casually remarks, "Looks like you've got some kind of an alternate dimension in there or something," I lost it.


House III: The Horror Show (1989)


I remember browsing the video store one day when I stumbled upon House IV. Naturally, my first thought was, "What the hell happened to House III?" It was nowhere to be found at any of the video stores near me, so I eventually bit the bullet and skipped directly to IV. I always assumed it was a straight-to-TV production and, when I was a kid, I dreamed it was a long lost continuation of the second House.

Nope. Turns out it's yet another unrelated sequel. I never saw it because it wasn't called House III in the United States for reasons that are still a little vague to me. (Here's the Wikipedia article on the matter.) I'm not surprised to see the movie was shoehorned into the already confusing La Casa series. I'm also not surprised to find it's a mediocre movie. Completionists will moderately enjoy it, horror fans will stomach it, and nobody else should come within ten feet of this absolutely forgettable turd.


I know it released in '89, but it's a pretty good example of a shitty 90s movie. There are gems from the era to be sure, but this ain't one of 'em. How a movie can get the likes of Lance Henriksen and Brion James, then turn out this fucking boring, I'll never know. James almost works, because he's got a great laugh and an unusual face, but Henriksen seems bored by the material. Can you blame him?

The movie's not entirely unlikable. There's a scene, early on, in which Henriksen faces the killer, who's taken a little girl hostage. James, who's holding all the cards, tells Henriksen to drop the gun. We've seen this scene a million times, but when Henriksen complies, James cuts the little girl's head off and throws it at Henriksen. It's a great what-the-fuck scene, which is immediately dampened by the reveal it was all just a dream.


Later, when James is fried in the electric chair, he bursts into flames, rips himself out of the chair, and stomps towards Henriksen. The scene is just as wonderfully mental as it is silly, but nothing after it even competes. The biggest disappointment: they didn't put a Cheers cast member in this one. Maybe when Cunningham goes through his George Lucas phase, he can digitally add Woody to the re-release.

I have a question: What's the deal with children con artists in these kinds of movies? Henriksen's son, (played by a young Aron Eisenberg) runs an ongoing scam in which he fabricates product deficiencies in order to get companies to send him free stuff. The daughter in the next film is also a fraud, and there was a similarly mischievous kid in Rachel Talalay's oddly brilliant Ghost in the Machine, which I featured in last year's 31 Days of Gore.

At the end of the day, it's a movie called House that's not about a house. It doesn't even show an establishing shot of the fucking house it's set in.


House IV: The Repossession (1992)


So this is apparently the "true sequel" to House (if they ever make House V, it better be a direct sequel to House II), but wouldn't you expect a "true sequel" to share some continuity with the first one? William Katt returns as Roger and, uh... that's about the only thing that carries over from the original. Roger even has an entirely new family, with no mention of the old one, and you'd think he would've learned his lesson fucking around with spooky old houses.

Early on, Roger's killed in a car crash, which leaves his wife and daughter struggling to get by in the old house. The house is haunted, of course, but whose side are the ghosts on? For the first half of the movie, they terrorize the mother so much she begins to question her sanity. Later, when the bad guys show up, the ghosts seem intent on protecting the family.

Oh, I forgot to mention that part: there are human villains this time around. And how's this for originality? The sniveling weasel of the group is named Burke.

I was dreading House IV, but it's not nearly as bad as I remember it being. Cheesy? Yes. Schmaltzy? Unbelievably so. It's like Touched by an Angel with bits of horror sprinkled throughout. The lead actress, Terri Treas, is much better than the material she's given. Denny Dillon, who plays the housemaid, is an odd casting choice, but she isn't bad either.

this scene is not ripping off Twin Peaks in any shape or form

The first half of the movie is criminally mediocre as it dishes out roughly the same amount of flashbacks and dream sequences as the original film did. Then, around an hour in, it gets weird... disgustingly weird. If you're eating lunch right now, I would suggest reading the next few paragraphs with caution. I know what you're thinking: Come on, man! I've seen it all! I thought so, too, but this goes beyond the usual bodily fluids. It's especially jarring because it appears in a movie that, up until this point, had been tame enough to show on network TV.

This requires a bit of backstory:

So it turns out Burke wants to run the family out of the house because he's promised the land to a mobster who deals in toxic waste disposal. (It was the 90s... toxic waste was a hot topic in both children's entertainment and adults'.) One minute you're watching a low-key horror movie, the next you're watching Burke and his cartoonish goons make their way through some kind of underground factory in which employees fill 50-gallon drums with toxic sludge, then amend the TOXIC WASTE labels to read NON-TOXIC WASTE. It seems it would have been easier just to get barrels that didn't say TOXIC WASTE in the first place, but I digress.

there, fixed it

And just what is the factory making that could produce such ungodly amounts of toxic waste? I don't know. It's never properly explained. I think the filmmakers just wanted to make a statement that toxic waste is bad. (There's also a Native American character in the film, which is another good intention handled with hilarious ineptitude.)

Anyway, back to the disgusting part: Burke meets with the mastermind behind this toxic waste operation, a dwarf who produces so much phlegm—yes, phlegm—he has to occasionally suction it out of a hole in his throat. (You can stop reading this at any time, mind you.) Well, ol' Burke pisses this guy off, so the dwarf has his minions hold Burke down and proceeds to empty a glass of the mucus right into Burke's mouth.

That, my friends, is the exact moment House IV became my favorite movie in the entire series. Never mind 99% of the movie is garbage, that scene takes the cake.

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