(Submitted by Mr. Andrew “Goon” Peters…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie!!! 🙂 xoxo)
You don’t hear much about House II: The Second Story, so out of curiosity, I decided to see what the “professional” critics thought of it and jumped over to Rotten Tomatoes, because as we all know that’s where you go if you want opinions that matter. I’m actually shocked that this film holds a 0% rating currently on Rotten Tomatoes, based off nine reviews. A zero. Zilch. Nada. It’s not a bad film, at least not in the sense like a Transformers movie is, but I can see why people may dislike it; it very much steers away from the tone and satire the first film so brilliantly blended and is basically just a slapstick version of Indiana Jones with alternate dimensions. Hell, based on what I just said, that doesn’t sound too bad. I suspect that the watering down the horror elements and making it more zany and whacky is why critics didn’t seem to like it at all. Geez, it’s like they wanted a carbon copy of the first film, but with different actors… because that works so well with other franchises.
Okay, maybe they toned it down just a little too much, because despite that PG-13 rating it has (back when that meant something), House II is pretty much a kid’s movie. As I said, much of the horror is gone and mostly used for cheap and quick boo scares and the slapstick comedy is ramped up and the lead character is even given a whacky sidekick. Mix that in with a drinking elderly mummy from the Old West who speaks with a ‘oh-gee-shucks’ style and a cute puppy/caterpillar hybrid (yes, that is something that exists in this movie) and there ya go. The only thing I could think of that kept House II from getting a PG rating is the constant drinking going on in nearly every scene. There’s so much drinking in this movie that even my liver was killed by all the alcohol consumption.
Not taking place in the same house, but a different house (the movie is called House II, afterall). This time, it’s a rather large mansion that Jesse (Arye Gross… I don’t know, ‘ar ye’?) inherits, so he moves in along with his girlfriend Kate (Friday the 13th Part VII’s Lar Park Lincoln) along with his goofy friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) and his wanna be popstar girlfriend Lana (Amy Yasbeck). I’m gonna talk about this subplot now, because at about halfway through the film the it’s dropped like a son dad is ashamed to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner. Kate is a record producer and Lana just so happens to be quite the singer, so Charlie and Lana are in hopes of getting her signed on to a record deal. Lucky for them, Kate’s boss (played by Bill Maher of all people) has the hots for her and listens to what she says and, well, that’s about it really. Once there is a misunderstanding with one of Jesse’s ex-girlfriends at a party about halfway through the movie, Bill Maher just puts his arms around the girls and escorts them and himself out of the movie. This is never really resolved, but then again it’s not really that interesting. Jesse and Kate barely share any screen time, so there’s no chemistry between the two. I also want to mention that it took me forever to recognize Jonathan Stark was the badass, undead Billy Cole in Fright Night!
The interesting stuff revolves around Jesse and Charlie’s misadventures once they learn about something called the crystal skull after seeing it in a photo with Jesse’s great-great grandfather also named Jesse (Royal Dano). Figuring the skull was probably buried with him, the two decide to go dig him up and find that he’s not only a mummy, but still very much alive. After Jesse reveals their connection and christian him with the nickname Gramps, they take him back to the house where they spend a good time in the basement shooting the shit, drinking some beers and hearing Old West stories. It’s a pretty charming scene and Jesse and Charlie seem so enthralled by Gramps’ stories. Upon seeing his own reflection, Gramps is heartbroken that the skull kept him alive, but did not restore his youth like he had hoped. I should also point out at this time that the skull’s powers are never fully disclosed, but just vaguely given. Very vaguely. I think the most descript explanation it’s given is along the lines of “it’s powerful.”
Oh, Gramps also informs Jesse that the house has multiple portals to alternate dimensions and he now has to protect the skull from danger and all this other nonsense. Jesse doesn’t say anything, he just kinda accepts it and everything in every dimension must’ve noticed the rookie taking over, because they all start trying to nab the damn skull. Luckily Charlie just happened to bring a fucking Uzi and enter multiple dimensions, like a prehistoric one where they befriend a baby pterodactyl that even comes to live with them, because funny! They even rescue some virgin babe she not only becomes a Mayan sacrifice, but also because Jesse now needs a love interest. However, there is a darker force looming over them, willing to get the skull at any cost… the zombie corpse of a man named Slim, Gramps’ old rival. Slim gunned down Jesse’s parents at the very beginning of the film at an attempt to get the skull, now Jesse, Gramps and Charlie get some payback and protect the skull at all cost or Slim will take over the world… I guess? His plans are unclear, but it probably won’t be good.
By far, the best part of the movie comes in form of John Ratzenberger (this film’s Cheers’ cast member cameo) as an electrician who also happens to be an adventurer. Yeah, this is a full time gig for him, both the wiring in your house and the multiple dimensions, swashbuckling, rope swinging and treasure hunting. He’s so nonchalant about it and plays it very low key, like he’s seen it so many times that he’s no longer impressed by it. At the end of it, he hands the boys his business card, which feels very much like a potential spinoff I would still love to see. His performance is very hysterical and in his brief time on screen, you’ll want more of him and beg for his further adventures and honestly, that’s what House III should have been instead of the series trying to get back to its horror roots.
As like in House, House II also has a majority of impressive practical effects and a handful of not so good ones, the most impressive being the mummy or zombie makeup on Gramps and Slim. Gramps isn’t gross or decaying, but rather dried out looking fitting into his cowboy motif and hey, it won’t scare the kids. That’s left up to Slim’s design, which is decaying and much more darker and wetter looking, plus Megatron himself, Frank Welker, does the voice! The animal puppets, like the dog/caterpillar and the pterodactyl, are wide eyes and cute looking as opposed to looking like the monstrosities they actually would resemble to further indicate the movie’s intention to reach a younger audience. I know every kid would want a stuffed toy of the dog/caterpillar, but alas the marketing department screwed the pooch on that one, for lack of a better pun.
The film is paired with the first film in a double box set in the US (the UK got all four House films in their box set), House: Two Stories released by Arrow Video. Like the first film, House II is also a 2K remaster that looks absolutely fantastic, but also like the first film, doesn’t have much in the way of special features. There is a pretty indepth feature called It’s Getting Weirder!: The Making of House II: The Second Story featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S. Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder. Writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham provide a new commentary and a theatrical trailer and a still gallery round it out. There’s also some stunning new artwork by Justin Osbourn.
House II: The Second Story is a comedy right from the get-go. I mean, look at the pun right in the title. The title not only implies humor, but adventure as well and that’s exactly what we get and is it a perfect combination of the two? I’m gonna have to say no, but I don’t think it’s terrible either. In fact, I think the majority of it is fun, but there are moments that are rather childish (backing up my argument that this was aimed towards children) or poorly paced moments that make it feel dragged out. The feeling that this was aimed at a more younger, more marketable audience and the seemingly loosely connected adventures gives the film a feeling like it’s a handful of episodes of a failed TV show in the late ‘80s strung together and re-released as a movie so the company can try and recoup some of the financial losses. Hell, even John Ratzenberger’s character felt like he was shoehorned in as an attempt at a spinoff. The funny thing is, if they actually went for the PG rating and released this as a kid’s movie, I have a feeling it would have been far more successful.
House II, while not as good as its predecessor, still has some merit and can be a feel good, fun adventure even if it does feel a little childish.The characters are likable and have great chemistry together and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more. I can’t say the same for the other two films that follow and un(?)fortunately, House III (aka The Horror Show) and House IV aren’t included in the US Arrow set, The Two Stories. However, if you’re a completist, you may wanna get the UK version of this set that includes all four films.