It’s a beautiful, spooky silhouette puppet film by Richard Mansfield, based on the short story by Amelia B. Edwards. Narrated with a 7:45 running time.
A young man is lost in the snow, with thoughts he’ll die. He then meets an old man that takes him into his house. The old man tells him the depressing story of his life (we don’t hear), and then another tragic tale about a coach.
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 Storyfeaturing 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.
(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, my Ho-use-lovin’ ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)
Where have all the good haunted house movies gone to, huh? I’m talking about the ones that are both fun and scary, the ones that are worth a laugh and a fright. Goes back to the old saying, “they just don’t make them like they used to.” I’m not complaining that all haunted house movies are bad, in fact some of them have been pretty darn good in the past few years, but they are horror rather than horror comedy. Well, unless you count those family friendly ones that occupy the Redbox that are neither scary nor funny. Admittedly, it’s a hard combination to juggle without getting too campy, but 1986’s House, while a little campy, nicely balances that fine line of horror and comedy.
Sean S. Cunningham, the producer of 1972’s The Last House on the Left and director of 1980’s Friday the 13th knows a thing or two about horror, so when he was attached to produce House, it may come off as puzzling to some since those films had such dark and serious tones. However, what people don’t know is that Roger Corman was an executive producer, so that could explain the camp factor. Staying with the Friday the 13th connection, Steve Miner, who had directed Friday the 13th Part 2 was at the helm directing a script by Fred Dekker (who would go on to make movies, like Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps) and Ethan Wiley, so this could explain why the movie nearly flawlessly handles the genres. You throw in Sean S. Cunningham’s buddy and composer Harry Manfredini and it’s safe to say that the film was in good hands. Of course, this was before Steve Miner directed terrible films, like Halloween: H20 or that abysmally insulting Day of the Dead remake, so this is before his decline when he was actually making good movies.
The Greatest American Hero star William Katt plays Roger Cobb, a writer who has a few issues (hey, you wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t, right?). For starters, his kid suddenly vanished one day in the swimming pool and he couldn’t hold it together, so his hot actress wife, Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz) leaves him. Then his nutty aunt Elizabeth hangs herself in a big ol’ spooky mansion, the very one where his kid went missing. Roger inherits the house and decides to move in, because what better place to write his book based on his Vietnam experiences than a house he already has numerous traumatic connections with? After all, good writers pull from real life tragedies, but I think he may be overdoing it here. When he’s not pretending he’s throwing big parties while on the phone with his ex-wife, he’s possibly hallucinating his dead aunt marching around the house. So if he’s not seeing dead people, he’s dressing up in his old combat gear to try and having Vietnam flashbacks. I assure you, Roger isn’t crazy, but the film is setting up a rather interesting piece of character development that would be considered ahead of its time.
Norm from Cheers (George Wendt) is his neighbor Harold who stops by to play the comic relief, otherwise we’d have a very down trodden Vietnam metaphor movie on our hands. He may provide us, the audience, with laughs, but he tends to get on Roger’s nerves when he isn’t providing beer or snacks. More often than not, Harold is a distraction from Roger’s writing at convenient times, like when he’s having some serious Vietnam flashbacks about some big ox of a soldier name Ben (Richard Moll). After Ben was wounded in combat, Roger couldn’t bring himself to finish Ben off, so he was subsequently dragged away by the enemy and tortured for weeks. It something that seems to haunt him, but now that haunting may seem to be manifesting physically as one night a monster pops out of the closet and claws at Roger’s torso! Knowing nobody will believe him, he knows that he will need evidence, but only makes himself look nuttier than a Payday in the process, wiring and rigging a number of cameras to go off right when he pulls a string and does the Pete Townsend powerslides on his knees out the front door and then reality kicks him hard in the nards as he’s just sitting there with Harold staring at him. Awkward.
Nobody believes poor Roger that some pugnacious hauntings are happening. Not Harold, not Sandy. Nobody. Could it all be in Roger’s head? That’s what you along with the other characters are starting to think at this point and it’s probably the most brilliant aspect of this movie. Long before it had a name it could be identified with, House was ahead of its time and was bringing attention to PTSD. I have to commend William Katt’s performance, because he really brings emotion of someone losing their grip on reality to the forefront here. As he pleads with Harold or whoever that the monsters are real, beads of sweat roll down his face, his voice cracks and you can see and hear the desperation that he just wants someone to believe him. Even when he is by himself being chased around the house by the specters, you start to wonder if it really is all in his head or if it’s happening. When he imagines his ex-wife stopping by and turning into a weird, blobbish, twisted version of her, he shoots it only to see it may really be his wife, you figure he’s definitely lost it and he killed someone. He breaks down in tears, but all is not as it seems as the monster rears its ugly head once again and this time, he cuts it up and buries it. The scene goes from being boo-scary, to horrifying (in the sense that he may have murdered a person) to funny, so the film wants to not only play with tone, but to also play with your expectations.
Not giving up, Roger is determined to make someone believe him and who better than Harold? After finally witnessing some sort of ghoul, Harold fails at helping Roger who is dragged into the closet and teleported to what looks like the Vietnam war where he comes across his missing son, but that’s not the only one. It seems like a familiar face, as rotten and decayed as it may not be, but familiar nonetheless, was responsible for kidnapping his son and now it wants revenge. Roger is now pitted against an old frenemy as he battles for his son and possibly his own sanity and really if you look at it like the events are all happening in Roger’s head, the film still works as a drama comedy instead of a horror comedy. I think that’s one of the best things about House, is that no matter how you perceive it, the film still works as that genre. Regardless of what was actually happening, it’s still about Roger’s struggle with the effects of war and coping with the loss of his son. It also just happens to be about spoopy ghosts.
Some of these ghosts are downright ghastly, like the closet monster with its many arms or the monster version of his ex-wife that has a high pitched, distorted voice that makes me feel uncomfortable, while others… eh, not so much. The two children monsters that come out of the chimney look dreadful in the wrong way. Their mouths and eyes don’t move, they look cheap and rubbery. In the midst of this fun film with great creature effects, you get these two that looks like the budget ran out, so they had to run to the Halloween store and get some cheap costumes. They aren’t prominently displayed on screen or featured very long, so it’s not very troublesome, but for the brief period of time they are on screen they can be an eyesore. Perhaps the best looking makeup effect is that of Ben all zomb-i-fied. Basically, take the look of Jason from Friday the 13th Part VII and slap some Vietnam garb on on Bull from Night Court and there ya go. He has exposed bones and organs, he looks dusty yet slimey, it’s absolutely fantastic looking.
Some of these effects may look less impressive on the new 2K restoration from Arrow Video. While the film itself looks marvelous, what with edges being sharp and colors being bright and vivid, it suffers a bit from looking too good. Often there were times you could see the faults in the makeup or prosthetics, like being able to see actor Richard Moll’s mouth painted black behind the false teeth of zombie Ben. It’s a minor nitpick and didn’t ruin my experience of the film. If anything, I was happy to finally view the film nice and clean for the first time, seeing as the only viewing experience I’ve ever had is my old VHS copy. The audio commentary by director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley is a good listen, providing some insight and memories on the making of the movie. Speaking of making the movie, there’s a great feature included called Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House that includes interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder. Trailers and a still gallery round out the features.
I don’t think House is overlooked, but I think some have forgotten about or others may think it’s just a jump scare horror film, which it is, but it’s more than that. House has a message, something to say about the then unnamed PTSD and how some Veterans are affected by it and struggle. It’s also a charming comedy with plenty of likable characters and funny moments. In the wrong hands, this film could have been a disaster. A lesser cast and crew would have failed at juggling all the themes and ideas, but luckily you had a handful of talented people treating it with care and having a lot of fun that translates on the screen. The film is an absolute riot. It’s witty, charming as well as being scary and funny. I can’t think of many other films that are able to do all of that as well House. The film is packaged here in the states along with its sequel, House II: The Second Story, in a neat little box called House: The Two Stories. Although the UK got all four House films in their boxset (I’m guessing the US couldn’t due to rights issues), I’m happy at least the first film got a proper Blu-ray treatment. Well, maybe the second film too.
On this day in 1959, frightmeisters William Castle and Vincent Price opened the doors to the House on Haunted Hill, a true classic of fright cinema and a fiendish favorite of ours here at Kinky Horror. Fusing camp and creep together in a way that only Master William Castle could, this terror classic remains a masterpiece of the macabre that’s often imitated, but never duplicated. The unprecedented success of this picture inspired Alfred Hitchcock to produce a black-and-white gothic horror of his own: a little-known picture called Psycho. Castle’s film was the first (and last) film to be shown in Emergo, a brilliant bit of ballyhoo that involved an elaborate pulley system to carry a plastic skeleton over the audience. Such was the bizarre genius of Mr. Castle. For a taste of what Mr. Castle had in mind, here are a few bone-chilling recreations of Emergo! Beware! These videos are not for the faint of heart:
Our little haunted house party is about to begin.There’ll be food and drink and ghosts… and perhaps even a few murders. You’re all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, I will give you each ten thousand dollars, or your next of kin in case you don’t survive. The party’s starting now, and you have until midnight to find the House on Haunted Hill.
For those attending, watch the full movie below… if you have the stomach for it…
Happy Birthday, House on Haunted Hill! You’re just as gruesome today as you were in 1959!