“This house knows everything about you. Leave while you can!”
In the original House, William Katt stars as Roger Cobb, a horror novelist struggling to pen his next bestseller. When he inherits his aunt’s creaky old mansion, Roger decides that he’s found the ideal place in which to get some writing done. Unfortunately, the house’s monstrous supernatural residents have other ideas… Meanwhile, House II: The Second Story sees young Jesse (Arye Gross) moving into an old family mansion where his parents were mysteriously murdered years before. Plans for turning the place into a party pad are soon thwarted by the appearance of Jesse’s mummified great-great-grandfather, his mystical crystal skull and the zombie cowboy who’ll stop at nothing to lay his hands on it!
Director and Producer Sean S. Cunningham has never really played coy about his earliest beginnings in film. Following upon the success of The Bad News Bears, he and screenwriter Arch McCoy saw fit to rip it off with Here Come the Tigers, another foul-mouthed comedy about an unruly little league baseball team. And following the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Cunningham called up his screenwriter Victor Miller and said, “Halloween is making a lot of money – let’s rip it off” (actual quote), and Friday the 13th was born.
With his producing role on the first of what would become a four-film series, it’s hard not to look at House as an attempt to recreate the do-it-yourself monster approach consisting of equal parts horror and comedy that Sam Raimi took with the first two Evil Dead films. Built upon a foundation of sincerity, but chock full of schlocky and fantastical creature designs, both the Evil Deads (well, more so the latter) and House want to horrify and disgust but also titillate and muse its audiences in equal measure. On the supplements included in this release (specifically for the first film), star William Katt describes House as the perfect gateway horror film for the young – something that boats horrific imagery, but nothing so deadly serious that they would be left traumatized. And he’s right. That’s the level of horror the unsuspecting can expect from the first of four House films.
House — 3.5/5. Unlike Here Come the Tigers and Friday the 13th, House manages to establish its own identity thanks to its off-kilter tone; though it borrows its concept about a guy who ends up battling demons/monsters/somethings in an isolated environment, it’s willing to be more playful with its horrific imagery, in gross contrast to the very bloody and at times mean-spirited set pieces that littered the Evil Dead series (including the very stupid Army of Darkness). And it definitely gets points for highlighting a post-war condition that hadn’t yet gone by its official title: post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite the very playful nature with which House is presented, its lead character, Roger Cobb (played by Katt), is carrying around a lot of spiritual demons. Not only did his time in Vietnam see a fellow soldier (Richard Moll) killed in action, but he’s also dealing with the disappearance of his young son and the subsequent it took on his marriage. His effort to stay in his late aunt’s palatial Victorian house to work on his new book – a non-fiction look back on his time in the war – awakens either the ghastly creatures that live behind its doors, or which live inside his mind.
Directed by horror veteran Steve Miner (the first two Friday the 13th sequels; Halloween: H20; the atrocious Day of the Dead remake), House is a mixed bag of humor that doesn’t quite work and horror that’s intent on being more foamy and cartoonish than outright terror. For some folks this is enough, as House definitely has its fans, but for others weaned on Ash Williams cutting off heads of the possessed in similarly amusing situations, it just ain’t enough. House boasts some of the same ingenuity and unorthodox creature designs, but very little of the darker gore gags. The practical creature effects and creations are definitely creative and impressive considering House’s modest budget, but moments like these are unfortunately too few and far between. Although, credit definitely goes to the zombified soldier which stalks Roger during the third act, as it’s a legitimately excellent creation, right down to his articulated facial features. House perhaps could have used more of this and less of the behemoth woman demon with pearls — aka, more of an emphasis on actual terror.
House II: The Second Story — 1.5/5. Following the surprise success of House, distributor New World Pictures was quick to green light House 2: The Second Story, which boasts perhaps the greatest title of all time. Unfortunately that’s about all it boasts, as House 2 is borderline unwatchable, dialing down whatever horror was present in the first film and amping up the humor, turning it into something more akin to the first Troll. This time around, the action is set in a house that looks like something from an unused Indiana Jones set, complete with spooky basement that houses a literal crystal skull (holy shit). This skull resurrects a ghost cowboy, or something, who is the most depressed ghost I have ever seen in film, and I think he coughs dust or something. Bill Maher shows up playing a gigantic asshole, which Bill Maher manages to do quite handsomely (and this is coming from someone who legit loves Bill Maher). Keeping the Friday the 13th connection going (with returning producer Sean Cunningham), Lar Park Lincoln (Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) plays a kind of unlikable lead opposite far more likable Arye Gross (Minority Report), who together engage in a plot that can’t even be broken down because it makes very little sense.
To be followed by two sequels which are not included in the U.S. release of this collection, but which are included in the U.K. release, and which, according to a little birdie, are Region Free. (But don’t hold me to that.)
THE PICTURE 4/5
Arrow Video present House and House 2 in brand new 2K transfers, both which result in vibrant, colorful, and stable images that are mostly representative of their original intents. I say mostly because I have heard it mentioned that a slight misframing during the creation of the 2K transfer plagues the first film. Ardent supporters of the film might be better suited to explain in what manner; to my eye, nothing looks inherently off or incorrect, but House purists might not approve. Those less concerned about such things shouldn’t be disappointed in either presentation.
THE SOUND 4/5
The audio presentation for both films, each in a variety of options, will let viewers pick their poison. Those wanting to make use of their home theater systems will opt for the 5.1, but the purist will be able to watch using the original theatrical mono audio. Dialogue is prominent and well presented, and the 5.1 track makes good use of creepy creaking house ambience. Back during the good old days when composer Harry Manfredini was actually provided with a real orchestra, he created wonderful scores filled with low notes and frantic melodies that suited the horror films he scored very well. (The Friday the 13th series isn’t exactly a showpiece of high art, but no one can say the films that Manfredini scored don’t have wonderfully effective music.) His scores here will sound familiar to ardent Friday the 13th fans, but that’s certainly not a bad thing, as he knows what he’s doing, and he does it very well.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 4/5
As usual, Arrow have put together a fine collection of supplements, soliciting Red Shirt Pictures (who are old hat at creating retrospectives for reissues) to produce definitive making-ofs for each film. And as usual, they do not disappoint. All the creative talents (minus Bill Maher!) return to share their memories and experiences of making these films, including George Wendt, who admits to at first having found the idea of doing a horror film dubious, as he felt he were more interested in pursuing dramatic work that would stand the test of time. Cut to George Wendt doing an interview for House thirty years later. And let me just say that the House Companion included in this set, in the form of a pint-sized hardcover book the same size as a Blu-ray case, is a great keepsake and provides a lot of additional information on this odd series. (This bodes well for the similar book set to be included in Arrow’s upcoming U.K. release of the complete Phantasm series, which has your reviewer salivating.)
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley
- Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House – brand new documentary featuring 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
- Stills Gallery
- Theatrical Trailers
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY
- Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham
- It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – brand new documentary 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
- Stills Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
- The House Companion – limited edition 60-page book featuring new writing on the entire House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material
The House films are friggin’ weird, but there’s no denying that’s part of their appeal. And those who celebrate them will no doubt find a lot to enjoy in this new collection from Arrow Video, who continue to prove that they are the best at what they do when it comes to honoring offbeat flicks that mainstream audiences just wouldn’t understand. The first two films — though their levels of quality can be debated — remain the two most beloved and sought after films of the series, which makes this new collection from Arrow a very easy recommendation. Tremendous picture (framing issues aside) and sound, and an excellent collection of special features (including that beautiful book) will make you feel right at home haw haw sorry!
(Thanks to DVD Exotica for the screen grabs.)
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