House Collection Review
Between 1989 and 1990, I was an occasional reader of Fangoria, picking up a copy whenever the newsagent on Sackville Street had a copy. I can't say that I was ever proud of reading it but as something of a horror fan, I thought it was a necessary read. In rarely finding things of interest, there were a surfeit of interviews with the likes of Kane Hodder (Jason), Robert Englund (Freddy) and Doug Bradley (Pinhead) as well as producers like Sean S Cunningham, who was responsible for this series of films. I can't remember if they ever extended any goodwill towards House and its sequels but in looking through the cast of these films, you feel as though Fangoria ought to have gone wild about them. But a couple of years of Fangoria is enough to realise that it really isn't that good and four House films in the one boxset is also enough to see that, despite the pleasure in watching the first one, you soon tire of the rubber monsters and a building that can't decide who owns it or even where it's at.
House: Following the disappearance of his young son and the subsequent collapse of his marriage to soap star Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), writer Roger Cobb (William Katt) finds that he has inherited a mansion, previously owned by his aunt. Hoping to put that run of bad luck behind him by moving into the mansion and writing a book about his memories of service during the Vietnam War, Roger finds that his personal demons were not following him but were present in the house all along and have succeeded in calling him there. Roger discovers that his aunt, terrified by what she saw within the house, hung herself but Roger, having witness more horrifying events in Vietnam, takes the hauntings as they come, eventually finding that they may have something to do with the disappearance of his son, who he suspects is still alive somewhere within the house...
House 2: The Second Story: In a sequel that is completely unrelated to the storyline of the original film, Jesse (Arye Gross), the great-great-grandson of the explorer who first built the house, inherits the mansion despite his parents being murdered there when he was just a baby. Believing that his great-great-grandfather buried his stolen loot somewhere within the house, Jesse begins a search for it with the help of his girlfriend (Lar Park Lincoln) and friend, Charlie (Jonathan Stark). Instead of finding what he had hoped for, Jesse digs up his great-great-grandfather and finds that the old outlaw was so determined to hang onto home and wealth that he has used the powers of a crystal Aztec skull to keep himself alive, which soon falls into the hands of monsters who can open windows through time and who are as determined to get their hands on the skull as the old man is to hold onto it...
House III: The Horror Show: Having seen Halloween's second sequel as being something that bore no relation to the two films that preceded it, House III doesn't even feature the titular house and instead stars Brion James as serial killer Max Jenke who is waiting on death row for his execution by electric chair. Jenke, however, has plans for the afterlife and, following his experiments with the supernatural, finds that the transfer of his soul into something else is entirely possible. As the current is applied to the electric chair at his execution, Jenke's spirit seeps into the electrical current and, now able to move around the national grid, begins a supernatural campaign of terror against the family of the cop who first arrested him, Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henrikson) who realises that, to catch Jenke a second time, he'll have to become as Jenke is...
House IV: Home Deadly Home: After The Horror Show led the House series of films away from the original mansion in which the first two films were set, Home Deadly Home returns to the cheapest and most-haunted house outside of Amityville. Roger Cobb (William Katt) makes a brief return to the series of films but is killed in a car accident, leaving his new wife, Kelly (Kerri Treas), and their young daughter, Laurel (Melissa Clayton), the house in his will. Not knowing what awaits them in the house, Kelly and Laurel move in to the house to start afresh in a new neighbourhood but are soon haunted by terrible visions, which suggests that Roger's death was not accident...
The first House film was only a middling hit so it was with a fair amount of surprise that you realise it was followed by three sequels, which, as with almost all sequels, get progressively worse as the numbered suffix increases. The problem that New World Pictures set itself was similar to the one faced by those who produced sequels to The Amityville Horror. Unlike Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th, all of which had indestructible villains who could at least move from town to town, House really only has the one building in which set multiple movies and, although a suspension of belief in reality is a necessary part of all horror movies, surely, in the one house, with the same ghosts, people will eventually catch on to it being uninhabitable. Poltergeist went the route of having its spooks follow the Freeman family from their original home to each new house they arrived at including, it was suggested, the motel they checked into after their house was consumed by its own bad spirits but, as the title sequence of House makes clear, this house is bad to its foundations and no amount of meddling priests, neighbours or estate agents are going to change that. And that is why the House series of films never really feels as though they quite belong together, more a foster family of unwanted films than they are blood relatives.
And that's actually a shame as House is a neat little parody of horror movies that works, setting up a nice feeling of dread in the film's opening scenes and mixing comedy with the horror thereafter. If the use of sixties pop is misplaced - You're No Good and Dedicated To The One I Love are both used to celebrate Cobb's victories over the monsters - it doesn't detract from the overall film, which works particularly well in those sequences set in jungles of Vietnam, in the film's final scenes as Roger attempts to rescue his son and in those moments of out-and-out comedy. The casting of Mary Stavin as Tanya, Roger's beautiful neighbour who only flirts with him to get Roger to baby sit her son, and George Wendt as Roger's neighbour open the film up a little, taking it away from Roger's private battle with the monsters and leaves House as being largely successful in bringing these minor plots together within its 92 minute running time.
But what surprises is how coy House is about showing any real horror, particularly in coming from the director of Friday The 13th pts 2 and 3 and from the producer of that series. Aside from the occasional moment of spilled blood, most of the horror in House happens safely offscreen, with Steve Miner cutting quickly away to show either the reaction on Roger Cobb's face or on the rubber body parts that fall to the floor. That leaves it as being as cartoonish - if slightly nastier - as Joe Dante's segment of The Twilight Zone - The Movie, in which a spoilt boy terrorises his family with his control over them and, when viewed like that, it works. If you don't expect any real horror, then you won't be disappointed but the opening few minutes will be the highlight for anyone coming to the film in search of scares.
The only sequel that is related to this first film is the fourth but it quickly dispatches with William Katt's character to introduce his second wife and their daughter and to tie them into a plot that sees a bunch of villains try to scare them out of their home under the orders of an evil dwarf who runs a toxic waste plant. Although it bears some relation to the first entry in the series, the house is almost entirely different and is located far from the suburbs, making it look as though poor George Wendt would rather move away and destroy not only his own house but all others in the neighbourhood than live beside a loony Vietnam Vet.
House 2: The Second Story is even more cartoonish and although The House Collection is rated an 18, this film, on its own, should not be rated any more than a 15 at most. The Lord Of The Rings films, rated as 12A, contain more horrors than this, which leaves House 2 looking contrived and, at best, silly. The parts of Gramps, Charlie and John Ratzenberger's electrician/adventurer are played more for laughs than shocks but the presence of two rubbery pets leaves House 2 closer to the too-eager annoyances of Scrappy-Doo than a horror film. The final and most damning criticism that you can make about House 2 is that of the subplot of Jesse's girlfriend being a talent scout for a record label, finding that Charlie's girlfriend could be the new Madonna. This is the most nightmarish thing about the whole film, placing House 2 amongst the kind of eighties films in which young kids wore sports jackets with their sleeves rolled up, everybody drives to college in open-top cars and James Spader smokes dope over on the rich side of town.
If House 2 is the lightest of the four films, House 3: The Horror Show is the nastiest, breaking up a pedestrian serial-killer thriller with brief but shocking moments of horror. It's clear that the intention behind the making of this film was for New World Pictures to introduce a supernatural killer who exists somewhere outside of this world, much like Freddy Krueger living only in the dreams of kids on Elm Street but putting Meat Cleaver Max into something as ordinary as the electricity supply shows a lack of imagination
Personally, I'm rather a fan of Halloween III, particularly Nigel Kneale's twist on the dangers of children watching too much television, and have little trouble with a series of films taking a break from the regular villainies of a Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees but The Horror Show just feels too far out of place. At least Halloween III had a connection to the series of films that it was part of, if only because of the time of year in which it was set, but The Horror Show bears such little relation to either House or House 2 that it's a surprise that it was ever marketed as a sequel. Whilst the practical critic might suggest that it might have had something to do with the dollar value of the name, was the House brand ever really worth that much?
The inclusion of The Horror Show and the bringing together of these four films into a single boxset leaves The House Collection as a strange quartet of films. Whilst there are common themes between the four films, notably the rubber monsters and there being a house at the centre of the action, there really isn't much to link House 2 to either House or House IV, with even less to connect House 3. That leaves this collection as being a difficult quartet to see being boxed together but it's not one without highlights.
House and House II date from the time before Anchor Bay began remixing everything into DTS and, given that they are unchanged from their original release, only have a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in addition to the original 2.0 Stereo. House III and IV do, however, have a DTS soundtrack in addition to the DD5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks but neither surround track really adds much to the film. Each soundtrack is, however, free of noise and have made the transfer onto DVD without any noticeable flaws.
Similarly, the picture quality on all four films is fine, albeit a little soft but I seem to remember this being the case on the original VHS releases and on the occasional showings on television that the first film has enjoyed. New World Pictures obviously put no more money into each film than was necessary and although this shows in the picture quality of the original film, there are no obvious problems with the transfer of the films onto DVD, with parts III and IV looking slightly better than House.
The versions of House and House II included in this boxset are those that have already been released by Anchor Bay so the extras will be familiar to anyone who's already purchased either film before:
Theatrical Trailers: Two trailers are included, both of which play up the horror more than the comedy
Photo Gallery: Fifty promotional and on-set images are included in this bonus feature, which can either be viewed as a slide show or by pressing the Next Chapter button on your remote.
'The Making Of House' Featurette (12m01s): Frankly, were I making this featurette, I too would begin with just playing the scene with Mary Stavin getting out of the swimming pool but this quickly turns into little more than a promotional piece in which, naturally, everyone had a great time on the set. William Katt's comparison between his playing of Roger Cobb and the Cary Grant role in Arsenic And Old Lace is a bit ambitious, though.
Commentary: Featuring William Katt, Sean Cunningham, writer Ethan Wiley and director Steven Miner, this is obviously the first time in many years that any of them have watched House and they often express surprise at their memories of making the film. The four of them do, however, get on well and the commentary is an enjoyable listen, particularly as they don't appear to take the film entirely seriously, freely admitting to how stupid they thought the film was going to be when the first day's filming was spent working a model of a talking swordfish.
Original Trailer (1m25s): Beginning with a few scenes from the original film, this sets up this sequel as being, "...a whole new house." Not quite new enough, though.
Stills Gallery: Twenty-one still images are included in this feature, all of which are taken from the film.
Commentary: With Ethan Wiley And Sean Cunningham, both of whom return from the commentary on House, this is a dry, often dull track that misses a member of the cast to rip apart. Even within the film's opening minutes, there are moments when both Wiley and Cunningham stop talking to watch the film but Wiley is quick to interrupt these silences with further memories of his making of the film.
Film Notes: Five pages of text are included in this extra, three of which summarise the plot of the film.
Lance Henrikson Biography: Fourteen pages of text summarise Henrickson's film career, which includes a filmography.
Theatrical Trailers: This bonus feature is identical to the one that was on Disc 2 of Evilspeak and includes trailers for The Manson Family, Bubba Ho-Tep, Undead and The Toolbox Murders.
Director's Commentary: With Blue Underground's David Gregory acting as the host, Lewis Abernathy has recorded a talky, interesting commentary that both shows off his memory of the making of the film but also a relaxed line in self-depecrating humour.
Film Notes: Four pages of text are available, which really only summarise the plot of the film.
Biographies: Both Terri Treas (4x pages) and William Katt (5x) have biographies included here.
Since Scream, it's almost been a requirement of horror movies that they be more witty and more knowing than those genre films that had preceded them. The House Collection dates from a time when just being a horror film was enough, offering some laughs but not necessarily being a comedy and being scarey without ever being terrifying.
I enjoyed House when I first watched it aged fourteen or thereabouts and seeing it now, I get nostalgic for those times, even buying it when it came out on DVD as a standalone disc, but the sequels do very little. I suspect that were I watching these films aged twelve or thirteen, I'd think they were great but, having passed eighteen some summers ago, their mix of horror and comedy feels tired. Far be it for us to suggest that you break the law but other than the nudity and violent blood-letting of House III: The Horror Show, there's little here to upset all but the most cosseted of teenagers and they're sure to appreciate the horror, the laughs and the glimpse of something they're not supposed to see more than us adults.