House (Special Edition) Review
True horror comedies are few and far between and the good ones are even rarer. Evil Dead 2, Bad Taste and Brain Dead are kings of the genre and it has to be said there aren’t too many more classics. House pre-dates these three and was shot on a small budget by Steve Miner (Director of Friday the 13th parts 2 and 3) and produced by Sean Cunningham (of Friday the 13th infamy). This release is also notable as this is Anchor Bay’s latest foray into the UK market.
The plot is standard haunted house fare with a slight twist. Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a horror novelist who is suffering writer’s block whilst trying to write his Vietnam veteran memoirs. His Aunt has recently died and he decides to go and write at her house to get away from it all. Unfortunately this is also the house where Roger’s son went missing (which partially caused the break-up of his marriage). It turns out the house is haunted and through a series of flashbacks and visual clues we find out why. Matters are confused by a nosey neighbour, Harold, played by George Wendt (of Cheers fame) and by another, more beautiful neighbour, (Mary Stavin). Roger is terrorised by a witch, a skeletal soldier and a monster in the cupboard before he manages to work what is going on. By this stage it is debatable as to whether the audience will care what happens to him in the finale.
The main problem with the film is that it just isn’t funny for 90% of its 88-minute running time. The one notable exception is George Wendt who steals every scene he is in, unfortunately he isn’t in enough scenes. I have no idea why Mary Stavin is in the film beyond her looking good in a swimsuit. The babysitting scene is completely nonsensical and really has nothing to do with the rest of the film as far as I can see. The much vaunted ‘Nam flashback subplot is contrived and sloppy. Many have said this gives the film a real edge but I feel it’s just an ill-considered afterthought. The end result is a horror comedy which isn’t very funny and isn’t very scary (apart from a few jumps).
The acting is competent at best, William Katt does his damndest in the lead role and works very hard but he doesn’t have enough to work with here. I have already mentioned George Wendt and his sections at least make the film watchable. Richard Moll as Cobb’s ‘Nam buddy Big Ben is wooden and hammy in the extreme. The rest of the cast are pretty laughable but I’m going to be kind and blame the script.
The direction is fairly snappy and the camera work is vaguely interesting but the pacing is uneven. Quite honestly Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson couldn’t have made this script into an interesting film.
Things aren’t all bad though, the makeup and effects work are pretty good given the budget. There are latex monsters galore and these look fairly convincing.
All in all this a below average movie that isn’t really worth the time or effort. Do yourself a favour and watch Evil Dead 2 again. Or alternatively if you think I am way off target here then just do the following. Go and watch this film, then go and watch Evil Dead 2 or Bad Taste or Braindead then come back and say that House is even in the same league.
Anchor Bay UK has had a patchy start and this time they’ve hardly chosen a classic to showcase their talents. The menus are functional and fairly attractive and the 26 chapter stops are perfectly reasonable for the 88-minute running time
The picture is very good indeed, it is in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphic. The film is pretty much devoid of print damage throughout with only the odd fleck here and there. The transfer is pin sharp with little or no artifacting and very little grain. The colour depth and black levels are excellent although there could be a smidgeon more shadow detail.
Sound wise we have an accomplished DD5.1 track here. It isn’t too exciting but it is certainly well mixed from the original mono track. Rears are used sparingly but effectively. This is a notable addition to the UK edition as the US edition by Anchor Bay only had a DD mono track on the disc. Oddly enough the original mono track isn’t included but a reasonable Dolby stereo track is.
The extras are nice package for the fans although they aren’t comprehensive.
The commentary duty is shared by William Katt, Steve Miner, Sean Cunningham and Ethan Wiley (writer). This is a nice relaxed commentary with a few anecdotes and some interesting facts. There are a few silences but these aren’t too annoying. A nice commentary for the fans but I doubt you’d listen to it twice.
Next we have a 12-minute featurette, “The Making of House”. This was a promo piece shot at the time and is quite interesting but is ultimately a little too short to provide any great insight into the film.
We have two trailers here, which are usually of little interest to me and this time was no exception.
Lastly we have a stills gallery that contains mostly promo pictures and posters. This is interesting filler but nothing outstanding.
It is a shame that Anchor Bay has a great collection of releases in the U.S. and yet they choose to subject us to this. The film isn’t funny and isn’t very scary either. Fans should be happy to note that the disc itself is a great package. The picture and sound are excellent and the extras are nicely put together (more interesting than the film for me anyway). One final point to note is that the first 20000 copies of the U.S. edition contained House 2 as a bonus. This is not the case for the UK version and therefore diehard House fans may want to import the R1 Anchor Bay edition.