Starring William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano
Directed by Steve Miner, Ethan Wiley
Distributed by Arrow Video
The names of director Steve Miner and producer Sean S. Cunningham were hot on the lips of horror fans in the early ‘80s, when the two of them (separately) oversaw the first three entries in the Friday the 13th series (Cunningham responsible for the first as producer/director, Miner helmed the following two sequels). A few years later, the two would finally work together – along with writer Fred Dekker (who gets a story credit) – on a horror film with a humorous twist, House (1986). Haunted house pictures were old hat by this point, but few had been made with a bent toward comedy, and House very much plays like a comic book come to life. Due to its success, only one proper sequel was produced, House II: The Second Story (1987), before the series (of sorts) went off the rails and saw two more semi-official entries – neither of which was well-received and, confusingly, weren’t marketed or produced as traditional sequels. In fact, House III: The Horror Show (1989) was marketed as just The Horror Show in the U.S., yet House IV (1992) was released direct-to-video without ever having an official preceding sequel on shelves. Even more confusingly, House II and The Horror Show are known as La Casa 6 and La Casa 7, respectively, in the insane ad hoc Italian series of loosely connected haunt flicks.
Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a tormented man whose life has been a series of misfortunes. He and his now-ex-wife, Sandy (Kay Lenz), separated after losing their only child, Jimmy (Erik and Mark Silver), who vanished without a trace. He suffers from recurring nightmares brought on by his time in Vietnam. He’s a writer caught with writer’s block. And now his beloved aunt just went and hung herself. Despite all this, the guy is actually in pretty good spirits. After his aunt’s funeral, Roger decides to keep her old Victorian home instead of selling the place, figuring it would be a comfortable, quiet place to get some writing done. Much to the disdain of his publisher and fans, Roger’s next novel isn’t going to be a fictional horror tale bur, rather, a retelling of his horrific time spent in Vietnam. And per his agent, “Nobody wants to read about Vietnam!”
Not long after settling in, Roger begins to experience strange phenomena. He sees things that aren’t there – or are they? A seemingly benign closet appears to be the portal to some otherworldly dimension, with unorthodox creatures attacking him randomly. His neighbor (and Roger Cobb fanboy) Harold (George Wendt), tries to offer some assistance but only winds up thinking Roger is a bullets short of a full clip. Sleep doesn’t offer any respite either, as Roger is tormented by visions of Vietnam and the slowly-revealed story of fellow soldier, “Big” Ben (Richard Moll), who died there years ago. Recognizing the house is capable of disturbing with him both psychologically and physically, Roger sets out to uncover its secrets and possibly even find the child he lost so many years ago. But an old foe stands in the way of redemption…
Above all else, this movie is just big time fun. Roger has seen a lot of true tragedy in his life, yet the film never feels heavy because of these events. A good part of that has to do with William Katt’s performance, which while fitting for the tone of this film never quite shows him coming across as a truly troubled man. Given his family history I’d expect the actual Roger Cobb to be damn near suicidal. Miner shot House in a comic-come-to-life style that features bold splashes of color, over-the-top creatures, and hearty doses of humor, nearly all of which come courtesy of George Wendt. The moment when he first meets Roger and unwittingly trash talks his dead aunt still kills me, even after multiple viewings.
Because the film is such a damn good time, and the creature FX work is a clear highlight, it can be easy to overlook the fact that many of the story elements never quite gel. The scripting feels sloppy at times, with tenuously linked elements coming together because they need to and not organically. It’s a testament to how well the filmmakers have done their job because, as a fan, these problems never really mattered much to me.
House II: The Second Story, on the other hand, is a film that is trying maybe a bit too hard to match or top the first entry, failing spectacularly in its admirable quest. Jesse (Arye Gross) and his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln) have just moved into an old stone mansion that has been in Jesse’s family for generations. Not long after Jesse’s goofball buddy, Charlie (Jonathan Stark), joins them with his wannabe recording artist girlfriend, Lana (Amy Yasbeck). 25 years earlier, Jesse’s parents were murdered in this mansion on the night he was given away to an adoptive couple. Jesse decides to go through old family belongings and comes across a photo of his great-great-grandfather, also named Jesse (Royal Dano). In the photo the elder Jesse is holding a crystal skull as an associate, Slim (Dean Cleverdon), looks on. Assuming the skull must be buried with his grandpappy (because why not?), Jesse and Charlie dig up the old timer and find his corpse re-animated and spry as ever. “Gramps” has the skull alright, and it’s keeping him alive, though it hasn’t restored his body to its former glory as he thought.
After a series of amusing fish-out-of-water moments, Gramps explains he and Slim had a disagreement over the skull all those years ago and he shot his former friend, leaving him for dead in the desert. Furthermore, Gramps explains the old family homestead is actually a Mayan temple with rooms capable of transporting anyone back through time & space. During a Halloween party, a caveman warrior steals the skull and leads Jesse & Charlie on an adventure through a dinosaur kingdom. Later, another room is revealed when Bill (John Ratzenberger) arrives to do some wiring work and accidentally rips open a wall to reveal an ancient sacrificial chamber. Luckily Bill, a part-time adventurer, brought his sword for moments like this. Eventually Slim makes an appearance and the final showdown for the crystal skull is underway.
This is a goofy, dumb movie with its heart in the right place but the story just isn’t there. There are, however, many elements that prevent this from being an insufferable sequel. Royal Dano is the man-o, adding so much charm and charisma and heartbreak to his role as the original Jesse. He’s got a voice that is instantly recognizable and it brings so much to his character and the film as a whole. John Ratzenberger really steals his scenes as Bill, the electrician who treats time portals like they’re commonplace; his small role in integral in supporting the second act. And then there is creature FX designer Chris Walas, whose lifelike creations add unexpected variety to a haunted house movie. Who would’ve ever guessed dinosaurs would make an appearance here? This one definitely isn’t as good as the original but it works as a completely comedic sequel… which is a tad surprising given the opening scene is so grim.
For local So Cal readers: both houses from their respective films are within the vicinity of L.A., with the impressive estate from the sequel located just down the road from the iconic Staples Center. It’s tough to watch the film and not think about where it’s really located.
So, you’re a fan of this series and you want to own this set – and rightfully so, because Arrow Video has done a tremendous job. But are you also a completist? Because just across the pond, Arrow U.K. has issued a beautiful box set containing ALL four House films… and rumor has it they “accidentally” made all four films region-free. And considering the price shipped to the U.S. is nearly the same as the smaller set here, well, seems like an easy choice given those options.
Both House and House II are presented with a new 2K scan of their interpositive with a 1.85:1 1080p image, the results of which likely max out the picture potential for each. House looks the best, with a stable and clean image that features accurate color reproduction, natural (though occasionally chunky during effect shots) grain, and decent fine detail when close-ups occur. There is a bit of a framing issue that seems to expose more of the left side than necessary (at one point a crew member can be seen) but, honestly, I’m not one to nitpick releases to death like some collectors. It does not warrant a recall or boycott. House II is in the same boat (minus the framing thing), although my virtue of being a couple years newer the picture does seem to handle in a few areas ever-so-slightly better than the first. To most eyes, my own included, the images here are both pleasing and nearly identical. Fans will no doubt be happy with these clear upgrades over DVD.
House gets a trio of audio options – English LPCM mono, 2.0 stereo, or a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track. The 5.1 track offers up a little more breathing room for the soundfield and composer Harry Manfredini’s score (which is, for better or worse, unmistakably his work), though the 2.0 stereo option works just as well if you go that route. House II receives an English LPCM 2.0 dual mono track or a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track. As with the first film, either track gets the job done but the multi-channel does space effects and score out a bit better. Subtitles are included in English SDH on both films.
Both films are stacked with bonus features, including documentaries, commentary tracks, featurettes, and promotional materials.
House Bonus Features:
An audio commentary with “the cast & crew” features Ethan Wiley, William Katt, Sean Cunningham, and Steve Miner.
“Ding Dong, You’re Dead!” – This comprehensive behemoth features new interviews with many cast & crew members, including Katt, Cunningham, Miner, Wendt, and more. As expected, this nuts-and-all piece covers the entire production, from inception to completion.
“Vintage Making-Of” – Like an old-school episode of “Extra”, this narrated piece looks at Cunningham and Miner’s shared horror history before discussing their latest venture.
A still gallery, two trailers, a teaser, and a trio of TV Spots are the remainder of the extra features.
House II: The Second Story Bonus Features:
There is an audio commentary featuring writer/director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham.
“It’s Getting Weirder! – As with the lengthy piece done for the first film, this doc covers every nook & cranny, with plenty of input from the cast & crew.
A “Vintage EPK” features some great interview footage with Royal Dano. Not to be missed.
A still gallery, the film’s trailer, and a TV Spot conclude the bonus features.
Additionally, there is a very nice 148-page hardcover book included in the set, filled with information on the entirety of the series (the exact book is found in the U.K. set, too), making this already-sweet set even tastier.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
- Brand new 2K restorations of House and House II: The Second Story
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- 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
- 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
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