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
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!
Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole
Directed by Greydon Clark
Distributed by VCI
The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.
The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.
The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.
“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.
A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.
Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.
Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.
A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.
- Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
- Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
- Photo gallery
Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.
A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune
Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau
Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.
Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”
Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.
Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.
Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.
A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.
A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”
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