Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #399
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: February 28, 1986
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $22,144,631
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Steve Miner
Producers: Richard F. Brophy, Sean S. Cunningham, Patrick Markey, Roger Corman
Screenplay: Ethan Wiley
Story: Fred Dekker
Special Effects: Barney Burman, Brian Wade
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Score: Harry Manfredini
Editing: Michael N. Knue
Studio: New World Pictures
Distributors: New World Pictures, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz, Mary Stavin, Michael Ensign, Erik Silver, Mark Silver, Susan French
Suggested Audio Candy:
Harry Manfredini Soundtrack Suite
The eighties spawned a number of new horror franchises. While the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees were stuffing their floorboards with crisp fifty dollar bills, others weren’t so prosperous. After a strong start, The Howling series ended up shooting up in an old run-down subway and feasting on stray vermin by the close of the decade and House didn’t fare a whole lot better. Steve Miner’s original was reasonably well received and the future appeared bright at that point. Miner and producer Sean S. Cunningham already had an idea how to build on an existing franchise after Friday The 13th Parts II and III continued the great Voorhees tradition to the tune of impressive box office returns. However, it all began to go wrong by the following year as original screenwriter Ethan Wiley took the directorial reins and replaced the black comedy which served the original so well with outright slapstick for The Second Storey.
Any hopes New World Pictures had of crafting a bankable sequence were dashed by the time Max Jenke reared his ugly head for James Isaac’s straight-to-video third installment. To his credit, The Horror Show was a decent supernatural slasher although any links with Cunningham’s original were admittedly tenuous and it had to be content with living in the shade of Wes Craven’s Shocker which was doing its theatrical rounds at the same time. The series was in free fall by 1992 and Lewis Abernathy’s muted fourth entry The Repossession was only memorable for a possessed pizza. All that initial promise ultimately lead to a dead-end and the once promising House series was consigned to limbo indefinitely. Regardless of how things turned out, the original film struck just the right balance between frights and laughs, and still holds up to this very day.
It tells the story of horror novelist Roger Cobb (William Katt), a retired Vietnam vet whose writing has stalled since the unexplained disappearance of his son. When his aunt croaks, Roger decides to move into her relinquished property in an attempt to rediscover his form but soon realizes that his enduring woe is inexplicably linked to the fixtures and fittings. While most men have skeletons rattling around in their closets, Cobb’s boudoir houses something far more dubious and terrifying visions begin to haunt him at every turn. On the plus side, it appears as though his son may well still be alive but remains trapped within an alternate dimension, accessible through his bathroom mirror. Of course, to anyone else, Roger is clearly taking leave of his senses. However, if there’s one fellow you want on side in such circumstances then that person would have to be George Wendt.
I grew up idolizing Cheers and prefered it to any sitcom being churned out of the United Kingdom during the time. Nonchalant lager guzzler Norm Peterson became something a cult hero to Keeper and his chemistry with fellow barfly Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) was both natural and infinitely pleasing. Ironically, Ratzenberger would later appear in the sequel, which begs the question “would Rhea Perlman have been better suited to the role of psychopath Jenky in the third installment?” It was Wendt who got in first and here, as nosy neighbor Harold Gorton, he couldn’t be more cunningly cast. Much of the rich vein of comedy which runs through Miner’s film is on account of Wendt and Katt and their bumbling pursuits as they investigate Roger’s ominous sightings. House offers a very amusing 93 minutes of irreverence and we’re never in anything but the best company.
While the signs are positive for an unlikely bromance, something wicked this way comes in the form of a particularly troublesome figure from a past which Roger would much rather forget. The embittered Big Ben (Richard Moll) is determined not to let the writer forget wussing out on the battlefield, a dick move which led to his protracted torture at the hands of the enemy, and has taken that grudge way beyond the grave. If Cobb is to stand any chance of returning his son to safety then he will be required to face his ultimate demon and do a fair amount of sucking up in the process. As he delves deeper into the house’s dark recesses, we are willing spotters, and this is largely down to a number of elements aside from affable turns by Katt and Wendt, and a far less jovial one by Moll.
Harry Manfredini’s jabbing score for Friday The 13th lent oodles to its murky atmosphere and here it compliments the terror exquisitely. Meanwhile, the ghoulish make-up effects from Barney Burman and Brian Wade are more than up-to-snuff. Their monstrosities flit between tickling our funny bones and chilling the blood within our ventricles and this is a balancing act which later installments would sadly squander. Here, everyone is on their game, all the elements are soundly in place for a cult classic and, while House is hardly considered as horror royalty, it still retains its charm nearly three decades later.
There are laugh out loud moments to savor, particularly during Roger’s adventures in babysitting and his attempts at hiding any evidence that he may be losing his mind. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is also a clear influence as the stuffed fish above his fireplace remembers it’s on dry land and a big-boned hell wench enters the fray. The more the merrier seems to be the general consensus and House throws it all into the mix with great relish. It may not be to the standard of Raimi’s undisputable masterpiece but it is aware of its equilibrium and, while not taking itself especially seriously, it still manages to accelerate the pulse on occasion. Alas, the once hopeful franchise is now buried in refuse sacks at numerous coordinates and it only has itself to blame for its eviction. However, I certainly won’t be culpable of laying the blame at Miner’s doorstep.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: It’s all very tongue-in-cheek of course and hardly a match for The Evil Dead with regards to grue but there are still moments to savor. Demonic heads are lopped off, limbs dismembered, and disposed of accordingly but House is more than content to aire on the side of campy. Keeper’s standout would have to be an uproariously frustrating round of hide and seek whereby a disembodied hand chips away at Cobb’s final frayed nerve.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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