"This house knows everything about you."
When I first saw HOUSE at the theaters (yes, I'm that old - now shut yer cake hole!), I was left gaping in sheer delight.
There were plenty of "Horror Comedies" before - from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEETS THE MUMMY to Roger Corman's early 60s ditties like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and the Vincent Price and Peter Lorre movies to Price's droll THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES.
In the seventies there was Mel Brooks YOUNG FRANKENSTIEN and in the early 1980s there was Ivan Reitman's GHOSTBUSTERS. But the Roger Corman flicks, YOUNG FRANKENSTIEN, and GHOSTBUSTERS were never ever scary. THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES had its scary moments, even its horror moments, but there was a clear line of delineation between the two. It was director Steve Miner (FRIDAY THE 13TH 2, FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D, WARLOCK, LAKE PLACID, HALLOWEEN H20) and screenwriter Ethan Wiley (HOUSE II: The Second Story, CHILDREN OF THE CORN V) who were able to skillfully bring the two seemingly disparate elements together in such a way that had audiences jumping and laughing at the same time.
They never did it again. While HOUSE II had its light and funny moments, it wasn't scary. And though LAKE PLACID had both its funny and scary moments, the two were very separate. LAKE PLACID was funny enough to be a fun movie, but not a true comedy.
Yet Miner and Wiley, working off a story by Fred Decker, created one of the very few movies that rightfully earns the title of Horror Comedy*. How did they pull it off?
The hero of the story is Roger Cobb, played by William Katt (CARRIE), William had just got off of a popular, though short lived TV series in the U.S. called Greatest American Hero (popular with audiences, but the writers ran out of ideas real quick). It was light comedy and effectively broke the mind lock audiences had over Katt being a Horror movie actor. Now folks saw him as either Horror or comedy and just by seeing his very popular friendly face, audiences were ready to relax and expect something funny.
Roger's next door neighbor is Ted, as played by George Wendt. Audiences around the world know of George Wendt as Norm, the affable slob and goofy regular of the popular 1980s sitcom, Cheers. The nightmare memories that haunt Roger's mind is of the time he ran in fear and left a buddy behind to die in Vietnam. His buddy in question is Ben, played by Richard Moll - known to audiences everywhere as the towering "Bull" on the popular 1980s television sitcom, Night Court.
This is how the makers of HOUSE cheated. They took folks from popular television comedies and put them in a Horror setting. The actors are comfortable and recognizable. The audience, just by seeing these people, feel safe.
Producer Sean S. Cunningham of FRIDAY THE 13th fame, also worked with his long time associate composer Harry Manfredini (All the FRIDAY THE 13ths and a bunch more besides). In addition, cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND) lent his lenses to the project, giving this low budget flick a slick and clear eye.
This is good because the story itself is a real downer.
Years after the unexplained disappearance of his son, Roger is still trying to get over it and the subsequent dissolution of his marriage. Instead, the depression he finds himself in recalls other horrible moments from his life, most notably, his experiences in Vietnam. Roger is helplessly sinking deeper into his depression.
The movie opens to find Roger attending the funeral of his crazed aunt, who raised him in the HOUSE. His aunt seems to have committed suicide but her relatives and friends don't buy it. She was crazy, yes, but not suicidal crazy.
Roger's ex-wife (Kay Lenz: STRIPPED TO KILL) is trying to get on with her life by burying herself in her work as a soap opera actress. It's clear from the beginning that these two people still love each other, but they find themselves unable to share their mutual sorrow. In their pain, they try to reach out to each other, while mindful of not invading the other's space, and at the same time retain their pride. So well written, directed, and acted was this moment in the film, that it took me more time to explain it than it takes to see it.
Now ask yourself, does this sound like it's going to be fun?
So Roger, who is also a best selling Horror writer, decides to move into the old HOUSE that his aunt left him. Why not? The HOUSE holds no fear for him, he grew up there.
But the HOUSE is indeed wicked. Oh! It's simply wicked I tell you!
The HOUSE is a dimensional doorway to your memories and nightmares: the real and imagined. There are creatures that live within its walls. There are grotesque beings that disguise themselves as those you love and care about. You can shoot them, hack them up into pieces, and bury them, they will not stay dead because they are not, by themselves, alive. They are just extensions, tendrils if you will, of the HOUSE. There is no part of the HOUSE that cannot come to life to terrorize you. It preys on your mind and knows your fears.
Whew! Lost children, divorce, suicide, obsessive guilt, and a murderous gore filled haunted house! That sure as shit makes for some damn fine comedy, eh?
Believe it or not, it did. So as not to spoil things, I'd rather not tell you why. Instead, you should come to this house and take a look around.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released HOUSE in a limited edition with HOUSE II in a two disk DVD set.
There are lots of great features including a documentary on the making of HOUSE as well as audio commentary by Director Steve Miner, Producer Sean S. Cunningham (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, FRIDAY THE 13th - all of them - DEEPSTAR SIX), writer Ethan Wiley and actor William Katt. I particularly love these audio commentaries: To watch the film (a second time) and hear the creators, in retrospect, say what they still like about a particular scene, what they wish they could do over again, and the difficulty that some seemingly simple scenes spawned. All that and more plus a second movie for the price of one.
It's a free plug, I know, but Anchor Bay Entertainment just continues to earn my respect time after time.
A good first film plus extra movie and lots of DVD extras boost the 3 Shriek Girl theatrical release of HOUSE to Four Shriek Girls.
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