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Sunday, February 26, 2012

HOUSE


HOUSE
1986
Directed by Steven Miner (Halloween: H20, Friday the 13th Part 2, ABC Family’s Switched at Birth)
Written by Fred Dekker (Monster Squad!), Ethan Wiley (Children of the Cord 5: Fields of Terror Bad CGI)
Starring William Katt and George Wendt, the 80s version of Laurel and Hardy

WHA’ HAPPENED?
The Greatest American Hero™ (William Katt) moves into his aunt’s haunted house so he can have some alone time to write a novel about the Vietnam War. He doesn’t realize the house is infested with a horrible creature that will surely drive him to madness: TV’s George Wendt.

And there are ghosts. Lots of weird-ass ghosts, including the crumbling remains of a former soldier that Katt left to lie in some Vietnamese rice paddy. This skeleton warrior is out for revenge, which is why he kidnapped Katt’s son and whisked him away to an ill-defined realm of darkness and tentacles. Katt must save his son, defeat the zombie, and survive a week living in… The House!

BACKGROUND
This film came in the middle of the mid-80s horror comedy boom, which was arguably jumpstarted by Freddy Krueger and his increasingly zany antics. Two and a half decades later, House has become a well-regarded HBO staple, and people think of it as Fright Night’s doofy younger brother. You know, the one with ADD and George Wendt? I hadn’t seen it in years, but I remember being amused throughout the whole film. So when MOON IS A DEAD WORLD chose this for the latest round of Viewer Vomit, I was ready and willing and check it out one more time.

One of the more harrowing showdowns in the film.
Where's Rhea Pearlman when you need her?

EXPECTATIONS
When I popped my House VHS tape into my dusty old VCR (true story), I had a few very clear images in my mind: William Katt diving through his bathroom mirror, a skeleton super-soldier, a goofy-looking purple ghost thing that impersonates William Katt’s wife. Basically, I remembered all the money shots. But I wasn’t sure how much of a comedy this was.

I’d seen all three House movies (1, 2, and 4, because 3 doesn’t really exist), and I was aware that each one walked the horror/comedy tightrope to varying degrees of success. Was this the one with an Old West shoot-out. Did this have a pizza monster? All the House movies blurred in my brain, and I was curious to see how the first one stood up.

Not since his role in Problem Child 3: Junior's in Love
has William Katt been this terrified.

WHAT I LIKED
After watching this one and the two sequels, I can safely say that this is by far the least comedic, which is definitely a good thing. There’s obvious comedy in this film, particularly physical stuff involving wacky monster body parts and dead bodies. (It’s like Poltergeist on meth, but in a good way.) George Wendt also gets off a few good one-liners (My personal favorite: “Cujo, the raccoon!”). And William Katt has the common sense to play everything with a slight wink to the audience. He’s not the greatest actor around (Hence his role in Problem Child 3), but he comes across as endearing and sympathetic.

That said, the movie isn’t pure slapstick. There are actual stakes involved. Unlike the sequels, which have moments of drama that they utterly botch, this one uses the kidnapped son in a way that seems properly dramatic, but not depressing.

Look what I caught!

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
This film isn’t perfect, and there are a few sour notes. I’m specifically talking about the completely cheesy Vietnam flashbacks. They look like they were filmed in someone’s backyard luau. They come at random times throughout the film and totally disrupt the flow. Most importantly, though, these flashbacks are completely unneccessary. We can get all this information in half the time. William Katt talks about his PTSD more than enough times (he’s writing a freaking book about it!). We don’t need to see any of this happening on the screen.

My other major gripe with this film is that the ghost dimension that his son is trapped in comes across as thoroughly underdeveloped and confusing. Has the boy been treading water in a dark cave for the months that he’s been gone? The movie does not explain where he was this entire time. Maybe if the movie spent less time showing William Katt spout off war movie clichés with that bailiff guy from Night Court… then maybe we’d get half a minute of explanation about where his son was. Just a thought.

FINAL VERDICT
I enjoyed this movie. A lot. I laughed at all the right parts, I thought the comedy didn't take anything away from the legitimate scares, and I enjoyed hanging out with these actors. It's not flawless, but it's good-natured enough that the flaws don't really matter. Now that I've watched it again, I don't think I'll let my VHS copy build up quite so much dust the next time I want to check it out.

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