House is a 1986 horror comedy and, like all good horror comedies, it doesn’t cheap out on either aspect (the horror or the comedy). Directed by Steve Miner (of Friday the 13th fame), this cult classic has some very obvious influences but is also relatively unique considering it is, at its heart, a haunted house story.
CONTINUE FOR SPOILS
Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a famous writer who inherits his aunt’s house when she takes her own life, an action that we see in the film’s introduction. A grocery delivery boy arrives and when he hears some odd noises, he investigates and walks in on the aunt as she hangs herself. It’s pretty startling (especially as she is properly swinging about – it’s actually a well done practical effect) and between that and the very ’80s music and text, the film gets off to a good start.
Roger Cobb decides against selling the house and decides to move in and start his next book which is going to be his memoirs about his time in the Vietnam war. However, it doesn’t take long for us to realise why the house gets the titular billing here as he starts seeing things, including his dead aunt. She tells him to get out of the house before it changes him, inferring that the house caused her to commit suicide.
What House does particularly well is blur the lines between the supernatural horror that Roger is about to experience and the obvious mental trauma that he experienced both in Vietnam but also afterwards when his son went missing, never to be discovered, at the house years before.
At first you wonder if it is all in his head but when he opens the wrong door and a monster (which on-set they called the War Demon) springs out and attacks him, there is no doubt. Especially when his terrible, terrible, terrible plunging v-neck sweater is torn to shreds. To be fair, we’d do our best to destroy that too.
Eventually he ropes in his neighbour, Harold (played by NORM!) who happens to be a big fan of his. George Wendt is typically excellent here and adds a good deal of comedy to the story as he plays the lovable ‘trying to help but messing it up’ role that John Candy had in Brewster’s Millions.
Rather than doing the sensible thing (selling the house to some other sucker), Cobb attempts to catch the War Demon on film but doesn’t really get anywhere and when Harold calls Cobb’s ex-wife she turns up to help but ends up turning into a fat demon thing.
The ridiculous effects (good but ridiculous all the same) on her show that the film isn’t taking itself too seriously and when Cobb eventually attempts to dismember and bury the body, things take an Evil Dead 2-esque turn. The sequence involving her severed-but-animated hand is sheer comedy genius.
Ultimately the cause for all this nonsense is revealed and the last act of the film reveals that back in ‘Nam, Cobb allowed his buddy, Big Ben, to get captured and tortured. It turns out that Ben has masterminded all of this from beyond the grave for revenge and is the man behind the disappearance of Roger’s son.
Interestingly, it all works out for the best and House ends up being something of a rarity as it goes out on a happy ending. And doesn’t even have one last twist for you. I was expecting to see one of the monsters come back to life, or for a severed hand to come scuttling into view, but House transitions into those end credits and doesn’t even throw a post-credits stinger at you. It’s powerfully refreshing.
House was a product of its time. The action and comedy are up there with the likes of Fright Night and Evil Dead 2 (high praise indeed) and it can be genuinely creepy too. There are shades of Creepshow and Twilight Zone: The Movie in there (the latter being a very direct influence as this story was going to be a segment in a Twilight Zone style horror anthology movie that never got made) and while it feels familiar, House manages to not be derivative.
We’re not sure how the three sequels will stack up but we’re keen to find out. William Katt eventually reprised his role for the fourth, and final, film in the series. Not many horror franchises can sustain four movies with any real success though. But one film in, House is AWESOME.