House (1986)

Much like producer Sean S. Cunningham’s own Friday the 13th, this is a pretty average movie that has somehow gained a place in horror fandom, albeit a few tiers lower. It’s not an especially effective movie, nor a very memorable one. Playing out more like an extended episode of Tales From the Crypt, the film is an easy, breezy watch with a light, ghoulish tone that occasionally conjures up some laughs. And by “laughs” I mean scenes that make you think “that’s funny” in your head but never once make you actually crack a smile. 

In a nice bit of casting Carrie‘s Tommy Ross, William Katt, plays a Stephen King-esque horror author who holds up in his dead aunt’s house (of the title) to write his latest novel but finds that the house (still of the title) is also a gateway to other dimensions and a portal for his own nightmares to manifest themselves. I kept thinking about The ‘Burbs during this movie. Maybe because of the the presence of a brash, ball-busting neighbour who initially suspects Katt of being a paranoid loony but ultimately becomes Katt’s hesitant sidekick. That’s like something that happens in The ‘Burbs right? If not, then at the very least House is definitely trying to capture that sweet Joe Dante tone but comes up short. The film isn’t shot very well either, it’s way too bright especially in its set pieces making all the special effects look like guys in rubber suits or things hanging off fishing lines. It’s surprising given that director Steve Miner previously directed both Friday the 13th‘s Part 2 and 3, two movies that, at the very least, knew how to light their money shots.

There’s also a bunch of Vietnam flashbacks – oh yeah, Katt’s character was in ‘nam, and also lost his son – which offsets the primarily suburban setting quite well but, again, their execution is not very inspired. It feels like Miner and co set up a jungle diorama in the corner of a studio, threw some coloured gels on the lights and used that as a location. Low budgets can be a bitch but guys, come on, give me something. Still, it leads to creation of the film’s big bad, a skeletor looking ‘nam veteran called Big Ben who looks more like a rejected Buffy the Vampire Slayer villain than a proper 80s horror threat. Pretty dumb. Though I should stress that the film’s tone makes clear the filmmaker’s weren’t aiming to deliver something hardcore and genuinely unsettling. But as filmmakers like Joe Dante and Sam Raimi know, any good comedy horror is only as good as its flair for imaginative ghoulies, a flair that House sorely lacks.

Think about what a filmmaker like Stuart Gordon would have done with this potentially Lovecraftian concept and you’ll immediately wish you were watching that movie instead. I can’t believe this film had the staying power to spawn three sequels. It’s so middle of the road. It has a certain charm, I guess but I suspect the producers and audiences saw more potential in the concept itself rather than this initial offering.

Watched on Arrow blu-ray

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