WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!
In 1983, with two successful Horror sequels under his belt (i.e. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and PART 3D), Steve Miner began work on GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS IN 3D, which would (and should) have been the first American-made Godzilla movie! After securing the character rights from Toho, Miner tapped a yet untested screenwriter named Fred Dekker (future director of NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, THE MONSTER SQUAD, and ROBOCOP 3) to pen the script. But after a year, for various reasons, Steve Miner’s G-Project sadly never took off.
Then sometime in 1985, Miner got his hands on a script by Ethan Wiley for HOUSE. Based upon a short Twilight Zone-inspired story from Fred Dekker, Wiley crafted the fifteen-page treatment into a full-blown screenplay. And Miner liked the script so much that he immediately got in touch with Sean S. Cunningham (director of FRIDAY THE 13TH) who agreed to bankroll the project. With everything in place, a small army of genre legends would craft a film that still holds up incredibly well over three decades later!
HOUSE is the story of war vet turned author Roger Cobb (William Katt) who is stuck in a major rut. Still coasting on the success of his first two novels, Roger is now trying to focus on writing about his experiences in the Vietnam War. However, he is suffering from writer’s block (and a touch of PTSD), and still dealing with the disappearance of his son. But fate soon intervenes when Roger’s Aunt unexpectedly commits suicide, and he becomes the sole inheritor of her allegedly haunted estate. Rather than sell it off, Roger decides to move in and focus on writing his long-delayed book.
But his intended solitude doesn’t go as planned, as Roger has to deal with his nosy neighbor Harold Gorton (George Wendt), plus a multitude of supernatural threats, including killer garden tools, a diverse mix of monsters, and a vengeful Vietnam zombie! And as if that weren’t enough to push Roger to the brink of insanity, he gets tricked into babysitting his sexy neighbor’s five-year old son, and still has has a deadline to meet with his publisher! (Yeesh, this guy can’t catch a break!)
As the film enters its final act, the true culprit behind all of Roger’s woes is revealed to be “Big Ben” (portrayed in ‘Nam flashbacks by Richard Moll). Ben blames Roger for leaving him behind to be tortured and killed by the Vietcong, and is eager to exact revenge from beyond the grave! This ultimately leads to a climactic showdown where Roger will have to face his fears, learn to forgive himself, and find a way to lay Ben to rest permanently!
HOUSE was made during an era where it was pretty much “anything goes.” There was no need for brand recognition, or big Hollywood stars, and filmmakers pretty much had carte blanche to create what they wanted. And seeing as how both Miner and Cunningham had previously teamed-up on several films, it was probably easy for them to foster the perfect creative environment for their talented cast and crew.
HOUSE boasts a variety of strange creatures, all of which were designed by the late and great James Cummins. While he eventually did try his hand at screenwriting and directing (HARBINGER, DARK:30, THE BONEYARD), James was primarily involved in creating special effects for a variety of films, such as JAWS 3D, THE THING, STRANGE INVADERS, ENEMY MINE, and THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II. James’ creatures for HOUSE are memorable to say the least, and were pulled off with a mix of makeup, animatronics, and even some stop-motion animation.
Said stop-motion was courtesy of Mark Sullivan, a master matte painter and visual effects artist that has been working in the film biz since the early 1980s! (You can see more of his work in HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, ROBOCOP, and the 1988 remake of THE BLOB.) Sullivan’s lone piece of work in HOUSE is the brilliant bit featuring a flying monstrosity that terrorizes Roger when he’s scaling down a rope into another dimension. While it was intended to be portrayed exclusively by a mechanical puppet, the film’s creators smartly decided to utilize Sullivan’s expertise to bring the winged horror to life!
When it came time to find a composer for HOUSE, it wasn’t too surprising that the film’s creators turned to Harry Manfredini. Best known for his FRIDAY THE 13TH themes (as well as Jason’s trademark “ki ki ki ma ma ma”), Manfredini created HOUSE’s atmospheric music. Though it does at times bear some similarities to his FRIDAY tunes, the HOUSE soundtrack is entirely unique and fits the proceedings perfectly!
Led by William Katt, the cast of HOUSE is superb! Katt is excellent as the beleaguered Roger Cobb, and boy is he dealing with a lot in this movie. Through brief flashbacks and expository dialogue, we discover that Roger’s son Jimmy mysteriously vanished. This life-altering event created a domino effect, and now Roger is a lonely divorcee that is on the cusp of career suicide. Additionally, it turns out that his late Aunt’s house is possessed by some supernatural power (or entity) that feeds off of Roger’s negative emotions.
Using Roger’s deep-rooted survivor’s guilt, the house manufactures physical manifestations of his personal demons. And it is no surprise that Roger begins questioning his own sanity after he encounters a monster in his closet, and battles a hideous hag-beast that was masquerading as his ex-wife. Things become even further complicated when Roger’s neighbor Harold Gorton starts poking around. Played to comedic perfection by George Wendt, Harold is the well-meaning, and oft-hilarious thorn in Roger’s side.
These two characters (and actors) have a brilliant chemistry, and their friendship eventually builds to a memorable sequence where Roger tricks Harold into helping him battle the closet-dwelling “war demon.” Roger spins a yarn about a huge raccoon that has been nesting in the closet, arms Harold with a harpoon-gun, then flings open the door at midnight. What follows is pure cinematic gold!
It is also worth noting that HOUSE was Kane Hodder’s first job as stunt coordinator on a film. While there weren’t many big stunts to pull off, Kane did set up the scene where William Katt is dangling from a seaside cliff during the film’s climax. He also briefly portrayed a corpse when Roger hilariously attempts to dispose of the witch’s (not quite) dead body in his backyard. (Yes, that is in fact Kane Hodder beneath the cocoon of garbage bags that William Katt viciously beats with a shovel!)
HOUSE is a fantastic Horror-Comedy that uses cartoonish terrors to tell the story of a mentally-scarred vet that is literally being haunted by his past, and it totally works! While the horror elements are rather tame for an R-rated feature (making this a good “starter fright flick” for younger viewers), the movie hits all the right notes when it comes to generating laughs. It is a great little genre-blending film, and I’m happy to see that it has garnered such a devoted cult following over the years.
HOUSE injects some much-needed life into the (some might say stale) haunted house sub-genre, and delivers characters that you will love spending ninety minutes with. This production brought together one of the best creative teams that the ’80s would ever see, resulting in a film that is highly imaginative, smartly written, and full of heart. I absolutely love HOUSE, and I can’t help but give it an enthusiastic recommendation. If you somehow haven’t seen it yet, then get to it Vault Dwellers, because I’m giving this Horror classic a rating of:
Notes: I’m reviewing each disc in Arrow Video’s HOUSE: THE COLLECTION separately, so the rating below strictly reflects my thoughts on the Blu-ray/DVD combo for HOUSE. That being said, Arrow’s limited edition boxed set easily earns a “five rad” rating from yours truly! The box that the films are housed in is surprisingly sturdy and aesthetically pleasing, and it comes with a 148-page book called THE HOUSE COMPANION. Written by Simon Barber, this miniature tome dissects each film and includes cool artwork and stills!
Additionally, word has it that all four films in this collection are region free, despite what is stated on the packaging. I haven’t confirmed this yet myself, so take that info with a grain of salt before buying this set! (If you can find it that is. Last I knew it was out of print!)
Packaging: HOUSE comes in a standard Blu-ray amaray case that holds both the DVD and Blu-ray disc. The cover is reversible, so if you don’t dig the new artwork by Justin Osbourn, you can flip it over to showcase the original poster art.
Audio & Video: Arrow’s HOUSE disc offers up three audio options including DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM Stereo 2.0, and LPCM Mono (for purists). I watched the film with its 5.1 mix and was completely happy with it. Dialogue, sound effects, and (particularly) Manfredini’s score all sounded perfectly clear as they emanated from my speakers.
HOUSE is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in a newly created 2K transfer made from original film elements. Suffice it to say, unless someone does a 4K scan from a better print (if one even exists), there’s most likely no way anyone can top the picture quality of this release.
I’ve watched HOUSE on VHS and DVD, and I’ve even seen a rare (and pristine) 35mm print of it, but none of those come close to this! The film looks so clean and bright, and I have honestly never seen HOUSE look this good! Kudos to Arrow Video for their stellar work on this transfer!
Extras: There are a plethora of special features on this disc Vault Dwellers, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I learned about the making of HOUSE! The all new Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House documentary is the highlight of this Arrow release! It covers the entirety of HOUSE’s history, including its origins, production, and critical reception.
Richard Moll is noticeably absent from the interviews, but just about everyone else involved is here: William Katt, Kay Lenz (who is looking a bit rough these days), Fred Dekker, Steve Miner, Sean Cunningham, and many more discuss their contributions to the film, and dish out some cool stories and trivia. (I never knew that the entire interior of the house was a set! I always assumed it was all filmed on location!) The documentary also contains a touching tribute to the late James Cummins.
Also included are a variety of teasers and trailers, a still gallery, and a vintage featurette entitled “The Making of: House.” Running at twenty-four minutes, this short TV program shows some cool behind-the-scenes footage from several key scenes in the film, as well as on-set interviews with cast and crew. It’s a welcome addition, and is definitely something I would have went nuts over if I saw it on TV as a kid!
The disc also contains a feature-length audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, screenwriter Ethan Wiley, and star William Katt. As far as commentaries, this one is very middle of the road with some interesting insights, and a few fun anecdotes being shared by the HOUSE alumni. Though they run out of a steam during the second half of the film, it is still worth listening to.
Finally, the disc contains the first draft of the screenplay, as well as Fred Dekker’s original story that provided the template for Ethan Wiley’s script. I have yet to peruse these myself, but I plan on doing so in the near feature so I can compare them to the final product.
Final Verdict: With its reversible cover art, numerous extras, and the best audio and video transfer currently available, this is the definitive release fans have been waiting for! HOUSE is not available on its own in the Blu-ray format (you’ll have to spring for the double feature if you want a copy). But based on its own merits, this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is definitely worthy of: