House (1986) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 19

by Jovial Jay

No marathon of Haunted House films would be complete without the funny and creepy House!

I recall this film being made up of a bunch of actors that I recognized from TV shows and that was what initial drew me to the film.

Before Viewing

William Katt moves into a house that “no one should live in,” and meets his neighbor George Wendt. The trailer sets up many creepy and potentially scary moments, but also injects bits of humor into the preview as well. It’s hard to make out any plot, as it looks like the lead character is just trying to survive or find his way out of the house. Finally, the narrator reminds us that we should “enter at your own risk!” The door’s open, so let’s see what happening!

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

House doesn’t really hold up like I recall. It’s got some jumps, but is not horrific or moody enough to require a rewatch. Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a horror writer who inherits his aunt’s house after she committed suicide in it. He is working on his new book, a recollection of his experiences during the Vietnam War. He is currently estranged from his wife, actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz) due in part to Roger losing their son Jimmy while he was supposed to be watching him. The audience is left to believe that the boy has been kidnapped, but the aunt knows that the House took him.

Roger moves into the house to continue the work on his book. Strange things begin occurring, such as seeing the ghost of his aunt hang herself, hearing Jimmy’s voice, or monsters popping out of the closet. Roger begins taking precautions around the house, and ends up shooting an apparition/monster that takes on the form of Sandy. He tries to keep things secret from his nosy neighbor Harold (George Wendt) but eventually brings Harold into his confidence.

Roger continues his work, recounting his time during the war with his company, including his squad mate, Big Ben (Richard Moll). The flashbacks to the jungle culminate with Big Ben being shot and captured by the Viet Cong. He had begged Roger to kill him, but Roger was not strong enough.

One night Roger smashes the bathroom mirror and finds a giant black void behind it. He hears Jimmy’s voice coming from within. Roger goes into the void and finds himself back in the jungles of Vietnam. He discovers Jimmy in a cage, and frees him. They make their way through a swamp and end up in the backyard pool at the house. But something else has followed them. The decomposing body of Big Ben comes after Jimmy and threatens Roger.

Roger stands up to Ben, saying he is no longer afraid. He takes Jimmy and kills Ben with a  grenade, as the upstairs floor goes up in flames from the explosion. They make it outside just as Sandy pulls up, reuniting the family happily ever after.

It was the house. It was the house that did it.” – Aunt Elizabeth

I remember really liking this film in college. It’s definitely the best film of the four House films. But seeing it again now, some of the uniqueness or fun has rubbed off. While not designed as a strict horror film, the scares don’t really seem to scare, and the effects are not horrific. The humorous elements, like George Wendt’s character or the moment when the decapitated body of the monster is trying to grab Roger’s cute female friend, and he has to stand on its arm, still play well. But the problems may also be due to the fact that the film is a little confusing.

Roger’s boy Jimmy disappears in the swimming pool, but Roger also sees a car driving away just after missing the boy. That scene puts some questions in the viewers mind that Roger may not be 100% sane. It’s implied that Roger was living in the house previously, but no mention of the time that’s passed since Jimmy’s disappearance.

Also the whole writer-moves-into-haunted-house-to-finish-book trope has been done better. Roger is obviously trying to work out his feelings about his time in the war (the mid-80’s were a big time for Vietnam war films, and vets dealing with their problems – such as Platoon and First Blood). But the use of his emotional healing, coupled with the haunted house (we never learn why the house is haunted, It just is!) and the missing child storyline all come out as a hodge-podge.

House even seems to be taking a cue from other more popular horror films like like An American Werewolf In London’s use of Pop Music as a counterpoint to the horror elements, with the use of a cover of Linda Ronstadt’s song “You’re No Good.”

I will close by saying that House is fun, and has some good performances, especially Katt, but it’s no Evil Dead II when it comes to mixing horror and comedy.

Assorted Musings

  • House

    House (1986) – Craven Realty is almost certainly a nod to horror director Wes Craven.

    The real estate company that is selling Roger’s aunt’s house is Craven Realty, named after Wes Craven.

  • Sean S. Cunningham, the writer of the original Friday the 13th film, was a Producer on this one.
  • Director Steve Miner also directed Friday the 13th part 2 and part III, Halloween H2O and Lake Placid.
  • House

    House (1986) – Mindy Sterling has a bit role. She’s better known for her work in the Austin Powers films.

    The annoying woman in the bookstore is played by Mindy Sterling, an actress better known for playing Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers films.

  • William Katt was featured in another film reviewed this year, Carrie.

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