31 Days of Horror – October 3rd – “House”

Today I packed in a few movies but went with this as my pick. The first I watched was just garbage. “Benny Loves You” is a steaming pile of British poo. The second was Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” which isn’t great but is easily the best of the three movies I watched. However, I had already seen that movie. So I had to go with the other film tonight, “House”. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this movie but I’ve seen the cover of this film hundreds or maybe even thousands of times in my life. It’s one of those iconic cases that was featured prominently in video stores of my youth. It features a decrepit, corpse-like hand inserting itself into a doorknob as a key with the name of the film emblazoned above it. If you grew up in the 80’s or 90’s then you saw this one too. It has eluded my watch for the better part of at least 2-3 decades now but that ended tonight.

House IMDb

After my first endeavor ended I realized I needed something else to mark the day with for my scary movie de jour. I had no notion of this endeavor yet but I wanted something that would fit the bill a little better. So I began that endless process of scrolling. I have a few titles I want to watch over this month but I found myself not motivated to pick intentionally but allow myself to bask in the randomness of the scroll. It didn’t take long before I landed on “House”. I saw that hand from my childhood and a few moments later the opening credits were rolling. While I was never a major consumer of “The Greatest American Hero” I was aware of William Katt’s success on that show. As George Wendt and Richard Moll’s names continued to scroll I began to wonder what exactly it was that I was getting into. I did not realize as a youth that this movie was intended to be a horror comedy. The aesthetic always struck me solely as a horror movie. The tone of the box seemed to denote a haunted house that was plaguing a family. That was my only frame of reference going into this movie.

Admittedly I feel like this movie never really totally figures out what it wants to be. I won’t say it’s an all bad movie. But once I was done with it, I just don’t really know what it was that I watched. Ultimately I don’t have the benefit of being scared by this film as a child. That is one of the lingering value that a lot of the films of the 80’s and 90’s have on people my age at this point. If you were privy to the film in its heyday, then that fear carries over despite your age. I know people who are terrified of Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown despite the fact that there’s nothing remotely scary about the miniseries from 1990. But my big beef with this movie is there are movies that are much better from around the same time that this film could have benefitted from by taking a page out of any of their books just to find some direction.

So our main character, Roger, has inherited back a house from his dead aunt that he apparently used to live in at one point. This is one of the perils this movie faces due to lack of real direction in the story, you’re always a little confused by what exactly is going on at any given moment. Roger is also a successful horror writer who hasn’t written anything in a few years and is due for another book. The only problem is he wants to write a book about his time in Vietnam and why that is still tormenting him. I’m not 100% sure how the timeline goes here. William Katt himself would have turned 18 in 1969 which is still admittedly prime Vietnam time. But the war ended 6 years later putting him at 24. When he lived in this house that his aunt eventually became the sole owner of, had a successful writing career, married and divorced his wife and had a child who seemed to be somewhere near the age of 7 or 8 at the end of the film, I don’t know. There’s a lot that happened there. But I digress.

Roger gets this house from his dead aunt. As a horror writer living in what appears to be a haunted house, I kind of imagined it might be that he attempts to write this Vietnam book but then eventually switch over and start writing about the strange occurrences in the house. But honestly even the strange occurrences began sort of withering up in the end. Yes there’s a big scary monster in one closet upstairs but it’s far from competition from some of the real scares that came out of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. Honestly a lot of the makeup and monsters look a lot more like the low budget “Evil Dead” demons than anything. And Raimi leaned into those hard because of his budgetary constraints. This film had enough scratch to employ some relatively big names but skimp on the practical effects. This was a mistake. And even if you don’t want to go that route, another Carpenter flick, “In the Mouth of Madness”, captures a very similar theme of horror writers and the horrors around them. Granted that didn’t come out until 1994 but I have to say thematically that there’s nothing they couldn’t have explored in House in 1986 that wouldn’t have benefitted from the same treatment but a few years earlier.

George Wendt is introduced as the plucky neighbor at one point and I just don’t know that it ever really pays off. There’s name recognition and I love that Wendt is in this just for the heck of it. Who doesn’t love George Wendt. He’s Norm. He’s the everyman. But what does he add to this plot or acting in this movie? Absolutely nothing, say it again, y’all. But Wendt gets sort of pulled into the middle of a lot of these Vietnam “trips” that Roger finds himself in the middle of at one point or another. Personally I don’t think leaning into the Vietnam flashbacks garners much plot-wise. Sure it sets up the finale a bit but that’s a weak connection/payoff at best. So there’s very little, if anything, gained by that whole line of storytelling. And in the middle of all this we’ve got these flashbacks of Roger and his wife and their son living in this home previously. When that happened and they moved out and the Aunt moved in is still kind of a mystery to me. Admittedly my attention waned on more than one occasion so it would be a detail I could have easily missed. But the boy goes missing at one point which triggers the divorce ultimately. So now the writing is not paramount to the plot. Vietnam is important but he’s also far more convinced he’s got to capture this monster in a closet. He thinks he’s inadvertently killed his ex-wife who also happens to be some sort of ghost-troll-wife that he cuts up and buries all over the back yard. This is where I started losing interest for real.

So what should we do at this point? How about introduce a random lady in the swimming pool. I believe she was also a neighbor but that could have been a detail I missed or skipped or forgot or it might not even matter. She’s a weird end to a means as it is anyways. She returns later with her son who she immediately pawns off on Roger to babysit. This only works because it seems to have clued Roger into some way that he ends up tracking down his own son in an alternate world that the house allows him access to periodically. There’s more scenes with George Wendt. There’s a scene with the police. All of these are meant for comedy that misses pretty handily. It’s just so all over the place. Eventually Roger saves his son, brings him back to the real world but must confront an old military buddy that died in Vietnam played by Richard Moll. Admittedly if I was a child and saw Moll in full makeup, it probably would have terrified me. As an adult, not so much. Eventually Roger learns the same lesson as Kevin McCaliister, that he’s not afraid anymore, and things all kind of work out. He kills the bad guy with a grenade and saves his son just as his ex-wife shows up in a cab and I think they all live happily ever after.

This one is my first stinker of the flicks. It is somewhat iconic so I was a little bummed that it was as disjointed as it was. But it was the 80’s. People were firing off horror movies left and right and a great many of them were not good. I know my nostalgia for cover boxes on video store shelves runs deep but this is one that I could have omitted from my list and been ok I think. Ultimately I’m glad I watched it mostly so I can say that I did. There are 3 sequels presently to the original that I don’t intended to see. Im looking a few things up I saw that someone is rebooting this movie and possibly the franchise next year. I’ll be curious to see if someone takes the reigns of this properties and does something creative with it or just slaps out a modern sequel and squeezes the last bit of life from this franchise. I’m not going to hold my breath either way. If it looks good I might check it out in theaters. Maybe I’ll wait for the streaming services to get it and go from there. Any way you slice it, I don’t feel great recommending this flick just because I really didn’t have a great time with it. So I’d say unless you have nostalgia already established with this one, you can probably skip it and you won’t miss anything. Until the next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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