Movies & TV / Reviews

House: Two Stories Blu-Ray Review

July 1, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
House: Two Stories Blu-Ray Review  

Cast Of House:
*William Katt as Roger Cobb
*George Wendt as Harold Gorton
*Richard Moll as Big Ben
*Kay Lenz as Sandy Sinclair
*Mary Stavin as Tanya

Cast of House II: The Second Story:
*Arye Gross as Jesse
*Jonathan Stark as Charlie
*Royal Dano as Gramps
*Bill Maher as John
*John Ratzenberger as Bill
*Lar Park Lincoln as Kate
*Amy Yasbeck as Lana

Story: In the original House, William Katt (Carrie) stars as Roger Cobb, a horror novelist struggling to pen his next bestseller. When he inherits his aunt’s creaky old mansion, Roger decides that he’s found the ideal place in which to get some writing done. Unfortunately, the house’s monstrous supernatural residents have other ideas. Meanwhile, House II: The Second Story sees young Jesse (Arye Gross) moving into an old family mansion where his parents were mysteriously murdered years before. Plans for turning the place into a party pad are soon thwarted by the appearance of Jesse s mummified great-great-grandfather, his mystical crystal skull and the zombie cowboy who ll stop at nothing to lay his hands on it!

The House series is one of those under-the-radar franchises that the average movie fan isn’t even aware is a series. This could be because the third film in the series is called The Horror Show in the US and House IV is largely forgotten these days. Most people seem to have the greatest affinity for the first two films from New World Pictures, which may be why Arrow decided to package those together specifically for the US release. The UK release actually got all four films. Depending on who you talk to, this is the better option in terms of film quality.

The first House was a collaboration between several big names from the 80s, including director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2, Friday the 13th Part 3), producer Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th), story writer Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad) and screenwriter Ethan Wiley (Children of the Corn V), who would go on to direct the sequel. If you noticed the Friday the 13th connection, it actually continued with the film’s composer, Harry Manfredini.

Except there would be no hockey-masked killers or crazy mothers slashing camp counselors this time. Both films follow a titular house (but not the titular house, as it was a different location in both), which has the ability to send its occupants into different worlds full of different terrifying or dangerous things in each. The movies mixed horror and comedy well enough that some people (including Roger Cobb himself, William Katt) think the films are movies you could show to your kids to introduce them to horror. There’s just enough humor to break up the scares that anyone should be fine watching this as gateway movie for the genre.

The first film follows an author who has had a terrible hand dealt to him by life. His marriage to an actress is more or less over, his writing career has stalled and his son went missing some time before the film begins. Soon his aunt dies and he inherits her house, which happens to be haunted. Worse than that, it tries to drive him to suicide using his own memories of Vietnam and his emotions against him. When you really stop to watch the movie, you realize it’s actually pretty dark.

And yet somewhere in that depressing and horrific story is a lot of situational and slapstick comedy. That comedy is usually equally mixed with the tension and horror of the moment. At one point he’s got the body of a monster-witch/his wife (it makes sense in context) in a garbage bag, while talking to the attractive neighbor. Who hasn’t been there? In another scenario, he’s babysitting and has to chase down a kid with a severed hand clinging to his back. It seems messed up and yet these moments are all played for laughs. More important, they work when shown that way.

Part of that could be attributed to the script, part of that could be attributed to the comedic timing of the leads. William Katt in particular is very good at mixing dramatic acting with bewildered and funny reactions to the insanity going on around him. He’s joined by the equally funny George Wendy as the slightly bumbling but well-meaning neighbor Harold. He’s a fan of Cobb’s writing and wants to be his friend, but he doesn’t believe in the supernatural and thinks he’s losing his mind a bit. Wendt’s affable and good-natured take on the character meshes well with Katt, who’s playing a man losing his mind.

The last great thing about House, which carries over into its sequel, is the great work done with the practical monster effects. Each monster looks unique and detailed, with some puppet work in some cases (particularly Big Ben) and just great puppets in others. Considering the budgets, these movies had great effects that, thanks to being real things that existed on set, still hold up today. That includes House II, although the creatures are more cartoon-like there.

House II: The Second Story is a sequel in name only, although it still features several of the same element. The house is there with the same powers, even if it’s a different house and not quite as malevolent. Cunningham and Wiley are both back on board, as is composer Harry Manfredini. The cast also includes names like Bill Maher and John Ratzenberger (giving the series a funny Cheers connection) in addition to the great Royal Dano and Fright Night‘s Jonathan Stark.

The movie is sometimes criticized by fans of the first film for being completely toned down from the first (which itself wasn’t exactly extreme), but that’s also why others like it. If the first movie could be considered a gateway film to horror for everyone, then House II could be a film watched with children exclusively. They only real issue with it is some light swearing. There’s no blood-letting, barely any scares and nothing overtly sexual.

The best parts are the supporting roles of Dano (as Gramps) and Ratzenberger (as Gramps), but Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark have great chemistry as a comedic duo as well. If they were slightly younger, I could see them starring in some early 80s screwball comedy (although Gross was in Soul Man). The pair work here even when the story elements and jokes don’t always land. Dano is surprisingly great in his role, because he’s able to be funny, but he brings the emotional core to the story. I think Gramps is the only character that would have fit in perfectly with the original film’s tone.

House II was never a bad sequel, it’s just a jarring shift from the first film and, honestly, from the rest of the series. It has a charm to it that makes it hard to dislike, even if it’s objectively not as well-made as the film that came before it. A lot of work went into making it, everyone involved in the cast seemed like they were having fun and it all shows. Sometimes that’s all you need because it can be infectious.

When it comes to the films, this is a definite recommended set for horror fans. It’s definitely preferable over the UK version of the set simply because The Horror Show is medicore and House IV is completely terrible.

House: 8.0
House II: The Second Story: 7.0

Both films give you the option of English LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, although House goes one step above with an LPCM Mono track. The tracks are great, with no real issues in volume control and the music sounds great.

Audio: 8.0

As the release itself notes, “Both films are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.” Thanks to the framing of the film and the picture being expanded, a crew member shows up in the first film. However if you’re not looking for it, chances are you’re not going to notice. What you will notice is how cleaned up these movies are, similar to other Arrow releases of New World films. It takes a good decade off of each, making them look more modern than they would have even on DVD.

Video: 8.0

Special Features

House Audio Commentary with Ethan Wiley, William Katt, Sean Cunningham and Steve Miner: I believe this was the same commentary from Anchor Bay’s DVD release. It’s a pleasant listen with equal parts seriousness and humor, similar to the film itself. There also aren’t that many dead spots, which is a good thing.

House II Audio Commentary with Ethan Wiley and Sean Cunningham: There are more dead spots here, which might because there are less people involved, but it’s still enjoyable enough.

Ding Dong, You’re Dead!: An hour-long documentary about every aspect you can think of regarding the making of House. The people at Red Shirt Pictures really knocked it out of the park here, getting everyone involved with the commentary as well as Kay Lenz, George Wendt and a host of special effects people. The special effects stuff takes up half the documentary and its arguably the best part, as we hear stories of exactly how much work went into creations that don’t take up a lot of screen time or get destroyed at the end.

Vintage Making Of – House: This is from a TV show that was just called The Making Of. It is a fluff entertainment show with some set footage. It also includes the comments from Richard Moll that the documentary lacked. It’s kind of neat at the end, which shows previews for the next episode.

It’s Getting Weirder!: House II also gets an hour long documentary, featuring Cunningham, Wiley, Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark and more. It’s styled the same as doc for House and as a result, it’s just as enjoyable to watch.

Vintage House II EPK: It’s exactly what it says it is. A fifteen-minute behind-the-scenes look that was shot to promote the film in the 80s. It is notable for featuring comments from Royal Dano, who passed away seven years after the film’s release.

The set also includes a still gallery, two trailers and TV spots for House, along with a TV spot for House II. It’s missing the theatrical trailer for House II for some reason, even though it was on the Anchor Bay DVD. It’s available, so it’s curious why it’s missing.

Overall, it’s a great selection of features. You basically get a feature-length documentary on the first two films, along with some nice vintage features and a commentary for each film. Short of some deleted footage (which probably doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever did), I can’t see how the extras section could be improved on.

Special Features: 8.5

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
If you're a fan of these movies, this is the perfect set for you. A lot of love was given to what is considered a underrated horror classic from the 80s, as well as its dumb but fun sequel. The extras, the transfer and the quality of the set is top notch.