“I built a house, I built a home,
I built a house for your bones.”
-The Dead Weather
Haunted houses are everywhere. Some are made out of enjoyment to entertain trick or treaters this Halloween season, and some locales are actually ghost infested for other reasons. Restless spirits wandering old sites of familiarity they once inhabited when they were of flesh and bone, is quite a sad, but fantastic image to dwell upon. Some of these haunted houses are somewhat tame, with mild occurrences from peaceful or slightly playful apparitions, while other sites are cursed with vengeful spirits that haunt the living. Ghosts come in all shapes, sizes, with varying temperaments, remember, they were skin equipped humans at one time. So, no matter if are you are a Casper the Friendly Ghost fan or leans more towards the Poltergeist type, today’s feature will be an excellent ectoplasm entry towards your ongoing cryptic cinephile catalog. Come with me, as we drop in for a supernatural visit full of laughs & scares with House (1986).
Welcome to picturesque suburbia, House was filmed at 329 Melrose Avenue in Monrovia, California (for all you film location fans, I am one as well), as we take in the fresh air of a warm breeze which blows across the pristine landscape of an old Victorian house. For our horror film aficionados of architecture, the interior of this wacky shack, looks like the infamous blood drenched house in Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992).
A delivery boy on a scooter swings by the residence of elderly Elizabeth Hooper, Susan French of Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979), to drop off her requested groceries. The house is quiet, deathly quiet, as the teen looks for the old woman to settle up the bill. As the teenage trespasser ventures deep into house, that doesn’t belong to him I mind you, he discovers the senior swinging by a noose in a successful suicide attempt. Remember want Jim Siedow from Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) warned us, “…you don’t wanna go messing around in an old house. Those things are dangerous. You’re liable to get hurt.” It’s too late to turn back now kids, we are definitely venturing into some dangerous territory.
Popular horror author Roger Cobb, the underrated William Katt of The Greatest American Hero (1981), seems to have it all. There is more to Roger than meets the eye. Poor ole Roger has some deep seeded troubles. Though he is a bestselling novelist with a hit book, Blood Dance, his publisher turns up the heat on our scary scribe, wants a follow-up novel soon, in the same vein of the book Roger already released. Roger’s stress is much greater with his tragic personal life, than the strains with his professional gig, as he deals with the recent separation from his popular soap actress wife Sandy, Kay Lenz of Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987). Before the separation, their only son disappeared without a trace surrounded by weird and somewhat surreal circumstances.
Now on top of everything else, Roger tries to mend his broken heart, battles the daily agony of his son’s vanishing, and gets word that his favorite, eccentric old aunt Liz, has hung herself out to dry in an upstairs bedroom of her creepy house. Oh, and Roger is also the unfortunate victim of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), due to his stint in Vietnam a decade earlier. Roger tries to cope and heal that fractured part of his life, as he intends to address this subject in his upcoming novel on a personal level, much to the dismay of his publisher and devout fans that demand another horror novel. Poor Roger. One does really feel for this guy.
Roger, the dutiful nephew, attends the funeral and tends to all of his aunt’s affairs. Not biting at the bait of persuasive advice to the sell the house by quirky estate attorney Chet Parker, Michael Ensign of Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995), Roger decides that a stay in the house and believes it would be good for his mind, soul, and craft as a spiritual retreat of sorts. Like everything else that has left him, wife, son, family, and innocence of youth to the war, Roger tries to hold onto the comfort of good memories from when he was a boy staying with his beloved aunt in the house as he tries to wrestle with his internal demons.
It doesn’t take long until Roger does battles with his nightmares of Vietnam, as he replays time and time again how his war buddy, Big Ben, Richard “Bull” Moll of Night Court (1984), was injured, captured, and killed in the bush by Viet Cong. Roger is hard on himself as he questions his memory’s clarity, and ultimately assumes all blame for his comrade’s death taking the sole blame for his comrade’s death. Nightmares become reality, as the house comes alive and works around the clock to torment Roger day and night.
Roger is at war…again, but this time he fights a she beast that won’t die, scary closet critters, a rambunctious mounted swordfish, a bathroom medicine cabinet that leads into a dark world, a bottomless swimming pool, guilt-ridden flashbacks of Ben, suspicious cops, a nosy neighbor Harold, George “Norm” Wendt of Cheers (1982), and a potential love interest with Swedish beauty Tanya, Mary Stävin of Howling V: The Rebirth (1989), when he’s not busy babysitting her son. All of this, and he is still trying to knock out his book. So much for a quiet place to write. Is this all real or has Roger slipped into madness? Ring the doorbell, and enter House to find out.
House was directed by Steve Miner of Friday the 13th Part III (1982), with writing credits going to Fred Dekker of The Monster Squad (1987), and Ethan Wiley of Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998). House was produced by Sean Cunningham of Friday the 13th (1980), and B-movie mogul Roger Corman of The Raven (1963), though Rog is uncredited. House’s production crew is very Friday the 13th heavy, to include stunts that were performed by Kane Hodder, Jason in four of 162 F13 installments.
Not enough Camp Crystal lake alumni for ya? Harry Manfredini composed the music for House, as well as most the scores that can be heard in the F13 flicks. For all of you fans obsessed with the crossover universe where Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger meet, first teased in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), and brought to fruition in Freddy vs. Jason aka A Nightmare on Friday the 13th (2003), the editor of House was Michael N. Knue of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988).
House was made on a small budget (in Hollywood’s view) of $3 million and was a box office success in bringing in over 6-7x’s the initial investment. A good little return for a good little horror movie that in all honesty, does pass as a late night TV movie of the week around Halloween. House is a throwback haunted house, monster movie that takes its horror seriously, showcases some fantastic makeup on its creatures, and proficient in its seamless transitions of comedy that works perfectly throughout the feature. If you are a fan of Bruce Campbell or the slapstick of The Evil Dead franchise, then you will enjoy the comedic bits of Roger fighting with evil inanimate objects inside the house.
House has become a cult favorite over the years and spawned the straight up comedy House II: The Second Story (1987), the decent horror flick, House III: The Horror Show (1989), that is similar to Wes Craven’s Shocker (1989), and lastly, the return of Katt in House IV (1992). The direct-to-video House IV, is the closest sequel to the original in regards to characters and backstory, but falls flat in comparison to the charm of House. With all of the undesirable titles in the massive genre of horror, House is by no means The Haunting (1963), but is definitely worth a view or two of a forgotten title that you can share with friends.
I may be a bit partial towards House, due to my Mom taking me to see it the week of my 7th birthday followed by a visit to the mall arcade (I enjoyed Paperboy, Qbert, and Ms. Pac-Man). 7 years old you say? Isn’t that a bit early for horror to captivate such young eyes? Lighten up Francis. I turned out alright, and I’m not a criminal, deviant, or sociopath.
If you are new to horror, a fan of anything 80s, missed this memorable film back in the day, or you currently wander the Earth like a restless spirit death gripping the past, satisfy that yearning for yesterday’s yore, and relive the childhood nostalgia which resides in House. House is sure to satisfy that fun flick fix, more so than the upcoming 80s adaptation of Gem ever will. Now that’s some true horror.
Check out House Trailer
View the full movie of House
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
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