“Damn! You rise out of the grave and run out of ammunition!”
It doesn’t always pay to revisit your favorite films of yesteryear. I think if you’ve kept up with them – re-watched them on a regular basis – then it’s easier to keep your appreciation without it becoming too misty-eyed. I know Monster Squad is cheese, but I’ve seen it regularly and it maintains its charm for me. But if too much time passes then you have to reconcile the film in your head with the film that you’re watching. It’s not always a pleasant thing.
I don’t want you to think I’m going to be running down House – it’s still a decent 80’s horror comedy – it’s just… I hadn’t seen it in a while. Like a LONG while. And in my head I had it up there with things like Return of the Living Dead or Nightmare on Elmstreet in the quality of humor, action and special effects. In my mind it was a subversive classic, handling issues of PTSD and loss with both subtlety, humor and horror.
Much as the film is enjoyable, it’s not really on that level.
Odds are I’ll re-watch this in a year or two and wonder what my problem was. I’ll realize I’ve been too hard on it and things will level out. For now, I just wish it had been as good as I remember it being.
House is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Author Roger Cobb (William Katt) inherits the house where he grew up when his aunt hangs herself in an upstairs bedroom. Life has not been treating Cobb well. His son has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. His wife, the famous actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz) has divorced him. His publisher is expecting his new book – a personal memoir of his time in the Vietnam war – but Cobb hasn’t been able to write a single page. He has nightmares every night about his time in the war or the day he lost his son. Desperate to get out of the cycle of misery he decides to move back in to the rambling Victorian style home that his aunt has left him.
His nightmares get worse – mostly featuring a fellow soldier named Ben (Richard Moll) who was captured by the enemy when Roger went to get help. He’s tormented by guilt and by strange events that begin to occur in the house. His aunt appears as a ghost and warns him that the house tricked her – and that it will trick him as well. And a huge monster leaps out of the closet to attack him at midnight.
I’d forgotten that this was essentially a Friday the 13th reunion joint. Produced by Sean Cunningham, directed by Steve Miner (who also directed Friday the 13th parts 2 and 3) and with a score by Harry Manfredini! It also sports a script by Night of the Creeps director Fred Dekker. It’s got all the pedigree you would expect for a standout 80’s horror film.
And you know, it IS good. It’s fun – George Wendt as the incredulous (and overly friendly) neighbor is fun and William Katt manages to be likeable AND a man on the edge. The monsters are hilarious, particularly a bizarre monster version of his wife, who keeps coming back – even after he’s buried in her pieces in the yard!
The thing is, everything is a little stiff, a little over the top. The comedy is incredibly broad (and who knew George Wendt would be the restrained one), the monsters are rubbery and the Vietnam war guilt subtext is more like… actual text. My memory of this film was that it was a lot more raw and subtle and funny. Other films that came out in 1985 managed all these things, with Re-Animator, Fright Night and Return of the Living Dead all being standout examples.
Clearly I had edited things a bit in my head. It astonishes me that this got an R rating – it’s a cartoon.
Once I began to accept that the movie I was watching wasn’t what I remembered I was able to enjoy things a little more. That’s about the time that his neighbor Harold (Wendt) finally sees that Roger isn’t going crazy – there really is a monster in the closet. Soon Roger has jumped through a hole in a bathroom mirror to find and rescue his missing son. Because Ben, Big Ben his dead comrade, is actually the one running the show. Ben still blames Roger for leaving him, wounded, instead of mercy-killing him before the enemy found him.
So, not really the house that’s out to get him, Big Ben’s ghost. I love the makeup job on Richard Moll, despite how obviously rubber suit-like it is, and he’s obviously pissed – but I don’t get the impression that he’s the kind of long term thinker that would be able to set up the trap, bait it with Roger’s son, wait for months and then torment Roger with all that weirdness. He seems more like the ‘burst out of the mirror with a BAR gun and get some revenge’ kinda ghost.
Roger needs to rally, confront his fear and guilt, deal with Ben and the house as well as save his son. In the film in my head this wasn’t a foregone conclusion – but it definitely feels like one in the film that actually exists.
The Bottom Line
I’m harder on House than I probably should be because my expectations were so high. It’s a decent 80’s horror comedy. It’s not Fright Night level – hell it’s not The Stuff level (another film that came out in ’85) – but it’s really fun and entertaining. Worth it just to see a man stuff a grenade inside a rotting ribcage, if nothing else! I absolutely see why it got a sequel – though my memory of that one is not so rose-colored.