The Film: House (1986)
The Principles: Steve Miner (Director). William Katt. Kay Lenz. George Wendt. Richard Moll.
The Premise: William Katt stars as Richard Cobb, a successful horror writer coasting on the popularity (read: royalties and signings) of his previous book as he struggles with writing his Vietnam War Memoirs and keeping his agent and publisher at bay, all the while mourning the disappearance of his son and subsequent estrangement from his wife. After the death of his favorite aunt (whose suicide-by-hanging punctuates our opening scene) he decides to move into her house to get away from everything and try to get some work done.
Is It Good: It is! Almost surprisingly so as a premise that dark doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a brisk, funny, horror-comedy, but sure enough, that’s what we got. And what’s more impressive is that Miner didn’t serve that up at the total expense of paying proper respect to what was going on in the story. Character moments, bits of dialogue, atmospheric flashbacks – they had just the right amount of gravity and humanity to fall perfectly in line with the more tongue-in-cheek moments and silly splatstick shenanigans.
And it’s not only the balance on screen; you can tell there are things on the film’s mind – tiny little statements on relationships and guilt and human interaction – and the fact that it manages to convey them through little details in between the broader giggles is impressive.
Granted, sometimes the giggles work against the film’s best interests as there are little foul-tipped moments here and there when getting a little darker would have felt more organic. But they’re few and far between and, given the premise and the intent, it’s certainly better to err on the side of levity, if for no other reason than letting things get too heavy would have weighed the whole thing down and turned it into a tedious slog.
Is It Worth A Look: For sure – though chances are the majority of you aren’t as late to the party as I (more on that later). It’s the little nuances that round everything out, sure, but first and foremost it IS a comedy and, as such, it needs to be fun. Miner certainly had his casting on lock as Katt and Wendt never fail to keep things brisk and bouncy; the former with his perpetually-jovial face (DePalma knew what the hell he was doing when he fucked the guy off the second shit got real in Carrie), the latter with his seasoned support chops. Richard Moll is obviously having a blast, but I’m not entirely convinced that he was the best casting decision as even though he definitely looks the part he’s having so MUCH fun that he kind of sells out the weight his character needs given his role in the story. Granted, that kind of goes back to the “erring on the side of levity” thing I mentioned before, but even so there was definitely a happy medium somewhere between Moll’s scenery-chewing and outright bleakness. C’est la vie.
And it’s not only the cast that’s having fun; the creature design and visual effects departments turned in some pretty good – if not entirely ambitious – work, again finding that necessary balance between silly and effective. In fact, it was a disembodied hand from one of their more elaborate creations that became the only saving grace in the film’s one and only truly bad sequence (babysitting, for the initiated).
That one bad sequence aside though, it all adds up to a movie that pretty much succeeds at doing everything it attempts. It doesn’t hit every note squarely and you won’t jump up and cheer when the credits roll but you’ll certainly be satisfied with how you’d spent the previous 90 minutes, especially if it’s part of a horror-movie-a-thon that’s followed up by the Japanese mindfuck of the same name from 1977.
Random Anecdotes: I mentioned earlier that I was late to the party, which is true, but I still don’t know how that happened because I have very VERY vivid memories of staring at the VHS box for this in practically every video store I set foot in as a kid. Staring and then passing by. I have no idea why I never rented it. Though it’s probably for the best as Li’l Jeremy probably wouldn’t have appreciated it; he was too busy renting A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silent Night, Deadly Night over and over and over and over. I do still love that box art just as much now as I did then, though. And “Ding, Dong – You’re Dead!”? Hi-five, tagline guy.
Also, given the themes and the subtext I kinda wish someone would remake it and run it through the political-horror filters that Aja did with his The Hills Have Eyes. I really enjoy what Miner did with this effort, but I think there’s definite validity in plunging it into the depths of today’s horror sensibilities and seeing what comes back up. So yeah – I need one of y’all to get on that.
Cinematc Soulmates: Poltergeist. Forrest Gump. Evil Dead II.