AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO in the HOUSE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 88 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Jessie McLaughlin inherits a large old family mansion where his parents were murdered when he was a baby, and moves in with his girlfriend Kate and two friends Charlie and Lana. Researching the family history, Jessie learns of his great-great-grandfather who was a Western outlaw, and about a crystal skull he found that promised eternal life to its possessor. They dig up Gramps, who is still alive after nearly a hundred years thanks to the skull, but when they return the skull to its rightful place on the mantle of the house, different dimensions open up in the house and a primitive man steals the skull….
I would imagine that back in 1987 many viewers who’d seen House were either very disappointed or totally baffled by House 2: The Second Story, which for a start has nothing whatsoever to do with its predecessor. The idea behind this franchise was to have unrelated haunted house stories anyway, but I’m not sure I’d even consider this second house to be haunted [okay, maybe in the first scene] – rather, it’s a pathway to different times. And nor is it really a horror film. The first film did play many things for laughs, but can be still be categorised as horror. This one – okay it has two zombies in it [one of them I guess a bit scary], a creepy opening scene plus an exploding head during the climax – but I wouldn’t consider it to be a horror, more a light fantasy adventure of the Time Bandits kind [though come to think of that film is often far darker than this one], and its ‘15’ rating is just ridiculous – it could be a ‘PG’, let alone a ‘12’,. And even more kids would probably enjoy it. The film is even less coherent than its forebearer, with a real sense of “let’s make it up as we go along” even with that wasn’t really the case. And it’s even more off the wall, more ‘funny peculiar’ than ‘funny ha ha’. But its careless abandon and zany plotting are actually rather refreshing even when watched today, and it’s certainly never dull. It’s basically a pretty stupid movie, but often in a good way – especially if you remember that the script was written in two weeks!
Perhaps harking back to the first film a little, House 2 begins in serious fashion with a couple ensuring their baby is driven away in a car before going back inside their house to confront whatever it is that they’re afraid of. Now I have to say right here that the house in this film is quite unique in the way that it’s partly been built like an Aztec temple or palace. Green, yellow and purple light streams in from tiny round windows to form patterns in the centre of the main room, a natural dance floor! It’s almost a shame that the action doesn’t all take place inside this house as in the first film, as I didn’t feel that it had been exploited quite enough by the time the film had finished. Anyway, the couple are confronted by a shadowy, hated figure who demands: “I want the skull” , before shooting the man when he says that he doesn’t have it, and then pursuing and presumably shooting the woman offscreen – and that’s really it for scares except for maybe a bit where the same villain materialises out of a table during dinner time, and an amuising ‘cheat scare’ , which seems to mock the many closet scenes in the first film as somebody opens a closet door and an ironing board falls out! Flash forward to the present day, and Jesse and Kate are moving into the same house. Jesse finds an old photograph of the murdered couple and says out loud: “It’s my mum and dad” which I suppose is as good a way to tell us this information as possible. The two are interrupted by another couple who are decidedly drunk but turn out to be their friends Charlie and Jesse. Kate is actually a talent scout who thinks that Lana could be “the new Madonna” but this subplot soon disappears, leaving one wondering what the point of it was.
The two lads dig up the still alive Gramps and it’s surprising how much the film quickly gets you to care about the 170 year old zombie, Royal Dano’s performance and his rather sad eyes shining through the heavy makeup. We spend quite a bit of time with the group as Gramps gets drunk, drives a car, tells stories of the old West, watches TV [“This Ronnie Reagan wouldn’t last five minutes in the West”] and attends a Halloween party at the house, fitting right in. It’s amusing, slightly sweet and surprisingly leisurely, but after Jesse has encountered an old girlfriend, a half naked man strides in amongst the revellers [Kane Hodder, who was stunt co-ordinator on all four films, gets knocked off a balcony] to take the skull and disappears into a forest that has somehow materialised in one of the bedrooms. Jesse and Charlie follow to get it back, and get it back they do, until it’s in turn grabbed by a Pterodactyl-like creature. And the adventure thereafter that only gets crazier, with detours into Aztec Mexico and into the old West soon to follow. Every now and again the duo return to the house, a house which is soon also inhabited by a baby Pterodactyl [which is furry!] and a Caterpuppy, a cross between – well you know. Surprisingly and in a way refreshingly, their girlfriends don’t end up playing a major part of the proceedings, though a lovely Aztec lass is picked up along the way. It’s all a bit Bill and Ted, though before the first of those two films had been made, and while Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark have little of the chemistry of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, they still make a reasonable pairing.
The story is little more than the skull being swapped back and forth between the forces of good and the forces of evil while Gramps deteriorates because the skull isn’t on its altar. The nonsensical goings-on aren’t often as funny as they ought to be and tend to rely on variations on age old devices, though there’s a nice use of a revolving door in a version of the ‘something that is sometimes there and sometimes isn’t’ routine]. John Ratzenberger [a second Cheers barfly to appear in this series] turn up as a repairman/adventurer who assists Jesse and Charlie and he’s more odd than laugh-inducing, but you have to love the guy as the initial buffoon pulls out a sword boys to lead the boys through “one of those time-portal things – you see these all the time in these old houses.” As long as you have an open mind and a suspension of disbelief to swallow the outrageous goings on in this movie, it’s all good fun and never painful to watch. Of course the low budget ensures that the other dimensions are limited in scope, though some matte paintings are of the highest quality and barely noticeable. Chris Walas, obviously taking a major pay cut, did the creature effects. Some stop motion creatures are hardly of Ray Harryhausen quality, though a zombie horse is quite unique – this one isn’t just a skeleton like they tend to be, it’s actually a proper zombie horse and properly yucky it looks too in its brief appearance despite its jerkiness. Other creatures are realised with puppets. The Caterpuppy manages to be surprisingly likeable and you may end up being rather fond of the damn thing, while Slim Weeser the evil zombie manages to be such a striking looking villain that I wished that he had a lot more screen time.
Screenwriter of the first film Ethan Wiley [though Fred Dekker wrote the story] also takes on the job of director. He’s a little less sure-footed than Steve Miner but overall does a decent job and just about manages to keep the thing from getting entirely out of hand. Harry Manfredini really has fun with this scoring here, adding western [there’s some nice use of the fiddle] and even swashbuckling passages to the comic horror-type stuff. Though I never got to see it back then, I’m old enough to remember House 2: The Second Story getting really bad reviews when it first came out and its reputation only seems to have increased slightly over the years since. Its storyline seems like it was written by a 12 year old boy but picking holes in it is a pointless exercise as the film was obviously intended to be nothing more than a silly romp anyway. Once I adjusted to the fact that it was going to try even less to frighten me [so practically not trying at all then] than House, and that I was basically watching a kid’s movie [because that’s what it essentially is, a kid’s movie!], I had a good time with House 2: The Second Story, far more then when I first watched a certain other film concerning a crystal skull.
Despite the increased amount of special effects, House 2 looks sharper than House on Blu-ray, and the colours seem better defined. This time only writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham do the commentary, so there are even more gaps than before, but the two are still genial company and tell some interesting stuff. We hear of a major scene involving the deaths of three characters that was never filmed, Hodder getting injured doing a rope swing, an explanation as to why Slim’s lines all occur while he’s off the screen or has his back turned to the viewer, and several great stories concerning Brown. Towards the end one of them eventually even admits House 2 is a kid’s film. The commentary has a few dull stretches but it contains some good stuff in it, and if you don’t think it goes into the special effects enough then you have the hour long documentary which brings back Wiley and Cunningham and quite a few cast and crew members. Amongst the stories repeated from the commentary are a few new ones including Devin DeVasquez having a rock fall on her head and even more cool Brown stories. Most seem happy about being connected with this film, though it’s obvious that the special effects people were really pushed for time. Then there’s another archival making of similar to the one of the first film which certainly doesn’t decieve you as to what type of film House 2 is, and some stills.
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY
*Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham
*It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S. Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up & creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
*Archival making of
*LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
*Brand new 2K restorations of all four films
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*The House Companion – limited edition 156-page book featuring new writing on the entire House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material