Plot: What’s it about?
Arrow Video does a great job of releasing quality transfers of cult films. I was extremely pleased this last week to find in my mailbox review copies of House: Two Stories. Growing up, I had passed by the cover art of the film a million times at the local video store Premiere Video – a disembodied hand ringing a door bell with a tag line that said “Ding-dong! You’re Dead!” It always drew my curiosity, but it was rated R, so I never did get to see the movie. Now I am legally acceptable to watch the film on my own, and I was excited to dig into it.
The first of the two films in the set begins with an unsuspecting pizza delivery boy finding the recently hung body of Aunt Elizabeth. Aunt Elizabeth’s famous novelist nephew Roger Cobb (a great William Katt) inherits the house and instead of selling the house he moves in to start writing a book about his haunting experiences in the Vietnam War. Upon moving into the house he meets his very normal neighbor and unabashed fan Harold Gordon (George Wendt.) the house turns out to have some for, of malevolent forces in it that strike out at Roger while Roger still reels from his divorce, the disappearance of his young son, and his PTSD from his war experiences where he had left behind a friend named Big Ben (Richard Moll) who was captured by the Vietnamese.
Does the film sound dark? Believe it or not, the film is actually a horror-comedy. George Wendt (most famous for his role on Cheers) is a great foil to the dead-pan comedic paranoia of William Katt as Roger. The movie really has a lot going on, and makes no attempt whatsoever to be believable. That does not stand in the way of the film achieving a balance of intriguing scenarios and comedic release. It is a fun movie and easily could pass as a PG-13 movie today, with its lack of nudity or cursing.
House is not particularly scary, and it really shouldn’t work at all. Somehow, it surpasses the ridiculousness of the script and becomes a movie that pretty much everybody can enjoy. While not incredible, I definitely was entertained.
The second film in the collection, House II bears almost no relation to the first film aside from the idea of alternate dimensions in houses and mixing comedy and horror. The idea was for the House series to become an anthology series and share a similar feeling but not follow any of the same patterns. For this film they relied on the primary writer of the first film, Ethan Wiley, to write and direct the second film. This film has a legion of fans, but personally it didn’t feel like it held a candle to the first movie.
The plot begins with a baby being rushed out of a house and the parents that stay behind are murdered by a gun-slinging spirit. Cut to twenty years later when their famous artist son Jesse (Arye Gross) and his famous girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln) move back into the house. His wild and crazy goofball friend Charlie drunkenly arrives at their new abode shortly after they move in just in time for them all to uncover an ancient crystal skull and reanimate Jesse’s dead great-grandfather who just wants to party and drink some booze! Things won’t be that easy though, because forces from different dimensions and times are finding their way into the house to steal the crystal skull that gives the old man his life force. That means that Jesse and Charlie are going to experience numerous different environments including dinosaur times, ancient times, and more. Also, they come across a creature that is a mixture of a caterpillar and a puppy.
To be honest, there are certain things I enjoy about this movie. I really enjoyed the small part of Bill the handyman played by John Ratzenberger. He breathes a lot of life into his scenes. I also really enjoyed the casting of Bill Mayer as the snarky agent that Kate works with. I appreciate that the director and writer went as far out on a limb as he did, but unfortunately the mixture for this film is not nearly as effective to me as the first film. This film is closer to a fantasy/comedy film whereas the previous film was more of a horror/comedy with fantastic elements. This must have thrown audiences for a loop when it came out and I found myself (as a first time viewer) slightly disappointed in the sequel. That said, it is a movie I think that people could easily watch with their kids without any type of scarring whatsoever, so there is that positive note.
House II is not a terrible movie, but it is not similar enough to the first film to easily maintain the same audience from the first movie. I would much rather watch the first film.
Video: How’s it look?
Arrow Video did a solid job on the transfer of the films using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration. The transfers look good overall. The first film fares the best with a pretty solid transfer. The second film has a few scenes that really stick out as being incredibly soft (most notably the effect scene with the pterodactyl.) fans should be very pleased with the transfers, but viewers used to the pristine quality of a Criterion release will not be as comfortable. This video quality is very reminiscent of their great job on the transfer of Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatments of House and House II were very good. Being LPCM 2.0 tracks, it can be expected that range is limited. There is not much directionality, but the films still hold their own as far as depth of sound goes. There are some good old-fashioned noise-based scare cues that are pretty effective in the first film. The scores by Harry Manfredini (known for Friday the 13th) are really enjoyable. Arrow has done their due-diligence and made sure that the audio is very clear and I did not detect any noticeable hiss.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Ding Dong, You’re Dead! (1080p, 1:06:39) – a really enjoyable full length documentary on how the film came together, its critical reception, and memories from cast and crew. Interviews are filmed with William Katt, Fred Dekker, Ethan Wiley, Steve Miner, George Wendt and numerous effects personnel and others. This is a solid piece that goes into great detail about how it all came together.
- Vintage Making-Of (480i, 24:07) – an archival making-of feature that was used to promote the film.
- Still Gallery
- Two Trailers
- Three TV Spots
- Audio Commentary with Ethan Wiley, Steve Miner, Sean Cunningham, and William Katz– fans will really enjoy this commentary with the key players from the film.
- It’s Getting Weirder! (1080p, 57:38) – a really enjoyable full length documentary on how the film came together, its critical reception, and memories from cast and crew. Interviews are filmed with Arye Gross, Ethan Wiley, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park-Lincoln and numerous effects personnel and others. Similar to the first piece, this is a well-done piece that goes into great detail about how it all came together.
- Vintage EPK (480i, 14:38) – an archival promotional EPK. I actually enjoyed this – especially when the VHS that this was sourced from actually had some tracking! I was delighted to see some tracking happen.
- Still Gallery
- TV Spots
- Audio Commentary with Ethan Wiley and Sean Cunningham– another enjoyable track. It is obvious that these guys have stayed close friends.
The Bottom Line
House -Two Stories is an enjoyable box set and a great way to own the first two films in the series. I had always been curious about the first film and found that a really enjoyed it. The second film was a harder sell, but Instill enjoyed aspects of it. Arrow Video has provided some solid transfers and excellent supplemental materials. Fans should be delighted and newcomers should definitely at least check out the first movie!