July 4th, 2009

HOUSE (1986) ****

When I was a kid, House was my jump-off.  I first saw it at the now long gone Movies 6 in Salisbury and it was love at first sight.  The deft mix of horror and humor was right up my seven year-old alley.  It also didn’t hurt that it starred The Greatest American Hero himself, William Katt.  As a kid, The Greatest American Hero was one of my favorite shows (right up there with The A-Team and Knight Rider), so seeing Katt battle zombies, trolls, winged skulls, fatty monsters, and undead marlins (clearly the inspiration for the singing Billy Bass) was pretty freaking awesome.  Two decades later, House is still a heck of a good time.

 

Katt stars as a Stephen Kingish author with severe writer’s block who is working on a book about his experiences in Vietnam.  When his aunt dies, he moves into her House, which also happens to be the place where his son mysteriously disappeared years earlier.  While writing (and having a bunch of Nam flashbacks), he gets attacked by a greasy closet monster (that only comes out at midnight) and enlists the help of his fat neighbor (the fat George Wendt) to take a picture of it.  Katt also starts having visions of his missing son and soon realizes that his undead Nam buddy (Richard Moll, who is excellent) is haunting the House and holding his kid prisoner.

 

House is pretty much like Poltergeist directed by Oliver Stone.

 

As a kid, I really responded to the goofy looking monsters and black humor (the scene where Katt has to flush a disembodied hand down the toilet is priceless).  As an adult, I appreciated the subtext of the movie as well.  Basically, Katt’s character has to face his inner demons (symbolized by the Nam flashbacks and the zombie GI Joe) as well as the outer demons of the House.  Haunted House movies are tricky to pull off because the main character needs an excuse to stay in the House.  I mean if I was in a haunted House, I’d get out of there ASAFP and the movie would be over at the 10 minute mark.  But in House, the main character stays in the House in order to find his son.  Sure, this device was also used in Poltergeist where the Freelings stuck it out to save Carol Anne, but at least House features none of those hokey feel-good Spielbergian touches that hampered that flick.

 

I also have to give it up to director Steve Miner for really going all out and making one of the best horror comedies of the 80’s.  Steve proves that he knows how to do the funny (like the rejects at Katt’s book signing) and the scary (Katt’s climb down the Medicine Cabinet of Doom), as well as both at the same time (Katt’s run-in with the purple-faced tub-of-lard monster).  Since Miner's previous film was the seminal Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D, we already know the man can do the Chase-the-Main-Character-All-Throughout-the-House Finale like no one in the business.  In House, he delivers yet another awesome variation on that theme except this time it’s a Killer Army Soldier Zombie instead of Jason doing the stalking. 

 

An unrelated sequel followed the next year which everyone seems to hate except me.  Then The Horror Show was released the following year and was known as House 3 in every place EXCEPT the US.  By the time the dreadful House 4 finally rolled around, people had stopped giving a shit about this series.  Regardless of how erratic the sequels are, House 1 is still one of the coolest movies of the 80’s and is highly recommended for fans of that beloved decade.

 

House ranks Number 9 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of the Year for 1986, right in between Back to School and The Color of Money.

XTRO 2: THE SECOND ENCOUNTER (1990) *

The original Xtro was one crazy fucking Sci-Fi movie that featured a lot of grossout moments and icky special effects.  This dumb sequel has nothing to do with Xtro.  It has everything to do with sucking.

 

A group of scientists led by Tara (The Cannonball Run) Buckman create a teleportation device that can transport people into an alternate dimension.  After one experiment goes bad, she calls on a recluse scientist played by Jan-Michael (Airwolf) Vincent to consult because he’s the only one who survived a trip to “the other side”.  After the body of one of the scientists is retrieved from the machine, she is put into quarantine.  Pretty soon though, a giant monster erupts from her abdomen and takes to hiding in the ventilation shafts.  Occasionally, the monster pops out of the ceiling to pick off the cast one by one until Vincent blows it up in the stupid finale.

 

Director Harry Bromley Davenport must’ve completely forgotten how to make a good movie in the seven years in between this pile of shit and the original Xtro.  You could say a lot of things about the first movie but you have to admit that it was pretty original and full of surprises.  Xtro 2 on the other hand is nothing more than a predictable, lifeless, and idiotic Alien rip-off.  You’ve got the strong (and slightly butch) heroine, the monster jumping out of someone’s chest, the hard-assed multi-ethnic soldiers of fortune, the cowardly guy who works for “the company”, etc., etc., etc.

 

The cast pretty much stinks to high heaven but special mention must be given to Jan-Michael Vincent.  His performance is among the worst I’ve ever seen in a years-later-completely-unrelated-Sci-Fi-sequel.   At all times he looks either drunk or doped up and his incoherent mumblings and indifferent line readings just zap the movie of any energy.

 

The rest of the cast is given ridiculous dialogue that is mostly just indecipherable scientific gobbledygook.  Examples:  “Telemetry has been discontinued!”  “Duo-Tangents engaged!”  “Primary magnetic coils to absolute zero…NOW!”  There is one great line of dialogue though; spoken by the weasel scientist guy who mocks the mercenaries by saying, “What’s the matter, haven’t you vanquished the beast?”