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House (1986)

House: Ding Dong, Youre Dead

Ding dong, youre dead.

Directed by:

Steve Miner

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 92 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

Horror writer Roger Cobb (William Katt) has problems. His young son Jimmy (Eric/Mark Silver) has disappeared, his wife Sandy (Kay Lenz) has left him, and he is haunted by his experiences in the Vietnam War with deranged fellow-soldier Big Ben (Richard Moll). So when batty Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French) hangs herself, leaving to Roger the big old house in which he had grown up, he moves in by himself, hoping to work on his Vietnam memoirs in peaceful solitude. Except that Roger quickly discovers that his intrusive neighbours Harold Gorton (George Wendt, Norm from ‘Cheers’) and Tanya (Mary Stavin) are not the only unwelcome visitors, and that perhaps more than mere writing is required to exorcise the demons of his past.

‘House’ is often credited for revisiting (and updating) the haunted house movies of the forties and fifties, and for reinventing the subgenre of horror comedy – whereas in fact Sam Raimi’s low-budget classic ‘Evil Dead’ (1981) had done all these things four years earlier, and was both the scarier and the funnier film. Still, ‘House’ amply repays its debt by featuring a comic contretemps with a feisty severed hand that would go on to inspire a similar, even more outrageous scene in ‘Evil Dead II’ (1987).

Despite offering some of the cheesiest, fakest looking monsters of all time, ‘House’ is an imaginative, agreeably unhinged film in which there is always plenty going on for the viewer to relish. Roger’s rapid descent into the house’s (or is it his own?) mad logic makes for an entertaining spectacle, so that one moment he is a successful and respectable author, and the next he is racing manically through the corridors dressed in his old combat fatigues, as though Vietnam had never ended. If, like me, you are the kind of viewer who drools with guilty pleasure at the mere mention of the words ‘Vietnam flashback’, then ‘House’, with its rather literal equation of war with hell, will make you feel right at home.

In ‘House’, as in other writer’s block films (‘Barton Fink’, Swimming Pool), it is never clear whether our hero’s nightmares are supposed to exist in reality, or just on the page. Roger is, after all, a writer who normally creates horror fiction but is currently working on an autobiography of his wartime experience – and the plot of the film effectively combines the two. As far as his unresolved feelings about Vietnam are concerned, it does not really seem to matter whether it is in his house or in his head that Roger struggles with his personal ghosts – but far more joyously disturbing in retrospect is the sequence in which he whacks, shoots, decapitates, and hacks up into tiny pieces a demonic version of his ex-wife (again, a scene indebted to ‘Evil Dead’). This, it turns out, IS all fantasy – but what sort of guy fantasises about that? Like I said, Roger Cobb has problems…

It's Got: A stuffed marlin that moves about on its own mounting (over a decade before those Bob-the-singing-trout novelty toys); aggressive garden tools; ridiculously fake-looking witches and trolls; an ex-wife who proves difficult to dump; and Vietnam flashbacks (Incoming!).

It Needs: As a horror comedy, it could be a lot scarier - and funnier.

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of Dolby stereo 2.0/Dolby 5.1; two theatrical trailers; The Making of House (12min), featuring annoyingly cheesey voice-over, and interviews with actor William Katt, creature effects designer James Cummins, actor George Wendt and actor Richard Moll; full audio commentary with writer Ethan Wiley, actor Katt, producer Sean S. Cunningham and director Steve Miner, including the revelations that the gratuitous fish motif was thrown in just to attract Miner (a keen fisherman) to the project, that all the Vietnam scenes were shot on a small studio stage, and that the films Hong Kong title was Dont Go into the Haunted House after Midnight; still gallery. Now available from Anchor Bay as a boxset with the other three House films. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

Alternatively: Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, House II, House III, House IV

Summary

Roger Cobb is a Vietnam veteran far more warped than the average floorboard, in this agreeably unhinged haunted house comedy.

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