Arrow Video is easily one of the best movie distributors around, and if you ask certain movie buffs collectors, they’d argue that they’re the best, period. I can’t decide as Arrow Video has been on a mission for the last few years to deliver fans some of the most unique movie titles on blu-ray and DVD, and offer them in deluxe collector’s packages that would make most cineastes hyperventilate out of sheer excitement. Arrow Video has taken it upon themselves to offer fans the two tales of “House,” two films that were big movie rental fodder in their heydays and are now brought together for what is a heavily suggested anthology. Arrow Video combines two of the true “House” movies that are—ironically—about as different from each other as the last two “House” movies.
“House” is a darkly comic horror movie about personal demons, and “House 2” is a dark fantasy film about a kind old miner ghost protecting a sacred skull with his grandson. And there’s a dog like worm from another world, and it’s also a buddy comedy or something. In either case, they’re brought together fully restored, with crisp sound and some neat special features for fans of both films.
1986’s “House” from Steve Miner is an oddity of a movie that’s darkly comic and tends to be also very creepy at times. The eighties were filled with entertainment that vented the frustration of the Vietnam war and the accompanying trauma of young men coming out of the war. William Katt plays Roger Cobb, the very example as a man who endured a life of stress and pain. As a famed author, he’s now seeking solitude after surviving the Vietnam war, losing his son in an apparent drowning at his aunt’s house, and splitting up with his beloved wife. Years later he moves in to his aunt’s old house after she mysteriously commits suicide and decides to buy it and use it as a means of inspiration for his writer’s block. Hoping to finish a book about his experiences in Vietnam, he’s still haunted by the loss of his friends.
What’s worse is that the house he’s in is seemingly alive, and is filled with all kinds of monsters. These various monsters seem hell bent on tormenting Roger about his dreaded past. What’s worse is he has to put up with a nosey neighbor, as played by George Wendt, who decides to help him find out the mystery of the house. Roger is never sure if the house haunted, or if his PTSD is driving him mad, but when his aunt comes back to tell him his son is alive and in the house’s dimension, he goes on an uneasy journey. Miner’s film is filled with wonderful special effects, and make up effects that are still just stunning to look at. Especially considering he never hides them in the shadows, and often revels in their grotesque detail. There’s even Richard Moll’s iconic undead soldier who looks downright horrific when he’s on a rampage.
We’re never sure until the final half is Roger is going insane or if the house is sentient, which increases the mystique significantly. “House” is a fine eighties amalgam of genres and sub-genres. I don’t know if I’d call it a masterpiece, but it is fine.
1987’s “House II: The Second Story” is a light hearted fantasy bordering on a family film, and it’s absolutely abysmal. The comedy is flat, the acting stinks, and the only sympathetic character in the bunch is whiny. It has a cute worm from another world that barks like a dog, and a cute dodo bird, as well as a kindly old miner ghost who spins yarns for our two hapless characters. This time around “House II” pairs two men about the heinous mansion and includes a lot of new devices without ever properly realizing them. The pair of characters can go in new dimensions and lands through the house but they only go as far as a jungle. Meanwhile John Ratzenberger (another “Cheers” cast member) comes on board as an electrician/adventurer who goes along with characters Jesse and Charlie. He has a tool box, you see, that also has a secret compartment with a cutlass sword in it. Because that’s how stuff works!
Jesse has a large family history with his mansion in connection to his family and seeks to uncover some mythical artifact. Meanwhile puts up with obnoxious house guests that include Amy Yasbeck, Bill Maher, and Lar Park Lincoln as his long suffering wife. “House 2” feels less like a sequel, and more like an extended segment to “Amazing Stories.” All of the interesting subtext and undertones are cut out in favor of whimsy, slapstick comedy, and even a scene where Jesse’s great great granddad ghost/zombie has a party in their house. All the demons and monsters and menaces are switched with “Ooh look a cute worm!” and “Aw! That dodo is crabby!” Ethan Wiley’s “House II” is a stinker with mild camp appeal, but it’s so much tougher to sit through than the first film.
Both films are packed in plastic BD cases with 2K restorations each, and tucked in a box with a 60 page companion book with new writings on the “House” series by Simon Barber, along with a ton of archive material. For the “House” disc, there’s an audio commentary with Director Steve Miner, Producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley, all of whom are fun to listen to, with Miner leading the charge. “Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House” is an over hundred minute massive documentary that makes the whole set so worth it, as the filmmakers cover the script (originally from Fred freaking Dekker), to cast, production, creature effects, right down to music and stunts.
There are even appearances from George Wendt and Kane Hodder. The “Vintage Making Of” is a twenty four minute carry over from back in the eighties and is still some retro fun. There’s an SD Still Gallery, various teaser and theatrical trailers, as well as a variety of TV spots. For the “House II” disc, there’s an audio commentary with Writer/Director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham. “It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story” is an almost hour long documentary about the making of “House II” and offers an honest look at the movie’s legacy. Not even the creature effects artists know what the hell the movie is about. The documentary covers a wealth of topics for people interested in this abysmal movie. Finally, there’s an old school EPK with Ratzenberger, a stills gallery, the original theatrical trailer, and a TV Spot.