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October 15th, 2012


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10:06 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: House
The '80s were a helluva time for horror movies.

You don't need me to tell you this. Anyone who is even vaguely interested in horror cinema is well aware that the '80s were a time of excess and experimentation. While the decade produced its share of genre classics, it also gave us an awful lot of amazingly bizarre masturbatory exercises in special effects and surreal comedy which masqueraded as horror movies because no one could figure out where else to put them.

House is one of these. I've seen it before, but I thought I'd revisit it after a friend mentioned the other night that his roommate had wasted 94 minutes of his almost-unwilling girlfriend's time on it. It's not such a waste when you know what you're in for, and though I had a pretty good idea, it turns out that I'd forgotten most of it.

As House begins, best-selling horror author Stephe-- Roger Cobb is moving back into the house he left years ago after the strange disappearance of his son. His aunt had lived there in the interim, but her suicide coincides with Roger's divorce from his TV-star wife. Moving back into the old place seems a convenient way to keep a roof over his head while he makes a temporary detour from ghost stories to write his memoir of the Vietnam war.

The place is weird. There are inexplicable noises, and even inexplicabler neighbors, including a sexy blonde with an unplaceable accent (played, apparently, by Miss World 1977), and a portly busybody named Harold, played by George Wendt. Harold starts out being nosy, but eventually decides that Cobb needs help, and contacts his ex-wife Sandy. Sandy is currently busy filming, but she thanks Harold for the call.

Cobb, meanwhile, is falling apart. His memoir is bringing on flashbacks, and he's seeing stuff -- weird stuff. There's a monster made out of corpses in the closet, flying garden implements are trying to decapitate him, and when Sandy shows up, she turns into an obese ghoul, and he shoots her and has to dispose of the body. A mounted swordfish starts flopping around on the wall, but mercifully does not sing "Take Me to the River." Also, the sexy neighbor turns up one night making double entendres about "play-time," but really, she just wants Cobb to babysit her brat. That part's not weird, though, just pathetic.

Then a bunch of other stuff happens, and it is completely unclear as to whether Cobb is going nuts or actually being haunted. I know which interpretation I favor, but the ending negates both possibilities. Is this bad storytelling? I'm not sure. I'm not sure it matters, really. This is not a movie with a point, other than weirdness. I don't have a problem with that if (as in this care) it's unpretentious. I especially don't have a problem with it when the weirdness goes into overdrive, as in the scene where Cobb discovers a seemingly bottomless pit populated by winged skeletons behind his bathroom mirror, or when his old (and dead) Vietnam buddy stomps around the house spouting one-liners and shooting anything that moves.

Really, the less said about the plot, the better, I think, because I'm not sure how I can sell it, other than to focus on the oddity of it all, and that's better left unspoiled.

House is an unlikely collision of talent: Roger Corman is credited as one of many producers, it was directed by Steve Miner whose resume is a mile long and spans everything from Friday the 13th sequels to episodes of Dawson's Creek, and the story was written by Fred Dekker, who was responsible for Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad and episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. Dekker's is not a long resume, but his work tends to be head-scratchingly unclassifiable. The special effects, mostly of the rubber-suit variety, are not brilliant, but there's some good stuff here. I was also pretty impressed with the cast. There are a lot of faces (Richard Moll, Kay Lenz, Michael Ensign...) that you'll recognize from other, better movies, and I think it's telling that they all converged on this one. There's a lot of comedic talent on display which brings a great deal to what could have been a pretty sparse table.

Of especial note is The Greatest American Hero himself, William Katt, who plays Cobb. Katt has had a long and twisty career, from almost landing the role of Luke Skywalker to appearing as the titular character of the musical Pippin. House doesn't stretch his acting chops much, but he manages to give the movie a better performance that it probably deserves. The special features on the DVD include a "making of" featurette, which opens with Katt obtusely describing the film as "a combination of Arsenic and Old Lace and The Shining, with scary monsters." Bill, you're uh, aiming a little high, and embarrassing yourself there.

Anyway, it's worth checking out. The sequel is also worth checking out, but it cranks up the strangeness and the silliness so much that a lot of viewers might find it off-putting. Myself, I think you should chance it anyway, if only to see a young Bill Maher, and a... well, younger John Ratzenberger.

At any rate, here's the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: House - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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