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October 19th, 2013


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11:46 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: House II: The Second Story
House II: The Second Story is an old favorite of mine, so when it popped up as a suggestion on Netflix, I went for it because it's been a few years since the last time I watched. It still holds up. Kind of.

What I mean is that it's an unbelievable mess which doesn't seem to be aimed at any particular audience. It's like a Saturday morning cartoon with profanity. While not a direct sequel, House II it's a worthy successor to House (which I reviewed last year). Looking at that review, I see that I had discussed the fact that the '80s--thanks largely to the cheapness of videotape--produced some of the weirdest horror movies of all time. People who wouldn't normally be able to get a job in Hollywood were making the kind of movies that Hollywood wouldn't normally touch. To a certain extent, I like to blame the cocaine, but really, when production costs go down classical economics kicks in; supply equals demand, sort of. This goes on to an even greater extent now thanks to electronic distribution, but the stuff from the pre-Internet days seems better and weirder, simply because it cost more money to get your product in front of an audience; a film had to be something really special in order to find an audience and survive.

Yes, I'm going to give that lecture a couple of times a week this month. Sorry, sorry.

House II does not pick up where House left off. It doesn't take place in the same house, or feature any of the same characters. Instead, it opens in the '50s. It is a dark night, and a young couple is handing their baby off to--we don't know. They never really explain who gets the baby, but they drive off into the night, and mommy and daddy return to the mansion, only to be murdered a mysterious, ghostly cowboy.

Skip ahead a couple and a half decades. The baby has grown into Jesse, a young man who has inherited the family home. He knows his parents were murdered here, but he's never visited the place. His girlfriend Kate isn't too fond of the Victorian decor and Aztec themes, but she'll make do. That night, Jesse's zany (read: grating) friend Charlie shows up with his girlfriend Lana. The newcomers are a welcome distraction for Kate, but Jesse, who is exploring the house and the family's heirlooms, finds them an annoyance. Finally, though, Charlie gets involved when Jesse, piecing together facts gleaned from old documents and photographs, realizes that his grandfather--a cowboy outlaw--must have been buried with a legendary Aztec crystal skull, said to grand its owner immortality.

So Jesse and Charlie do the logical thing: they go out to the grave (conveniently located on the property), and dig up Gramps who turns out not to be dead. Oh, he's green and withered, but he's in awfully fine fettle for a 170-year-old. Gramps comes home with Jesse and Charlie and they install him in the basement. He explains that the house is an Aztec temple, and contains portals to other times and places. Charlie and Gramps become instant drinking buddies, but Jesse has his hands full.

The stress is not decreased when Charlie throws a Halloween party. In the midst of the action, a caveman comes out of one of the aforementioned time portals, grabs the crystal skull, and disappears back into the Jurassic era. Jesse successfully retrieves the skull, but not without releasing a hungry baby pterodactyl and a weird puppy-caterpillar thing into the house. Then the Aztecs show up. And the cowboy zombie from the beginning. And an electrician/paranormal investigator played by John Rateznberger.

It would be difficult fund a movie like House II, and I'm not sure how they managed it in '87. In fact, this movie does really feel to me like it was written for children, but the execution is a little too racy for the pre-teen set. Hard to say who they were making it for. The critics hated it, and it has a small, but devoted cult following. I think the way to appreciate a movie like this is to suspend your disbelief as much as possible, and try to view it outside of any other cinematic context, which is a difficult thing to do. I was going to make a comparison to Pee Wee's Big Adventure, but I just realized that House II is more like Big Top Pee Wee: it's not just incongruous as a sequel; it's incongruous as a movie.

That's not praise, and I'm not bashing people who can't sit through this one.

House II was written by Fred Dekker who is one of those guys who should really get more work. He wrote the first House movie, and wrote and directed The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps, which are both cult classics. The director, Ethan Wiley, is mostly known for this film and for Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror, which doesn't sound like something I care about. The cast isn't anything special, but you'll recognize a young Bill Maher as John, the record company executive, Amy Yasbeck as John's girlfriend Jana, and the ever-cantankerous Royal Dano under a ton of makeup as Gramps.

The real star, though, is John Ratzenberger, who shows up briefly as Bill the Electrician. Bill stomps around cavalierly breaking stuff ("Whoops", he says after deliberately smashing a lightbulb with the handle of a screwdriver, "musta been foreign-made."), and then casually delivers his diagnosis, which is the best line in the movie: "Well, there it is. Looks like you got some kinda alternate universe in there or something." Apparently it happens a lot in these old houses.

Click here for the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: House II: The Second Story - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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