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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Horror DVD Of The Week: House (1986)


With Marvel's Haunted Mansion comic (based on my favourite Disney attraction) due to debut tomorrow, I'm on a bit of a haunted house kick this week.

And where better to start than one of the most iconic - yet hardest to track down on DVD - haunted house movies, the very distinctive House, starring William Katz (from The Greatest American Hero).

A strange mix of Poltergeist, Evil Dead and cheap Vietnam War flick, blended with cheesy gore and dark comedy, this mid-80's classic is showing its age slightly, not so much for its practical effects, but its slightly erratic pacing and wholly unconvincing Vietnam jungle sets.

Katz plays popular horror author Roger Cobb, who decides to move into his late aunt's house, which he inherits after she kills herself.

Cobb has a lot of personal demons that he is trying to exorcise by turning his hand to a very personal account of his time in the Vietnam War

But this is causing him severe writer's block, further complicated by the apparent kidnapping of his son Jimmy (played by Erik and Mark Silver) during an earlier visit to his aunt's strange house, and estrangement from his soap opera actress wife, Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz).

Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French) had claimed the house was haunted, and then when she appears to Cobb later as a ghost she warns him that the house had tricked her into killing herself.

The writer soon finds himself on his own journey of discovery as the demons - or ghosts - that haunt/plague the house begin to work on his psyche, making his Vietnam flashbacks increasingly real.

Aided and abetted by nosy neighbour Harold Gorton (Cheers' George Wendt), and distracted by sexy neighbour Tanya (Mary Stavin), Roger's mental duel with the house turns very physical, very fast.

Although House is a 15-certificate in this country, I suspect that's for the f-bombs during the Vietnam scenes than the scares, as the monsters are more reminiscent of Disney ghost stories and Doctor Who than anything else, while the severed hand that claws onto the back of Tanya's son Robert (Robert Joseph) reminds us of Thing from The Addams Family.

The motivation for the house's malevolence - and even it's seeming connectivity to the "somewhere else" - is never explained, which is both a good and bad thing.

The simple suggestion is that it drives its inhabitants to commit suicide, but there's no 'why'. Why does the void that Cobb discovers exist in the first place and why does it connect to his aunt's house? Are the creatures that emerge from the closet, and through the bathroom mirror, trans-dimensional, Lovecraftian monsters or simply spectral manifestations of evil?

And being an 80's horror movie there's no real wrap-up either, once Cobb has - inevitably - beaten the house, the credits roll. Again, this is both good and bad, as there's no padding, but I think modern audiences would want to know more (e.g. did he ever finish his Vietnam book, or did he abandon it in favour of a haunted house story?)

Perhaps these issues are addressed in the three sequels? I think I've only seen the first and that would have been when it originally came out on VHS, back in the day. Guess I'll have to try and track them down and see what layers they add to the House mythology and what clues they offer towards solving its mystery.

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