House II: The Second Story. 1987. Directed & Written by Ethan Wiley.
Starring Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Bill Maher, John Ratzenberger, Lar Park-Lincoln, Amy Yasbeck, Gregory Walcott, Dwier Brown, Lenora May, Devin DeVasquez, Jayne Modean, Ronn Carroll, & Dean Cleverdon.
New World Pictures/Sean S. Cunningham Films
Rated PG-13. 88 minutes.
The previous House is the first horror movie I ever remember seeing. Well, I thought for a long time it was a dream I had when I was young, I couldn’t figure out which movie it was I saw. Until a few years back. So, naturally, once I watched it again, I decided there’s no sense in stopping. Why not watch them all?
House II: The Second Story really doesn’t have any continuity with the first film, but that’s okay. No need, really. A young couple, Jesse (Arye Gross) and Kate (Lar Park Lincoln), move into a big, ancient mansion that’s been passed down through generations of his family. Soon after, Jesse and his friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) uncover photos of his great-great grandfather (Royal Dano) at a Mayan temple with a crystal skull in hand. From there, it’s adventure.
While the tone of the first film isn’t present, the comedy is, all the way. There are definitely bits of horror here, but House II feels more like a comedic fantasy than anything else. The horror element mainly comes out of the fact that Gramps – and later his dastardly partner Slim (Dean Cleverdon) – is a walking corpse, plus a few other undead and weird things that show up along the way. It’s not as good as the previous House. Regardless, you can still have a little fun.
There’s connective tissue joining the sequel to its predecessor, even if they really don’t have anything to do with one another in continuity. Such as the theme of family history and family secrets continuing. Although here it’s more grandiose.
We’re treated to a Western adventure-style film spoof. Throw in a time portal-like gateway for good measure. This leads way to madcap action after a dinosaur gets loose in the house, a caterpillar-dog hybrid shows up like a cute little house pet, and the comedy of errors started in the first movie is amplified times ten or more with a bit that prehistoric chaos causing trouble. Throw in a pre-Islamophobe Bill Maher, and it’s a pretty damn wild ride.
Favourites & Tidbits:
– Undead horse, baby! The horse itself is gnarly, in the best sense. However, Slim, the cowboy riding him, isn’t half as cool looking as Gramps.
– Western gunfight in the finale rules pretty hard. Not too often you get one like this, either.
– Kane Hodder, after his work on the first film, returned as stunt co-ordinator. Always great having a genre veteran like him working on a project. The stunts were definitely bigger this time around, too.
– In 1987, Marvel released a comic version of the movie written by none other than Ralph Macchio.
– Anyone out there dig 2001’s remake of Thirteen Ghosts? Me, too. And the house in this movie is the same one used there; if you have a real good eye, you might just pick out the similarities, buried underneath the set design.
Right off the bat the effects and makeup work are infinitely better. While House‘s dead had a campy quality, the sequel’s got camp but less in the effects department; more so in dialogue and definitely the acting. The risen great-great grandpa looks better than the zombie corpses of the first film, mostly. Not as dark or unsettling as them, though.
Part of what doesn’t work is the pacing. While suspension of disbelief is necessary in a film like this, obviously, as opposed to Cobb’s discover of the haunted house’s spirits in the first film the supernatural moments here are rushed way too fast, with little to no setup, suspense, or any real tact at all. Fun, but absolute nonsense. Coming from someone who loves the foolish first movie, too. If you whittle away too much of the ins and outs of the plot, the events, even the characters, things fall apart at the seams fast. You can enjoy something that’s not the greatest, but if it’s this flimsy on the writing when the effects have a wholehearted feel, the viewer’s left wondering why.
Another large killer compared to the previous movie are the performances. It’s all meant to be infused with camp, no doubt. Yet House retained a dark quality underneath, half in the writing, half in the way William Katt portrayed Roger Cobb, dangling on the edge of comically insane and existentially horrified. Here, none of the performances are worth talking about. In fact, whereas the first movie had Cheers alumni George Wendt, his old drinking buddy John Ratzenberger returns here, giving us what’s likely the best performance out of any of the actors in the cast. So, as fun and spoofy as House II is intended to come off, it doesn’t have the comedic power to make it successful in its aims. Too bad, because despite that there’s fun to be had in the plot.
There’s no recommending House II: The Second Story as an unmissable film. Neither is it close to the top 50 horror movies of the 1980s. House wasn’t amazing, even though I hold it in higher regard. But it was both creepy and funny, darkly funny, at that. Katt’s central performance grounded the tone of the movie. Its sequel isn’t able to capture any of that same magic, nor is it capable of breaking out into its own thing at any time.
Truthfully, even if it’s not a great movie the next movie in the series, The Horror Show (a.k.a House 3) is better than the second. Just because these movies need that dark edge. Without that, there’s no contrast to the black comedy that emerges. Not to mention House II doesn’t even have much true horror, the stuff we get is decidedly tame in contrast to the rest of the series. By all means, watch them. They’ve all got something worth enjoying, no matter if it’s fleeting. This sequel will, at the very least, make you laugh. Not always in the way intended, but laugh you shall.