I’ve not watched House (1986) for a while, though I vaguely remember Geth thinking it was the worst film ever. It was produced by Sean S. Cunningham (creator of Friday the 13th) and directed by Steve Miner (who later directed Halloween H20), which makes it a nice curiosity.
The opening is accompanied by some lovely ’80s spooky synth by Harry Manfredini. Very nice!
We open with a grocery delivery kid coming into the eponymous house to deliver groceries to elderly Elizabeth Hooper. He’s about to leave the groceries by the door, but decides to go upstairs to investigate a strange noise. Just leave the groceries like you were about to do, FFS! Upstairs, the kid finds Elizabeth’s body hanging from the ceiling, and is quickly outside and zooming off on his moped.
At the funeral, Elizabeth’s nephew Roger is being incompetently consoled by some other dude. Roger is a horror author, and at a book signing, we get his backstory: he’s not released any books for a while and is under pressure from his agent and publisher; he’s trying to write a Vietnam War memoir; and he’s divorced from actress Sandy Sinclair. At Roger’s home, we further find out that his son, Jimmy, has gone missing, and that he pretends to have friends over whenever Sandy calls.
After having a nightmare about Jimmy in a jungle, Roger goes to visit his aunt’s house. While being shown around by the estate agent, he has a flashback to when Jimmy disappeared, which happened while the family was visiting the house. There are lots of creepy paintings about, painted by Elizabeth, who believed the house was haunted.
As part of the flashback, we see Roger trying to explain to the police what happened. The detective is played by the same actor (Ronn Carroll) as the policeman who speaks to Alice at the end of Friday the 13th, which is a nice touch!
Roger decides not to sell the house and moves in, settling down to write his Vietnam book. Soon after arriving, he has a vision of Elizabeth, who says the house tricked her and that it ‘knows everything about you’. In the morning, Roger meets the neighbours – a pretty girl jogs by, and next-door neighbour Harold turns out to be a big fan of Roger’s books, which, as we will see, is going to be a bit of a theme.
Roger has a lot of flashbacks to the Vietnam War while writing, as you might expect. While serving, he was apparently friends with a nutter called ‘Big Ben’ who had no fear (and no brains, according to his fellow soldiers), and was constantly running into danger.
That night, at midnight, Roger encounters a monster in the cupboard. Rather than freaking out, he gets the old military fatigues on, rigs up some recording equipment and sets up a rope to open the cupboard again the following night. There’s no monster, but when the clock strikes midnight, he realises it’s time-sensitive, and prepares to open it again. Unfortunately, Harold shows up at exactly the wrong moment, which is also a bit of a theme in this film.
Harold has brought a ‘midnight snack’ for Roger, and at first seems to be quite a good guy, but not a believer in ghosts and monsters. He then steals Roger’s address book (so clearly not a good guy after all) and, rather interferingly, phones Sandy, claiming to be worried about Roger’s mental health. Strangely, she doesn’t question being contacted by a stranger, and says she’ll come to see Roger when she can.
Back in the house, more strange things are happening, with a stuffed fish coming to life and various axes and other sharp tools being telekinetically moved around and thrown at Roger. The next morning, ‘Sandy’ shows up, but turns out to be a monster in disguise, and Roger shoots her. Harold, hearing the gunshot, calls the police and reports a suicide attempt (bit of a leap!). When the sirens start wailing, Roger hides the monster-as-Sandy’s body and starts pretending to polish his shotgun on the porch – but he needn’t have worried, ’cause the cops also turn out to be big fans of his. I think I have new #novelistgoals after watching this film.
Roger ends up having the cops and Harold in for coffee by accident, largely because Harold invites himself, but manages to avoid them finding ‘Sandy’. After a fight sequence with the monster, we get some daft music choices, with a jaunty pop track playing while Roger prepares to bury the body.
The jogging girl from earlier is swimming in the house’s pool, and introduces herself as Tanya. Apparently Elizabeth used to let Tanya swim in the pool whenever she wanted, so she’s just gone ahead and continued doing that without checking with the new owner. Roger, who is distracted by trying not to let her notice the still-moving monster body at his feet, doesn’t seem particularly bothered. Once Tanya’s gone, he dismembers the body and buries the various parts of the monster in different areas of the garden.
More upbeat ’60s pop, with Dedicated To The One I Love playing during the montage of Roger’s preparations for the night’s monster-hunting. Unfortunately, said preparations are interrupted first by Harold’s dog digging up a monster hand from the garden, and then by Tanya showing up with her toddler son Robert, who (a) looks about eighteen months old and, as it’s mid-1986, is therefore the same age as me – high five, Robert, even though you’re clearly just a plot annoyance! – and (b) has the monster hand that the dog dug up attached to his back, leading to a daft farcical sequence where Roger has to chase Robert down, get the hand off him and flush it down the toilet, all without Tanya noticing. Tanya then insists that Roger babysits Robert, despite Roger’s protests. To keep Robert occupied, they watch Sandy’s show on TV, and Robert falls asleep on the sofa. Next time Roger checks on him, though, he’s disappeared, which is probably why it’s not a good idea to leave a kid unguarded in a haunted house.
As expected, the monsters have come out to try and capture Robert, meaning Roger has to fight them off to get him back. Robert seems remarkably unfazed by the whole thing, and eventually Tanya collects him without incident. With the coast clear, Roger brings Harold over for a session of ‘raccoon hunting’. Because the monster, when it appears, obviously doesn’t look anything like a raccoon, Harold is too freaked out to shoot straight with the harpoon Roger has given him. Roger is dragged into the house’s other dimension, and comes across a Vietnam scene with Big Ben lying injured, revealing the source of Roger’s war PTSD – when Ben begged him to kill him to put him out of his misery, Roger couldn’t do it and instead went off to find help, resulting in Ben being captured by the enemy and tortured for weeks before he died.
Roger escapes the other dimension, helps Harold to a sofa where he can sleep, and finds a painting that Elizabeth made of the trapped Jimmy. Realising that Jimmy is trapped somewhere in the other dimension, he smashes the bathroom mirror to find a way in, and uses a rope to lower himself down into the blackness, fighting the cupboard monster as he goes. Eventually, the monster breaks the rope, and Roger lands in a pool of water below. The music at this point is very reminiscent of Friday the 13th, which is understandable given that Harry Manfredini scored both films.
In an unexpectedly straightforward sequence, Roger finds Jimmy in a cage, unlocks it, and they both emerge in the swimming pool. It turns out to have been a creepy skeleton version of Big Ben that took Jimmy in revenge for Roger leaving him to get captured (although given what the vision of Elizabeth said about how ‘the house knows everything about you’, I’m guessing this is just the form the house’s evil force has taken in order to inflict maximum distress on Roger). After fighting Ben for a while, Roger throws him over a cliff that has appeared at the back of the house, but Ben reappears and catches Jimmy. However, Roger realises, somehow, that Ben can’t hurt either him or Jimmy. He grabs Jimmy and blows Ben up with a grenade, setting the house on fire. Harold runs out of his own house (how did he get back there after falling asleep on Roger’s sofa?) and Sandy arrives in a taxi at the same time, both catching sight of the flaming house. Of course, Roger and Jimmy soon emerge from the front door, and there’s a cheesy scene with Jimmy running into his mother’s arms and a freeze-frame on Roger with some ‘Vietnam war film’ victory music playing over the top. Roll credits!
Not a hugely satisfying ending, but the film’s a lot better than I remembered!
Back to the old films tomorrow.