House (1986 - 1992)
Judging by the quite gruesome movie poster would you think this film was scary, its not. That was the problem with many old 80's 'video nasties', there box art was much scarier and intimidating than the actual film.
Anyway this franchise is classic 80's stuff with the kind of now cheesy rubber masked effects you come to expect and have seen in various other similar films. Again the idea does seem to stem from 'The Twilight Zone' or 'Tales from the Darkside' or even 'Tales from the Crypt'. Not an anthology of shorts but the plot behind the film could well be seen as an extended short from any of those films.
The whole concept is the legendary haunted house idea which does work well if done correctly. In this film William Katt must fight the spirit and zombiefied remains of his former comrade who he unintentionally left to be tortured in Nam. Its basic, predictable, silly, hammy, crude and completely not scary haha everything you want from an 80's horror.
The great thing about this film and others of the era is the hands on special effects which are always such a riot. Full length rubber suits and prosthetics which do look great on the zombie 'Big Ben', large drooling cupboard monsters, winged skeleton demons in stop motion, gremlins, alternate otherworlds behind the bathroom mirror etc...its all fantastic stuff which your never sure is real or imaginary.
If you like films like 'Night of the Creeps' 'Return of the Living Dead' 'Fright Night' etc...then I'm sure you'll get a kick outta this.
House II: The Second Story (1987)
Like the first film this remains inside the haunted house theme with two young males battling all manner of ghouls and monsters, but heads down the horror comedy route.
If you think along the lines of 'Army of Darkness' then you get an idea what I mean. The only difference here is its not an adult horror comedy but much lighter. But contrary to what you might think this film is actually better than the first in my opinion.
The old mansion appears to be an ancient Mayan temple with gateways to other dimensions that is somehow protected or kept in line by a crystal skull. Said skull is supposedly buried with one of the boys great great grandfather sooooo off they go to dig him up. Long story short 'Gramps' the zombie befriends them and helps them defend the skull from the forces of evil, oh and they gotta save the girlfriend who gets kidnapped of course.
It all sounds like a kids cartoon but trust me its really quite good fun. The boys end up going into some prehistoric world with dinosaurs to get the skull after its pinched, they battle Mayan tribesmen, save a Mayan Princess, adopt a baby pterodactyl and a weird caterpillar dog thing plus there's the evil cowboy zombie gunslinger also after the skull.
It all sounds surreal but like other 80's fluff it looks great with some nice hokey effects that make you smile. There is also some pretty good makeup and prosthetics again with 'Gramps' the zombie and 'Slim Razor' the zombie plus some great kooky sets that look like something out of the 'Addams Family' TV show.
I also really liked the cast in this too. Johnathan Stark is great as the lippy wise ass best friend of Arye Gross. Both guys really click together and make a formidable 80's duo just like Makepeace and Rusler in 'Vamp'. Stark actually reminds me of an early Jim Carrey with his haircut and looks, Arye is a regular face for this era as was Bill Maher. Kudos to John Ratzenberger who has easily one of the best parts I've seen for some time, he is the 'Electrician and Adventurer', always ready to battle alternate dimensions at the drop of a hat. I loved the way he Coolly remarks that he deals with this kind of stuff all the time and always ready with his sword (kept hidden in his toolbox).
Yep its utterly off the wall but its a great light hearted horror comedy with some really good 'Indy' type adventure with monsters and zombies...albeit in a very cheesy tacky way.
The Horror Show (1989, aka. House III: The Horror Show)
Originally this wasn't anything to do with the 'House' horror franchise so I've read. It seems the same crew made this film but it was an independent horror flick, I'm not really sure why they gave it the title 'House III', confusing and odd state of affairs.
Anyway this film doesn't revolve around a haunted house but mainly a serial killer in the form of Brion James. Horror/sci-fi legend Lance Henriksen is the cop who captures 'Jenke' but when he gets electrocuted in the chair it seems to zap him into another dimension or reality where he can continue his killing ways much like 'Freddy Krueger'.
This film did infact come out in the same year as Craven thriller 'Shocker' and the results are suspiciously the same I must say. It seems director Isaac may have borrowed a few elements from Craven's world for this film.
The first 'House' film was a horror thriller with slight comedy, the second film was a horror comedy adventure, now this third film is a straight horror thriller. Its not terrifying or particularly original (as I have mentioned) but its not for the younger audience and does include some gore. The sequence where 'Jenke' is executed is easily the most horrific moment with some vain popping effects that remind you of 'Scanners' and make you wince at the same time. There are some good body part moments also that are kind hokey but add to the atmosphere.
The film is totally saved by James as the killer 'Jenke' and Henriksen as the cop, if it wasn't for these two top actors the film would be pants. James hams it up hugely but does come across as menacing despite his annoying laugh, while Henriksen's lean greyhound like physic and face always seems to fit any role.
This still feels like a TV movie of sorts for some reason, doesn't have that true film like quality if that makes any sense. Its not a bad film either, not scary despite more blood and gore than the previous films, but more towards plain silly with enjoyable moments. I guess one of the funniest things is seeing Henriksen giving his all (as he always does) despite being cast in such an average forgettable film. Its still solid stuff if your a horror fan.
House IV (1992)
Last entry for this quite decent 'Horror' franchise, well actually its officially the third film but we won't go down that confusing alley again.
Unfortunately the franchise bows out with a disappointing story which isn't really scary nor funny. A young couple that own a big house are being slowly hounded into selling by a relation with connections to the mafia. Of course the man of the house is taken out of the picture leaving the young widow to fend for herself.
Katt returns as his character of 'Cobb', he is married and has one young girl. This plot doesn't connect in any way to the previous films but simply a new story. The story in question is slow and dull containing many flashbacks and not really much else. The same theme of the young widow being tormented by her dreams and 'Cobb's' dastardly brother in law who wants the land is repeated over and over until finally we get somewhere towards the finale.
Guess what? the house was built on an ancient Native American well (originality much?) and the spirits of the Native Americans and 'Cobb' are trying to help her against 'Cobb's' brother in law and the mob. Its very easy to predict and pretty tame stuff, no real ghosts or ghouls to be seen, no monsters, no blood or gore etc...just odd flashbacks and blinking lights. In no way a thriller, not a horror comedy and not a horror, more of a very light hearted spooky tale.
It wasn't until recently I ever got around to actually checking out the Second Story, and I absolutely loved it! Had so much nostalgic fun with it....its been forever since I watched the original, but I have fond memories with it and I'm sure I'd love it with another viewing.
I remember the Fourth being beyond terrible when I initially rented it well over 10 years ago...and the third I didn't ever bother with and get around to.