Face-Off: House vs. House II: The Second Story

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

With the paranormal comedy GHOST TEAM coming out this weekend, I thought “paranormal comedy” would be the best theme for this week’s Face-Off. Since GHOSTBUSTERS was already a competitor in a recent Face-Off (it went up against THE FRIGHTENERS last month), I ended up deciding to go with the first two HOUSE movies, as not only do they fit the bill as paranormal comedies, but since Fred Dekker wrote the original story for Steve Miner’s 1986 film HOUSE this also serves as a good follow-up to last week’s article, where Dekker’s movies NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD went up against each other. HOUSE screenwriter Ethan Wiley went on to write and direct the 1987 sequel HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, which has nothing to do with its predecessor. Let’s see which had the better floor plan.
When the spirits who inhabit his aunt Elizabeth’s house drive her to suicide, successful horror novelist Roger Cobb decides to move into the place – ostensibly to work on his Vietnam War memoir, but actually because his young son Jimmy went missing while visiting the house some time earlier. Roger soon realizes that there really are supernatural forces in the house, but rather than vacate the premises he faces them head on in hopes of finding out what happened to Jimmy. He’s likeable, determined, and (mostly) brave.
25 years after his parents were killed in the mansion that has been in their family for generations, Jesse McLaughlin moves into the house and immediately begins digging into its history. Soon he’s even digging up the grave of his great-great-grandpa in search of a crystal skull he believes was buried with the Old West outlaw. He also finds that the house is full of portals through time and space, and the forces of evil use these portals as they seek to acquire the skull. Jesse is a good, average guy who’s in way over his head.
At the height of his Cheers powers, George Wendt took on the role of Roger’s exceptionally nosy neighbor / fan Harold, who is constantly trying to come over to share food and beer with Roger. Suspecting that Roger has mental issues, Harold ends up inserting himself into the makeshift paranormal investigation going on at the Cobb residence… and proves to be of absolutely no help when monsters attack. He’s an entertaining guy, though. Of course he is, he’s George Wendt.
Jesse is gifted with some great sidekicks, starting with his goofball pal Charlie, a guy who wants fame and fortune but doesn’t want to achieve success to get it, which is how he gets involved with the crystal skull treasure hunt. The heart of the film is Gramps, Jesse’s zombified great-great-grandpa who cherishes the time he gets to spend with his descendant. Add a cameo by Cheers’s John Ratzenberger as an adventurous electrician and you have a fun trio of allies.
The supernatural creatures that haunt HOUSE are not the sort of things you usually see in haunted house movies. A massive beast lurks inside one of the closets. A creature disguises itself as Roger’s estranged wife before revealing its true, hideous form. Little monsters will try to drag you up the chimney. Hands and tentacles reach out from another dimension behind the medicine cabinet. There are even a couple touches that are reminiscent of an EVIL DEAD film – a mounted swordfish that comes back to life and a demonic, winged monster that knows how to use a shotgun. The designs of the creatures are very ridiculous and cartoony, but they’re pretty great to look at.
Most of the horrific creatures in this film are packed into a sequence where Jesse and Charlie pursue a caveman into prehistoric times to retrieve the crystal skull. There they encounter real dinosaurs as well as a man-eating monster that never existed in this world – it’s like a man-sized puppet catfish with arms and big teeth – and a flying pterodactyl-like bird beast. The most memorable creatures in HOUSE II aren’t scary, they’re adorable. Our heroes return from this excursion with two new pets; one a baby pterodactyl bird, the other one of the cutest non-existent things I’ve ever seen, a critter that’s a cross between a dog and a giant caterpillar. A dogerpillar?
Exploring a horrifying alternate dimension that’s accessible through various portals in and around the house, Cobb discovers that his son is being held captive in a version of Vietnam. Within this jungle is the rotting, walking corpse of Big Ben, a soldier who blames Roger for the way he died during the war and is out for revenge. Hulking but skeletal, Big Ben looks fantastic, reminding me of a militarized version of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD’s Jason Voorhees. A Jason-esque killer with a machine gun and grenades? That’s the way to end a movie with a bang. Literally.
Just like the Big Ben climax of HOUSE, HOUSE II ends with Jesse having a showdown with the rotting, walking corpse of a bad man. This time around it’s an Old West outlaw known as Slim Razor, a friend of Gramps’s who turned against him in a fight over the ownership of the crystal skull. The rot design of Slim isn’t far off from that of Ben, but rather than military duds he’s wearing a cowboy outfit and sporting long red hair and a bushy mustache. The evil of this man clearly comes through in the look and performance, but in the end he is disappointingly easy to defeat.
HOUSE frequently feels like a movie at war with itself. It’s a mixture of a straightforward, serious horror movie, which Fred Dekker intended it to be, and the goofy comedy element that Ethan Wiley and Steve Miner added in. One minute you’re watching the typical haunted house flick, the next minute there’s a jarring appearance by awesome-but-silly monsters. I don’t find that these puzzle pieces fit together all that well.
There is no conflict in the tone of HOUSE II, as Ethan Wiley built this story from the ground up to be a lighter, more comedic film than the previous one. While it has horror elements, it is much more of an adventure film, sending its heroes to different time periods as they pursue the crystal skull again and again. It ends as a dark Western. It’s all in good fun, and I find it to be very entertaining.
There’s a classroom scene in SCREAM 2 where characters discuss whether or not sequels are always inferior to the films they follow. While I think a lot of “better part twos” listed in that scene are debatable, there is one moment in there that I agreed with wholeheartedly – when it’s said that HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY was better than HOUSE. I’ve always found that to be true and have always preferred watching the sequel in this franchise. However, when assembling this Face-Off I found that there was much more of a balance between the two than I ever thought. They both have their charms and high points, both have elements that are better than those in the other. When it came down to it, I found that this Face-Off could only end in a tie.

Do you agree that HOUSE and HOUSE II should tie? I know that THE SECOND STORY is often looked down upon in comparison to the first film, so do you think the sequel is inferior? Or should HOUSE II have taken the win? Let your opinion on these film be known by leaving a comment below.

Have suggestions for future Face-Offs? You can email me at [email protected].

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.