House (1986)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Richard Moll, William Katt, Kay Lenz, George Wendt, Michael Ensign, Susan French
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Theatrical Trailer, Still Gallery

Following the (financial) success of "Friday the 13th, Part 2" and "Friday the 13th, Part 3", it probably didn’t surprise people in the entertainment industry that producer Sean Cunningham and director Steve Miner wanted to work together again. Along with this, it was probably no surprise that their next project would be a horror film. What was most likely very surprising was that Cunningham and Miner decided to steer very clear of the "Friday the 13th" slasher formula, and make an old fashioned haunted house film, which added comedy and some strangely serious subject matter into the mix. The resulting film was "House", which is coming to DVD in a Special Edition format from Anchor Bay Entertainment. While "House" never garnered the reputation of those "Friday the 13th" films (is that a bad thing?), it is solid entertainment, and a welcome addition to the world of DVD.

"House" opens with the revelation that an old woman has committed suicide by hanging herself in her bedroom. We then meet Roger Cobb (William Katt), the woman’s nephew, who has inherited her house. We quickly learn that Roger is a horror-novelist, a Vietnam veteran, and is divorced. Roger decides that he wants to write a novel about his experiences in Vietnam, and that the quiet solitude of his Aunt’s house will be the perfect place to do it. But, returning to the house isn’t easy for Roger. Several years ago, his young son Jimmy disappeared in the house and was never found. The stress over this loss led to his divorce from Sandy (Kay Lenz), a famous actress, but Roger is determined to face his old demons, both in the house and from the war.

Roger quickly realizes that something is wrong in the house. For example, there is a monster in the upstairs bedroom closet! With the help of his neighbor Harold (George Wendt), Roger soon finds himself battling monsters of various shapes and sizes around the house. To make matters worse, Roger sees visions of both his dead Aunt and Jimmy in the house. Roger comes to the conclusion that his Aunt wasn’t crazy, there is something alive in the house, and he must confront a secret from the past in order to save Jimmy and himself.

While horror-comedies are fairly common today, "House" was one of the first films of the 80s (along with "Return of the Living Dead") to explore both facets, the horror and the comedy, equally. "House" serves up some good scares, and director Steve Miner shows a talent for suspense that wasn’t wholly evident in his "Friday the 13th" outings. The film offers several kinds of monsters, some silly, and other very frightening. (Take advantage of the DVD and freeze-frame the "closet-monster" to see all of its frightening detail.) And while this isn’t necessarily the kind of movie which breeds nightmares, Miner never lets "House" slow down. The scares come fairly frequently, moving the viewer along with the story. The same is true with the complimentary comedic scenes, most of which feature George Wendt. It’s not uncommon for a horror film to use humor to relieve some of the tension, but "House" consistently goes back and forth, from the shocks to the laughs, creating a thematic tennis match of sorts. Roger will prepare himself for something frightening, and suddenly Harold will show up and do something funny. This trend holds up for most of the film, but as Chapter 21 begins, the film becomes a straight-ahead exercise in horror as Roger races to save the day.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that "House" is anything, which it isn’t. It’s a good popcorn-type horror movie, but I’ve always been impressed by the addition of the Vietnam element. On the <$commentary,audio commentary>, the filmmakers joke that they started the trend of movies in the 1980s, which dealt with the Vietnam War. While that isn’t necessarily true, "House" does deserve some credit for bringing such a serious topic into an otherwise fantastic film, and screenwriter Ethan Wiley gets kudos for integrating Roger’s war-torn past so creatively into the script.

Anchor Bay Entertainment brings us a solidly-constructed DVD with their release of "House". The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The magicians at Anchor Bay have once again worked their magic on an older low-budget film, as this transfer of "House" looks simply great. The picture is sharp and clear, showing no noise or distortion, and just the slightest bit of grain in some scenes. Essentially, it looks much better than when it first ran in theaters! There are basically no visible defects evident from the source print. The most striking thing about this transfer is how well the colors look, as the fleshtones are realistically reproduced and the reds and greens appear very natural. The transfer is well-balanced and the dark Vietnam sequences appear just as clear as the daytime scenes. The framing appears to be accurate and there is no disturbance from artifacting.

The audio on the "House" DVD isn’t quite as impressive, as we are offered only a <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono soundtrack. This offers the viewer clear and intelligible dialogue and no overt hissing. But, the fright scenes and the flashbacks set in the jungles of Vietnam would have surely been more impressive had they been accompanied by a surround sound mix.

This Special Edition DVD offers many extra features. We start with an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring director Steve Miner, producer Sean Cunningham, writer Ethan Wiley, and star William Katt. This is a fun and funny commentary as this quartet reminisces about the making of this film. Miner and Cunningham do most of the talking and they tell us most everything that we would want to know about "House", from the development, to the shooting, to the marketing. All four members have surprisingly detailed memories about the making of "House" and are very complimentary of all who worked on the film. This is a good example of a fun and laid-back <$commentary,audio commentary>.

Next, we have a 12-minute featurette entitled "The Making of ’House’". This short is from 1986 and offers some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. The interesting thing is that the scenes from the film shown in "The Making of ’House’" are from the newly transferred version, so they contrast with the old interview footage. There are two theatrical trailers for "House" on this disc. Trailer #1 is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1, while Trailer #2 is full-frame and appears to have been taken from a videotape transfer. The final special feature is a still gallery featuring nearly 50 photos. Interestingly, many of the stills come from a Japanese press-kit, and one of the stills is actually from "House II"!

Anchor Bay is releasing "House" as a Limited Edition of 20,000 units. Included with the film will be a second DVD featuring "House II: The Second Story". And while this sequel shared many of the same people behind the camera, the only clever thing about it is the title. "House II: The Second Story" is a sequel in name only, as it deals with a totally different house and a new group of characters. Arye Gross stars as Jesse, a young man who has returned to his ancestral home, along with his friends Charlie (Jonathan Stark), Kate (Lar Park-Lincoln), and Jana (Amy Yasbeck). Things immediately get nutty as Jesse digs up his grandfather (Royal Dano), who is a zombie. It seems that Gramps once had a powerful crystal skull and now another cowboy zombie is trying to steal it. As if this weren’t weird enough, every room in the house serves as a portal to a different time or place (wasn’t that in "My Science Project"), so Jesse and Charlie find themselves fighting dinosaurs and barbarians. The whole film is a muddled mess, which focuses more on comedy than horror, and thus, totally misses the audience who loved the first film.

Despite the fact that "House II" is a bonus DVD, Anchor Bay hasn’t diluted the quality. As with "House", the transfer is quite good. The film is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The image is sharp and clear, although there is more grain than was present on "House". Likewise, the colors aren’t quite as sharp as with "House". Still, this transfer looks very good, and shouldn’t disappoint fans of the film. Also akin to "House" is the Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack. Despite the silliness of the film, it would’ve been nice to hear the dinosaurs in surround sound.

The "House II: The Second Story" DVD also features an <$commentary,audio commentary> with Cunningham and Wiley, who wrote and directed this time out. This talk isn’t quite as spirited as the commentary on "House" and one can’t help but wonder if this is due to the cold reception that "House II" received from audiences. Wiley admits that he was making a movie for kids, and acknowledges the lack of horror in the film. Both Cunningham and Wiley speak throughout the film, and as with "House", share many interesting stories about the production of the movie. The DVD also includes the theatrical trailer for "House II", which has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1.

Anchor Bay is offering a very nice package with the release of "House". You get the DVD of "House" which offers a great transfer and some very nice extras, and you also get "House II"…which is a movie as well. Once again, this 2-disc set is a Limited Edition, so those of you who are interested shouldn’t delay. Fifteen years later, "House" still holds up as a very entertaining film, offering scares and laughs, and the ugliest big-lipped monster ever!