Ding Dong, Your Dead! You know its odd. During all of the hub-bub leading up to Halloween, we tend to move outside of ourselves and into the spirit of the season, but now that All Hallows Eve has come and gone again for another year, we’re faced with the cold, damp miserable days of November and we’re still standing out in the cold. Usually, we here at the NOFS Video Vault welcome just such misery but sometimes it’s nice to think of home. A place where you can hang your hat… or your cat… or your landlord – you know, whatever floats your boat. It’s a place to lay down roots, to secure a foundation in your life or a place to hide the bodies. In essence, home is what you make it.
As this unusual wave of sentiment washes over me, I would like to draw your attention to the video in my hand. It’s a bizarre walk through a new homeowner’s transition into his newly acquired digs and it’s absolutely bat-crap crazy. Of course, I’m talking about Steve Miner’s House (1986).
Back of The Box Review
Horror writer, Roger Cobb is struggling to finish a book chronicling his horrifying experiences in Vietnam, but he has been creatively and emotionally unavailable following the disappearance of his son Jimmy, the subsequent divorce from his wife, Hollywood actress Sandy Sinclair and the sudden death of his eccentric Aunt Elizabeth. And it’s this poor old lady who hung herself in her bedroom, that left her estate to Roger.
Cobb does the unthinkable and moves into the old Victorian manor. An odd choice considering his son disappeared in the backyard of the house. Regardless, strange things soon start happening in the house and Roger quickly learns that the place is both haunted and a possible gateway back to the hell of the Vietnam War he thought he was finished with.
Meet The Neighbors
William Katt (Carrie, 1976) is Roger Cobb, the writer, father, Vietnam vet, who struggles with a boatload of issues all while trying to write a book about his boatload of issues. George Wendt (VFW, 2019) plays Harold Gorton, Cobb’s new nosey neighbor and a superfan of his work and Richard Moll (Evilspeak, 1981) plays Big Ben, Cobb’s friend that perished on the battlefields of Vietnam. Kay Lenz (Stripped to Kill, 1987) plays Hollywood actress and Roger’s recently divorced wife, Sandy Sinclair while Mary Stävin (Open House, 1987) shows up at Cobb’s new place as Tanya, a potential new love interest to the troubled writer.
Michael Ensign (Ghostbuster, 1984) plays Chet Parker, the real estate agent who shows Roger around the house while champing at the bit to get the dearest auntie’s estate on the auction block. Speaking of Roger’s dearly departed Aunt Elizabeth, she’s played by the late Susan French (Flatliners, 1990) and keeping things in the Cobb family, his missing son Jimmy is played jointly by Erik Silver and Mark Silver in their only feature film appearance.
The Voorhees Connection
There is a large connection between House and the Friday the 13th franchise. The obvious one being the film’s director Steve Miner. Miner, who acted as both the unit production manager and associate producer on the original 1980 Friday film also went on to direct Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) and Friday the 13th Part 3D (1982). Another Miner connection is the child that Roger babysits in House is Steve’s own son.
Also in this six degrees of Voorhees game is House‘s producer, Sean S. Cunningham who produced and directed Friday the 13th. It doesn’t stop there folks, a couple of the onscreen talent was involved in both universes as well with the late Steve Susskind, Harold from Friday the 13th Part 3D, popping up as Cobb’s publicist. Steve Williams (Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983) Mr. Creighton Duke of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) shows up as a cop. The stunt coordinator on the film was the definitive Jason Voorhees himself, Mr. Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th Part VII, VIII, JGTH, Jason X) and the music for the film was composed by none other than the maestro of mayhem, Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th franchise).
Home is Where The Monsters Live
A grand total of seven monsters were brought to life for the production. An obese witch dubbed Sandywitch, the zombified corpse of Big Ben, three demonic kids, the flying skull-faced monster in the void, the plaque mounted marlin that comes to life and the war demon from the closet was constructed by seventeen special effects artists, over a period of three-and-a-half months. The war demon was particularly elaborate, measuring eighteen feet and fully mechanized and operated by fifteen people.
House opened on February 28, 1986, in 1,440 theaters, grossing $5,923,972 in its opening weekend, only to be beaten out of first place by John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink (1986). By the end of its theatrical run, House grossed a grand total of $19,444,631 at the North American box office and $22.1 million worldwide. The reception was mixed with most audiences getting the tongue-in-cheek approach to the screenplay where critics, as can be expected with a genre film in the 80s, weren’t as kind. Some saw the film as a well-acted, poorly written waste of time while others thought, while funny, it didn’t deliver in the scare department.
It wasn’t all bad, mind you. With fan reaction on the plus side, the film’s stars Richard Moll and Kay Lenz were both nominated for 1987 Saturn Awards while director Miner won the Critics Choice Award and was nominated for an International Fantasy Film Award.
Four Story House
Despite its critical panning, House had a lot of legs left under it after finding its way onto the home video market. So much so that the inevitable sequel hit a year later entitled House II: Second Story. While the characters from the first film don’t make a return, the plot is very similar. New owners Jesse played by Arye Gross (Exterminator 2, 1984) and Kate played by Lar Park Lincoln (Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) move into a sinister house plagued with reanimated corpses and demons searching for an ancient Aztec skull with magic powers.
The sequels didn’t stop there. The Horror Show (1989) AKA: House III: The Horror Show featured Lance Henricksen (Pumpkinhead, 1988) as a cop whose house is haunted by the ghost of a vengeful convict played by the late Brion James (Mutator, 1989) while House IV (1992) AKA: House IV: The Repossession saw original House star William Katt reprising his Roger Cobb role, as he and his new wife Kelly, played by Terri Treas (The Terror Within, 1989) try and survive their new house which is possessed by a Native American curse. This installment is the only direct sequel to the original.
House was made at a time when director Miner was looking to distance himself from the horror genre for fear of being pigeon-holed as a one-trick pony and the film essentially served its purpose for the burgeoning filmmaker. After House, he went on to direct the culturally insensitive comedy, Soul Man (1986) and followed up with nine episodes (including the pilot) of The Wonder Years (1988-1993).
Miner didn’t stay away from the genre for long though. A few years later he helmed Halloween H20 (1998) and Lake Placid (1999) the following year where it seems he has stayed for the better part of the last twenty years. I guess there really is no place like home… like House… like… aw, hell, it was funnier in my head.
Until next time, creeps! Remember to swing by our NOFS Community Board on the way out. There you’ll find our Twitter, Subreddit and Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook. Oodles of cool horror stuff on there by some of the best writers in the game. Be kind, rewind and don’t pick it, it’ll get infected. Later, creepazoids!