Film Reviews:


(Steve Miner, US, 1986)

This 80s horror flick was something of a video favourite of mine during the twilight of my teenage years. The distinctive video sleeve of a rotting hand ringing a doorbell - tempting video renters to open the box and enter inside a haunted house; the back sleeve depicting the grinning face of a rotting GI is one of my indelible memories of the 80s video boom. So when it cropped up on late night TV not so long ago, I put in a tape and settled down a few nights later and caught up on old times.

With a story by Fred (The Monster Squad) Dekker and featuring George Wendt from Cheers, House falls into the category of horror/comedy. Unlike most films that try to straddle this difficult divide, House, like An American Werewolf in London, manages it superbly. William Katt plays writer Roger Cobb who has recently separated from his wife and is clearly having difficulty overcoming a sense of 'loss' and writers block. This trying time is made all the more difficult when Cobb begins to see strange and horrible things. Demons laughing at him, the rotting remains of a GI friend lost in Vietnam coming back to haunt Cobb, a bathroom mirror that leads into a netherworld of darkness. And all the time, the nosey, but well-intentioned neighbour, Harold Gorton (Wendt) who recognises Cobb, won't leave the poor guy alone. Is Cobb hallucinating under stress or is his new home really a haunted house?

Director Steve Miner had made a name for himself on Friday the 13th Part 2 (and the 3-D Part 3) at the beginning of the 80s. Since then his name has been most familiar as director on Halloween H20 and most recently of the exploitation (and very 80s) giant alligator movie Lake Placid. (In between, Miner has directed many episodes of popular TV dramas including The Wonder Years, Dawson's Creek and Chicago Hope.) Miner keeps things moving at a fair pace and his floating camera and the terrific art and set design really do add a creepy air to the proceedings.

There are some superb moments of surreality that seem inspired by Poltergeist. My favourite being the bathroom cabinet mirror that opens to reveal a tiny window into a Lovecraftian bottomless black pit inhabited by horrendous flying demons, which, of course, Cobb has to check out at great personal risk. The imaginative creature designs that haunt Cobb are terrific and really out-there, whilst one monster-in-the-closet sequence looks like it gave Clive Barker a few ideas for Hellraiser. With eerie sound effects adding a lot to the overall effect, House still stands the test of time well. Although much of the content will appear overly familiar to seasoned horror film fans, the successful humour, pace and many stylistic touches help lift it above the ordinary. 

Rob Dyer

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