I was there. Back in 1986, I saw the movie House at the Norridge Theater in Norridge, Il. Norridge Theater is nearly ten years gone. But this film lives on…barely. It’s been on and off of youtube. It might be hiding in the back of the $1.99 shelf at the DVD store. I saw it again Friday night via Shudder. But I was there for its incarnation! At fifteen years of age, I watched this wacky film on the big screen. I freaked at the corny, carnivalesque demons. I laughed at the oddball humor. I walked out of the theater thinking, “Wow man, that was cool!” And I wasn’t even stoned! Thirty one years later, I find myself watching it a second time. My how time flies…and excitement fades.
IMDB categorizes the film under the genres of comedy, horror, and fantasy. To me, however, it seems genre-confused. I will explain more about this genre identification crisis later. But for now, here is the plot in a nutshell. Author Roger Cobb has been having a rough life as of late. His publisher has been pushing him for new material, but he’s been having a tough time writing ever since his young son went missing. This tragedy leads to the dissolution of his marriage. When his old aunt passes away, hey takes over her large, gothic-style house. His aunt was his sole guardian when he was young, so this is also the house he grew up in. It’s also the house that claimed his son. Apparently he had lived there with his wife and son for a time being. In any case, the House is haunted. Obviously. That is why I’m reviewing the movie!
This film smacks of the 1980s. It’s colorful, simplistic, goes for appearance over depth, –it’s a glam punk of a movie. As mentioned, the things that haunt this place look creepy, insane and ridiculous. They looked as if they are mummy wrapped in Hefty bags. But perhaps this is part of the humor; the style! George Wendt, A.K.A, Norm from “Cheers” stars as the funny guy neighbor who likes to drink beer while Alan Autry A.K.A. Captain V.L. Bubba Skinner of “In the Heat of the Night” stars as a serious cop that comes to the house to investigate some shenanigans. It’s nice to see two beloved television actors reprise their characters in this film (not quite though, as In the Heat of the Night TV show came later. Ahhh but they are so similar).
This film is an exercise in genre experimentation, whether it is conscious of such an experiment of not. Throw in some camp, stir in in some Gothic horror, toss in the absurd, add a bunch of comedy, mix it up with some psychology and put it all together, make a movie and let us hope it all fits together in the end. And the result is….it doesn’t fit so perfectly. It’s like a puzzle where the connecting ends of the pieces just won’t go into the given slots. But if you push real hard (GRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!), it can sort of fit.
Take for instance, the war scenes. (What? War scenes? How does that fit into this plot as you have so described it?) Roger decides to write about his experiences in the Vietnam War. As he writes, we the viewers “see” his experience. These battle scenes; I’m not sure what Director Steve Miner had in mind. I sure hope it wasn’t intended as a mimicry of Platoon, because the soldiers don’t resemble the well rounded warriors of Oliver Stone’s epic film. Instead they are like the soon-to-be-slaughtered teenagers of any slasher film. They are mannequins in soldiers’ uniforms.
I guess my tastes have changed since 1986. I had forgotten most of the finer plot points.A year later I saw Evil Dead 2 in the theater. In my opinion, Evil Dead 2 does a better job with its stylized camp while remaining true to the horror genre. In the end, House is an entertaining film. But that’s about all it is. It’s sort of like the crap rock I used to listen to in the 1980s; (Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, etc.) before discovering good rock (The Who, Led Zeppelin). The crap is enjoyable but not worthy of a spot in the hall of greatness. So it is with House. Shudder also has House 2. I’ve never seen the sequel. Should I watch it? I just don’t know.