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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz
Director:  Steve Miner
Audio:  Dolby Digital 2-Channel Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review (includes notes on House II)
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  June 26, 2001

“Damn!  Came back from the grave, and ran out of ammunition…”

Film ***

Roger Cobb (Katt) has problems.   Though he’s one of the country’s most successful horror novelists, he’s haunted by the disappearance of his son, his divorce from his wife, the death of his aunt, and his harrowing experiences in Vietnam, which he is struggling to turn into his newest book.

And then there’s that house.

House may have, at first glance, seemed like just another horror film to come out of the wave of 80s horror that began and ended with the rise and fall of Freddy Krueger.  It was produced by Sean S. Cunningham of Friday the 13th fame and featured a cast of TV notables:  William Katt from “The Greatest American Hero”, George Wendt from “Cheers”, and Richard Moll from “Night Court”.  Yet for fans, the film’s bizarre combination of scary imagery and elbow-in-the-ribs humor elevated it above most run-of-the-mill offerings of the decade.  It became and remains a cult favorite, and deservedly so.

Cobb comes to the house after his aunt leaves it to him, hoping for a little solitude with which to work on his novel.  His aunt believed the house haunted, everyone else believed the aunt dotty.  But Roger can’t get the disappearance of his son out of his mind.  The son apparently was swimming, and just vanished from the pool.  Roger saw it, but no one believed him (except the kooky aunt).

Now, dwelling on the horrors of his Nam experience, Roger may be pushing himself over the edge.  Is there really something in the house out to get him?  Or is he losing his mind?  Juggling the guilt of his past with his present supernatural experiences seem to be taking a toll…the constant intrusion of his nosy neighbor Harold (Wendt), of course, isn’t helping.

This is the kind of film that grows subtly more interesting as it goes along.  It shows some of its cards, but hides some of them.  For example, the emphasis on a giant marlin trophy early on is enough to telegraph that something weird is going to happen with the big fish, and it’s fun to anticipate the occurrence.  However, there are surprises we don’t see coming, involving such things as strange portals and other planes of existence, that are quite imaginative and well-constructed.  Even flashback scenarios, as Cobb remembers his Nam days and his old comrade in arms Big Ben (Moll) become more significant as the story progresses.   You’ll see.

The film is fairly low budget, to be sure, but as with many of the most notable horror films, that’s part of its charm, and not a strike against it.  The cinematography is terrific, with fluid camera movements and excellent scene composition.  Credit director Steve Miner with a keen understanding of the material.  He knows when to turn up the fright and when to turn up the laughs…the resulting film is entertaining and satisfying.

Video ****

Outstanding!  Anchor Bay has always been reputed as a studio that comes through with quality for horror fans, but they’ve outdone themselves with House.  This is easily one of the best transfers for an 80s film I’ve seen on disc.  Color is remarkable throughout, whether lighting is high or low…natural and well contained, with no signs of bleeding or aging.  Images are sharp and crystal clear, with detail level so good you can make out the individual spines of books on a background shelf, both in light and darkness.  The print itself is quite clean.  House is an absolute joy to behold…but read further down for our assessment of House II, which even surpasses this one!

Audio ***

For a 2 channel mono soundtrack, House delivers more than satisfactorily, with a superbly clean listen unhampered by distortions or noise, solid dialogue, and excellent musical cues and sound effects that give the track surprising amounts of dynamic range.  High marks.

Features ****

Well, consider the biggest feature the inclusion of the film House II: The Second Story on a second disc, also anamorphically enhanced, with its own features: a good commentary by producer Sean S. Cunningham and writer/director Ethan Wiley (who also penned the first film).  Briefly, this film is about a different house and a different cast of characters, and tells the entertaining story of a young man and his friend who dig up a 170 year old great-great grandfather and learn about a skull shaped artifact with tremendous powers.  Soon, doorways in their house are opening up to alternate dimensions, including eye-popping quests to a prehistoric jungle, the old west, and a native ritual complete with damsel in distress.   Though a limited edition bonus disc, Anchor Bay pulled out all the stops on quality here, as House II even eclipses the first for visual quality.  Scores:  Film ***, Video ****, Audio ***.

On the House disc, there is a commentary track with Cunningham, Wiley, and director Steve Miner, along with star William Katt, which is an informative and fun listen.  There is also a short making-of featurette (not that great—mostly just clips from the movie), a stills gallery, and two trailers.


Anchor Bay remains the undisputed king studio for limited edition double feature discs, and I predict that the House limited edition DVD with House II included will join the ranks of their most historic offerings, the Halloween set with the television version included, and the Army of Darkness one with both US theatrical and international director’s cuts.  But act fast if you want to bring House into yours…20,000 copies won’t go far.  Highly, highly recommended.