Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Horror Of...House (1986)

Apologizes. This should have been up Thursday night...but my Internet connection disagreed...

As promised, we return to horror this week, and look at veterans, family, and home...Well, a house. And what's a better house than one that wants to kill you? (...I suddenly have a craving to watch Monster House.)

So, I thought I should visit a haunted house...But it ended up only being haunted by my personal demons...So depressing...

What isn't depressing though is the curious 1986 movie, House. Sure it has a name that might make you either think you're watching the weirdest prequel to a certain Hugh Laurie show, or, the name it self could be so benign sounding you may just keep forgetting you've heard of it. But it was the age of the one word horror movie titles. Jaws. Christine. Cujo. Halloween. Carrie. Alien. Poltergeist. Hellraiser. Gremlins...You get my point. Trouble is, House...It's just not like the others. At least add a definite article.

Luckily the movie is better than it's title.

House comes from New World  Pictures. It was directed by Steven Miner. At the time he'd already directed the 2nd and 3rd Friday the 13th movies. And he would go on to direct Warlock and Halloween H20. And like those movies, this to would go on to inspire sequels, which is interesting considering how the movie ends. But don't worry, none of those movies connects to the others. (Well...the fourth could be said to connect through casting.)

The movie stars William Katt as Roger Cobb. He has worked plenty over the last 4 decades, but most likely  you may know him from starring in the series The Greatest American Hero. And House 4.

Most all of the movie centers on the Roger Cobb character. But along with him we have a wacky neighbor, played by George Wendt. Wendt most will know from appearing for years in the series Cheers. And he's appeared plenty in series and movies since. Of interest he's made appearances in Tales from the Crypt and Masters of Horror.

Oh, there is another character! The house.

Oddly constructed, creaky opening, and overvalued. The movie House has it's issues. (...You get the joke.) Still, get used to this picture, it will be seared in your brain by the time the movies over. Get ready to wander through the infinite number of rooms of the house.

"Not now Jacob Marley. That's next month."
The movie proper opens with a teenager...ish person riding up to our eponymous house. He goes up with groceries to deliver.

"I swear, if I meet another guy dressed
like his mom..."
He finds the door open and wanders in. Heading into the central hall, he looks around and calls for the houses owner, Mrs. Hooper. He gets no response and continues up to the second floor.

The early Farside were dark.
Up the staircase, he looks at the painting along the wall. It is a collection of...odd images. Figures burning in fires, etc. ...Not sure what that signifies.

No, grandma. That's not how a pinata works.
So our potential victim continues on. He comes to the door of Mrs. Hooper's bedroom (How he knows that we'll just leave a mystery.). He walks in and spends several seconds looking around the room...somehow missing an older women hanging from a noose in the middle of the room. (Honestly, she is completely invisible to him, until she swings into the the camera frame.)

And with that discovery, the delivery boy decides to skip his tip and get out of the house.

Scariest fan there. I don't want to
know what he has in his fridge.
"...No. I did not write Crazy Heart."
Later, at her funeral, we are introduced to our lead. Roger Cobb. It's a sparse group to see the burial, but he is there to see his aunt off. From there he heads off to a book signing, which is a good thing since he's a writer, and he'll be signing his own book. A book that has been out for quite awhile.

He has an array of fans show up. Suit. Housewife. Punk. Guy from Lost Boys. Sea captain. But it is clear they are mostly interested in discussing the movie's exposition. So...

He is a horror writer. He is writing a new book, a autobiography, about his time serving during the Vietnam War. He has an ex-wife that is a famous actress. And he's popular, but people want a new horror book from him.

Isn't it great when the exposition is subtle?

What do you use all that 1 MB of space on your floppy
disk for? Well, make it a double sided so you can hold a
copy of Joust AND Moon Patrol, Duh.
Roger heads home to his sad home life. He's got some microwave dinners. a gloomy apartment, and seems to be writing his magnum opus on Word Perfect. He also calls someone about his son, but they don't explain yet what's wrong. (Now the movie decides to be cryptic.)

And then his famous ex-wife, Sandy, calls, from an awards show even, to check on him. She is played by Kay Lenz, who's been acting since infancy. I know I've seen her in various roles over the years. But what is sticking in my head these days was her lead role in the Rifftrax re-release of Prisoners of the Lost Universe. Probably not her favorite role, but it is a hoot to watch.

Realizing it's his wife, Roger tries to act like he has a life, poorly, but convinces her. Maybe he should be He also tells her he's gone to his aunt's house. And she seems upset about this, his obsession. (Again, the movie decides now to get cryptic.) They both have trouble talking to each, but seem to be interested/concerned for one another.

What's going on between them? Let's hope the movie is going to explain. Because this is the point where the movie either will start working for you, or is going to just turn you off.

That night, Roger is sleeping when he has a nightmare. A kid is playing in a wiided area, beside a wooden cross in the ground. I don't have a book on dreams handy so I don't know if he's thinking about his repressed sexuality, his yearning to take a leak, or his fear of growing old. But as this kid (who's identity is never made clear) plays, a hand shoots out of the ground beside him, and the kid screams. Then Roger awakens and screams. What happen? Roger had a nightmare. It's significance? Eh.

"My Buddy?! No! Kid Sister said you couldn't come back!"
A lot of weird stuff will be happening in this movie, dead things will move about, and kids will be in danger, but this imagery never directly referenced again. I could speculate, but I really wish this scene had a call back to be more clear.

The next day Roger travels to his aunt's old house, intent on staying there awhile. He's met by a real estate broker, who takes him inside, and takes him on a tour, until he points out that he lived in the house as a child.

He takes Roger outside to show him the work that's been done to spruce the house up for a sale. This includes fixing up the pool. Roger makes it clear he isn't ready to sell the place yet. And that he will be staying there for some time, to write.

"Am I cutting this shrub in the past or the future? And
how will that affect the resale value?"
As they look around, we suddenly cut to a kid playing in the yard (And, I cannot tell if it's the same kid. He seems different. And, at least the clothes he's wearing aren't the same. So I assume it's different kid.) We see Roger nearby, doing some yard work. Roger calls to the kid, Jimmy, but he's gone.

And, I am again confused. What happen? Have we jumped ahead a day or two suddenly? Is this a flashback? It's so abrupt.

Roger runs around looking for this kid. When he gets to the front of the house. He sees a car rev up and race around the street corner. Roger then runs up to the house screaming. His ex-wife runs out...So this is probably a flashback. Ah. He asks if she's seen their son.

The belly flop is not a recognized pool rescue method.
He then races around the back of the house and sees their son struggling in the aforementioned pool. He races over and dives in. But his son is gone. Not dead! Just not there.

He talks to the police and tells them that his son was in the pool. They just don't believe the kid could vanish like that. They are focused on a kidnapper.

The aunt pops in now, weirdly calm and chirpy. She explains that the house is to blame.

You know, if you knew your house was evil, why did you invite in your nephew and his family? And why are you staying there? ...She is coming off as a little unhinged, so that may be part of the reason.

Of course, no one believes her.
The writer's dilemma: Write your book, or wander around
the deadly haunted house.

Back in the present, Roger is settling in. He's trying to write, but can't get it started, he then is drawn to look around the house. And that's why you don't stay in a haunted house when you are trying to write. Just one excuse after another will float in through wall to delay.

"There's only one way out of this movie, Roger."
 He ends up in the upstairs, in his aunt's bedroom. While he looks around, he realizes he's not alone. His aunt is standing there, and she begins talking to him. She tells him that she underestimated the house. It got to her, tricked her, and destroyed her. It knows everything there is to know about it's victims, and uses it against them. And it will do the same to him. Than she hangs herself again.

This throws Roger into a bit of a panic. This is also the point where you have to start asking what mental state Roger is.

He saw a suspicious car near his house when his kid disappeared, and then momentarily saw his son in the pool. He thinks he saw his aunt hanging herself, then she vanished.

Is any of this real? Or is this a serious emotional or mental issue that Roger is dealing with. We won't know, until the movie heads towards it's finale.

In a way, that's makes the odd nightmare earlier, and the confusing flashback work. It starts disorienting us. What is going on? What is real? We will have to keep asking ourselves these questions.

From here on out the house will be taking a deepening mental toll on Roger. Things will attack him and disappear. Is memories, and hopes will betray  him.

"Hello. I'm Harold, I'll be your obligatory "colorful"
And this is where the neighbor, Harold Gorton, comes in. He's played by George Wendt, and offers a point of grounding in the movie, He's the guy that is living his normal mundane boring life, and intersecting with Roger's steadily more insane life inside the house.

He, like us, is wondering what is going on with Roger. Harold likes him, wants to help him, but is questioning whether Roger is safe with himself. Harold also helps draw Sandy back into the story. And towards the end helps make clear whether or not what Roger is experiencing is real or fantasy.

"I wonder if I'd get more work is I shaved my
As night falls, Roger finally finds himself able to dredge up his experiences in Vietnam to write. He goes back to his service and friendship with Ben. He's played by a favorite of 80's sitcom comedy fans, Richard Moll (Night Court). (But let's not forget his great voice put to great effect in so many cartoons. -- Batman The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, The Incredible Hulk, Batman: The Brave and The Bold, etc.)

They joke around and aren't taking the war seriously (they seem burned out). Then they are attacked, and get in a firefight.

With some progress in his work, he's distracted again from writing, and drawn over to a closet. Nothing is in it. But once midnight chimes strike on the clock, a monster emerges and attacks Roger.

"Surprise! ...You're not Mrs. Hooper?"
It is a disgusting mess. Arms reach out. Claws extend. And numerous face cry out from it's torso. It claws and scratches and Roger. But Roger manages to push back and get it back in the closet. And it's gone.

"I'm not crazy. I'm cunning."
Roger is again shaken. But he has a cunning plan. He sets up lights and an array of camera in front of the closet door. Then he places a rope on the door, to allow him to pull it open.

Having set this up. He runs through the plan. He opens the door, fires off the cameras, and then runs like hell. He's wearing army fatigues, a helmet, and goggles for this. As he leaves the room at a run he starts rolling and flipping (key to fast moving) and then flips off the top of the stairs and lands at the bottom of the staircase. He then runs and slides out the front door. Test  is successful.

And Harold is out front, walking his dog, catching Roger's little spectacle.

"Hey, Roger..." "I'm not crazy."
We can pause again now, and wonder. Is this real?

He goes back in the house and readies to finally try to draw out the monster. But when he pulls the door open...Nothing. He then remembers the chimes at midnight, and set's off the clock again. He readies to open the door and...Harold appears with food, freaking Roger out.

"Don't look at me like that. I do have a bright red costume
that gives me an array of super powers."
He finds it all impossible to explain, so Roger decides to humor Harold, and eats downstairs with him.

"Look at this! No deranged person could do this to
After a bit, he finally tells him that his aunt thought the place was haunted, and that he's starting to agree. Harold is a little worried. He then shows off scars he says the monster in the closet left on his chest. Harold still finds it all hard to believe. It seems like something from Roger's books, from a vivid imagination. Luckily, Roger is still wondering, could he be crazy? It all leaves Harold eager to just leave.

When Harold gets home, he finds the number for Sandy, and calls. He tries to explain that he's Roger's neighbor, and that he's worried about Roger's mental state. He hopes she can check on him. She says she can't travel for the next day or more, as she has to be at the film studio working. But she says she will try to call him.

Back with Roger and the house, he's getting more of his story written, as he progresses in the story he recalls moving through the jungle with Ben. He struggles as he gets to the point at which they were attacked again. The attack resulted in the seeming death of Ben, which seems to deeply haunt Roger.

As he is trying to face the memories the house continues to come after him. It throws one of his son's toys on the ground near him. Then a mounted fish starts flapping on the wall, and hits him.

Okay, I've forgotten the NRA math. A crazy guy
with a gun negates what again?
He decides to escalate. He goes to...I don't know, it looks like a gun room...and gets a shotgun. Oh...Oh, this isn't a good idea.

He's seeing things. He's troubled. He can't sleep. And now he's heavily armed. And, of course, bullets are great against ghost.

As he grabs some ammunition, the tools on the wall near him come alive. An ax flies at him. Then shears and other sharp objects rise and fly at him, almost striking as he exits the room.

He stumbles around the house, and then finds his way back to the mounted fish. He shoots the fish. Then covers it with a cloth. ...Well, that fixes everything. As he goes around the house, he finds the sharp floating tools have found him, and he manages to trap them in a room.

NO! You quote that line from Army of Darkness.
Then Sandy is there, standing in the front door, saying she's been trying to call him all night. He puts his gun down, but a loose shell rolls off the table. Sandy bends over to pick it up, and when she appears back from under the table. It's no longer Sandy.

It's some hideous creature, a caricature of Sandy. Laughing, it attacks Roger.

It knocks him back. And when he gets up he grabs up the shotgun. He then proceeds to shoot the creature twice, sending it back through the front doors of the house.

When he reaches it, he finds no creature. Just Sandy. Dead.

And now the questions. Is this Sandy? Did she come here to visit him, worried? Did she come, and get snatched when she went under the table, like (possibly) their kid was in the pool? Is it all just a vile trick of the house?

We won't know until the end of the movie.

Obviously, Roger is in even more a state now. He doesn't know what is happening. What is and isn't real is hard for him to delineate.

But there is a body, his ex-wife's body. So, he drags it in the house and puts it in a cupboard under the stairs. Then the police arrive, Harold called them when he heard the shots, thinking it might be a suicide (Oddly all the shooting of the fish the night before was missed). He claims the gun misfired, and they believe him (Ah. Being white.). He ends up bringing them in the house, to not seem suspicious. He ends up nervously following them around, afraid they will somehow stumble on the body.

I've heard about people being militant about Spring
Cleaning, but this is ridiculous.
Finally they all leave, and when he goes to check the body...Remember last paragraph? Remember when I said there was a body? Strike that. It's gone.

There's a dead body on the loose in the house. So, he begins a search of the house, fireplace poker in hand.

"Boy, I tell you, if you my wife was here I'd giver her a
peice of my...She's right behind me, isn't she?" 
He follows sounds into a room, and in jumped from behind. The dead wife creature mocks Roger. It tells him his son is dead. But Roger refuses to believe this.

"Oh his is not a win, Roger. This is just an own goal."
Roger jumps up and runs from it. He gets to a door and opens it. Behind the door are all the floating weapons he trapped before. They fly out and hit the monster, stabbing and then decapitating it.

Now, this has to make me wonder about what is happening in the house. Let's assume it's a real. The house sent those objects at Roger to kill him. Then when they were trapped they waited. Fine. Then when it sends the creature after him, it let's one implement destroy another?

Are there different forces at work? Does the right hand not know what the left is doing? Is it just supposed to macabrerrific?

Roger is rather ecstatic at this. Goes a bit manic. And the song "You're No Good" starts playing as he begins to bag up and dismember the creature (We'll all hope it's some demonic monster...because remember the options.).

He then takes out the parts and buries them throughout the backyard.  All that space used to bury the parts of just one monster...We're going to need a bigger yard (Huh!).

"Get a gun. Check. Kill a demon that looked like my wife. Check. Dismember demon. Check. Bury in scattered holes.
Check. Take medication...I can do that later."

He beings searching the house more, trying to figure things out. He goes to the table where he last saw his wife. He goes to the pool. He roots around the drawers.

Reason for Leash Laws, Number 419
Later as he stands outside thinking, he notices the holes are being dug, and finds a dog has found one segment of the monster. And so begins a chase to recover and beat...the hand.

Along with this struggle. he gets saddled by one of his neighbors with watching her kid. During this time, the kid almost gets taken. He's pulled into a room, then the creatures inside peak out, in contempt for Rogers.

A side note. We can all have our opinions about how ghosts and monsters get portrayed. But I have to admit, while some of these movie's monsters can look a little silly and very 80's...I miss that. I am tired of every scary ghost looking like it just stepped out of a several year old Japanese horror movie. I miss our weird freakish figures.

Also we see two creatures with the kid. So, are there multiple entities in the house that just materialize to suit there needs? Are these creatures a separate feature to the dangers in the house? I am curious.

He races into the room, to see that the little kid is being pulled up a chimney. He grabs the kid's feet and struggles to hold on. After a fight, he manages to pull the kid out to safety.

And the kid never tells his mom what happened...Fine.

"Hey. I have a crazy...Fun! ...a fun idea."
Perhaps having a moment of lucidity, Roger decides to drag Harold into his business. He pretends that what he's really trying to find his a crazy raccoon that's getting in the house. So, being a good neighbor, Harold agrees to help.

It's time to face that closet monster.

Roger gives him a spear gone, with a fishing line on it, to keep the "raccoon" from escaping. Harold is a little dubious, but helps out. And when Roger opens the closet, out comes the monster.

They do spear it, but it retreats inside, the line entangling Roger, and pulling him in as well. And when he lands, Roger finds himself somewhere very familiar. Vietnam.

"Roger. Promise me that if something happens to me,
you'll ironically appear in an episode of House."
He sees Ben near him. He's as we last saw him, dying from bullet wounds. He begs Roger to finish him off. But Roger can't do it.

He tells Ben he'll get help. But Ben demands that he kill him. But Roger runs. When he leaves him the North Vietnamese forces reappear and drag him away. As he goes, he swears he'll get Roger for this.

Roger keeps running. He sees a door of light, and goes through it. It leads him back into the house. There he finds Harold waiting, and drinking.

Putting Harold to bed, Roger looks around, and takes note of the last of the weird paintings being done in the house (Remember them? They were explained to be produced by his aunt.). Looking at it, he realizes that his son is in the painting, in the mirror of the bathroom. He checks the mirror, then smashes it through, opening an echoing black chasm.

Out of the chasm comes arms and tentacles that try and pull Roger through. But he fights them off. He then prepares to enter the chasm.

Enters the chasm, he repels down. On his way he is beset by flying skeletons. After a couple of attacks, they take his weapons from him.

But he finally reaches the bottom, which is all water. But this leads him back to Vietnam again. This time though he finds that he it isn't Ben there to see him. It's his son. He's in a bamboo prison, dirty and worn out. But he knows his dad.

Pulling him out, Roger takes his son to the water and they swim. They end up emerging in the pool behind the house...somehow. (I am really not clear about how the portals work in this movie.) Still, it seems it's all over. ...If only.

No, we still have a Final Boss.

"All your bases are belong to us."
As they seek to leave the house, they are met by an imposing force at the front door. Ben. Rather the desiccated and pissed off corpse of Ben now, he wants revenge.

And this part of the movie that just feels unnecessary, for the most part. It feels like some of the logic and feel of the movie are abandoned here. Because now, Roger is faced with an out and out villain. A physcial force. And, we might as well kick in the Scooby Doo chase music.

Now a chase through the house begins. Ben shoots at them. He chases Roger onto the roof. Then through the house again. They fight a little. And then, somehow, Roger is hanging from a cliff behind the house.

Damn you, hillside erosion!
Of course, it is worth remembering now that the house is said to mess with you, to drive you to kill yourself. So a changed geography of the house (in the mind) does make sense. Roger clamors back up and goes looking for Ben again.

"You lost him again, Roger? What is your problem?"
When he finds him, Ben has his son. He threatens to kill the kid. The only way to stop it is for Roger to kill himself. It's then that Ben slices at Roger's hand, seeming to slice into it. But the hand is fine. Roger finally gets the house.

Ben can't hurt them. He has no real power. So Roger takes his kid, and then takes a grenade from Ben and shoves it into his chest cavity.

Okay, wait. Is it that Ben can't hurt them? Or is it that the house can't hurt them? Because, first, Ben seems to have been smacking Roger around pretty good. Also, if you remember, the closet monster left scratches when it attacked him the first time. So, is it all illusionary pain? And scars? And cuts? ...I am having troubles with the hypothesis.

Don't worry. Apparently it's the harmless
kind of fire.
Father and son run, and Ben goes boom. As they head out, the fire spreads through the house...I thought Roger said that they couldn't really hurt him? That fire seems kind of real, and dangerous. (Not to mention the house has the power to imprison children for...years? -- I have no idea how long the kid was missing. It wasn't made clear.)

"...I think I'll just get back in the cab."
And as the fire rages, Sandy drives up. Yes. She is alive. She never came to the house. So...there's that.

"Hmm? Yeah, I know you want to go son.
But daddy needs a moment for a heroic
And then, father and son exit the house. No, take your time, Roger. Not like there's a fire, or anything.

When they see Sandy, her son is eager to reach her. And he runs to her, and they embrace.

"Wait until you meet your new dad, Lee Majors"
Not the whole family. Mom and son embrace. I am not sure Sandy is looking to go down that path again.

Particularly when Roger is standing in front of a burning inferno looking like this...
"Hey gang? I just got offered a great job over at the Stanley Hotel.
Let's all go and bond."
And him smiling creepily is how they end the movie. Really.

After the credits I like to imagine that Roger was committed to a place where he could be finally get some rest. (Someone just burnt his house to the ground. And his long missing kid just pops back up where he was kidnapped from.) And Jimmy is ready for a life time of therapy.

It is an interesting movie. I think it does a good job of giving you reason to doubt Roger's sanity for a good chunk of the movie. And even when you see that there are creatures at work in the house...He still doesn't seem all that stable.

It makes it a more interesting movie for that. A movie that works far better than it has the right to work, based on what was made.

The ending fight hampers things. If a theme of Roger's doubts and guilt was more strongly presented in the whole movie, the ending could have been earned. As it was, the focus was on whether the house would get to him, and whether he could find his son. Once that was done, the rest was inconsequential. It actually would have made more sense if, in escaping the house and the creatures with his son, Roger took the action of destroying the house.

It was a strange journey, but watching this movie can prove worthwhile.

But I am left with...many questions. But two mainly, why are were kids being grabbed? Jimmy was taken years (maybe) before and was just sitting in a cage waiting. Why? Do they eat kids? Do they turn them into new creatures? Were all the odd creatures in the house originally children that had been kidnapped? I would have liked more.

Second, what was at work in the house? Were there just the little creatures we saw, with their rubbery faces? Was the closet monster another thing? Or are they just manifestations of the house?

The trouble we have in the movie is that we see everything from Roger's perspective. So it all ties to the Vietnam War. It ties to victimized kids. It ties to his guilt over failings as a comrade, father, and husband. It seems that if a different person had been there, the results would be quite different. (And if only that had been the point of some of the other House movies.)

So if you need to see some Man vs House, check out House. Not the sequels! The original. (I am almost tempted by the third one. Lance Henriksen playing a cop. New house being moved into. Family in danger from a dangerous criminal...But if I want to see that done well, I could just turn on episodes of Millennium. But that will be for another day...But someday.)

For now though, next time we'll go a bit lighter with some family bonding with family that just didn't get any love...from the viewers.

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