DirectorSteve Miner/Ethan Wiley
Release Date(s)1986/1987 (April 11, 2017)
Studio(s)New World Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A-
- Overall Grade: B
Spearheaded by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham as the main producer, the House series began in 1986 and continued with three sequels, one of which was released in the U.S. with a different title. Mostly a mix of wacky horror plots, elaborate monsters, silly comedy, and nutty performances, the first movie was a popular staple of the VHS rental era, crossing boundaries between genre fans and general audiences. It also did well at the box office, mostly thanks to a successful marketing campaign. Eventually, like all movies in a series, each one lessened in quality and changed in approach once the initial concept had been abandoned.
House kicks the series off and tells the story of Roger Cobb (William Katt), a divorced and troubled novelist who after the suicide of his aunt, moves into the house where she had lived, as well as where his son disappeared several months prior. Once there, he begins experiencing supernatural phenomena, from monsters to illusions to gardening tools chasing him through hallways, all while his nosy neighbor (George Wendt) believes that Roger is losing his mind. It’s a bonkers movie that attempts multiple genres, including comedy, horror, drama, and thriller, and just barely succeeds with all of them. However, there are many elaborate and memorable sequences that stand out, including multiple special effects make-up designs that help give the movie its goofy style. William Katt and George Wendt feel totally unhinged in their roles and seem to be having a lot of fun. Meanwhile, the story is going in several directions, including flashbacks to Roger in Vietnam that wind up playing more of an important role in the plot much later. It’s a perfectly harmless and enjoyable movie that’s very playful in its approach.
House II: The Second Story, on the other hand, can barely be labeled as horror, let alone a movie. Reusing many of the same elements that made the first film profitable, it goes in a different story direction altogether, but not quite as successfully. It features a plot about a young guy named Jesse (Arye Gross) and his girlfriend (Lar Park Lincoln) who move into a house where Jesse’s parents were murdered when he was an infant. After the arrival of Jesse’s friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) and his girlfriend (Amy Yasbeck), both Jesse and Charlie being to investigate Jesse’s family cemetery, only to discover the reanimated corpse of his ancestor Gramps (Royal Dano). Learning of a crystal skull that Gramps and his partner discovered 100 years prior, it’s up to the three of them to keep it out of his partner’s undead hands while not getting killed in the process. Judging from that premise, the movie actually sounds more promising than it actually is. I honestly didn’t care for it and found it to be fairly insufferable for the most part. It’s more gonzo than the first, but not in an altogether good way. It does have some inventive and zany scenes, but just doesn’t know where it’s going whilst being crammed with characters that are difficult to tag along with. I can certainly see the appeal of it, but it just wasn’t one for me personally.
Sean S. Cunningham would go on to produce two more sequels: House III: The Horror Show, which was released as The Horror Show here in the U.S. but marketed elsewhere as the third House sequel, as well as House IV: The Repossession, released as simply House IV in the U.S. Both of these movies have their pros and cons, but ultimately, the first two movies in the series at least try to stick to the original idea of a fun horror movie, even though House II doesn’t fully succeed for me in that department. As a series, House is definitely lopsided, but with interesting entries throughout.
Arrow Video has managed to license all four movies in the series, releasing the first two in a boxed set called Two Stories while also retaining the rights for all four movies in the U.K., releasing them in a boxed set simply called The Collection (also reviewed here). For Two Stories, Region A discs are included and each film has been given a new 2K restoration from various sources, and once folks started getting these sets in their hands, discrepancies with the quality of each transfer began to emerge. I’ll get into that when I come across them, but as a warning up front, just know that I’m not too concerned with these problems. I am not as intimately knowledgeable about the home video presentations of these movies as other folks are, and I didn’t always notice the problems the first time through, so go ahead and assume that I’m going to go a little easier on these presentations than other reviewers.
House has been sourced from a 35mm interpositive element and looks really good. Grain levels seem fairly consistent with good color reproduction and decent skin tones, while black levels are mostly deep with shadow detail that sometimes leaves a little to be desired. Overall contrast and brightness levels are acceptable, and there are next to no film artifacts leftover. The transfer’s point of controversy is in its framing. On more than one occasion, more of the set and its crew is seen than was meant to be seen on all sides of the frame, particularly on the left. This has stirred up the Blu-ray collector community with some going so far as to say that it’s ultimately inferior to any previous SD release. While I can appreciate that argument, I respectfully disagree. Personally, I found these moments fleeting. They don’t crop up all that often and I doubt that many will even notice, let alone care all that much. So hardcore cinephiles that scrutinize every Blu-ray release to the Nth degree be forewarned, but otherwise, the transfer is quite strong and pleasant.
And although House II also has some framing issues, the quality shines through and actually favors slightly better than its predecessor by comparison. Again sourced from a 35mm interpositive, grain is much more consistent, as is fine detail. Colors are also richer with more natural, but not perfect, skin tones. Black levels are good, although not quite as deep, but with more satisfactory shadow detailing. Contrast and brightness levels are excellent and the overall presentation is stable and clean. There is a thin transparent line running through the right edge of the frame that is visible for the entire running time, which again, some viewers may not even notice. Otherwise, it’s a sharp-looking presentation. On the whole, outside of the framing issue, these movies have never looked better.
As for the audio of each film, House comes with three options: English 1.0, 2.0, and 5.1 LPCM. All three tracks have little distinction between them as it’s mostly the same audio elements placed within multiple channels, but the dialogue in the 5.1 definitely has a different tonal quality to it than the other two tracks. The 5.1 also doesn’t offer much in terms of dynamics or speaker-to-speaker activity, but it does widen the soundtrack out a bit, particularly the score. The mono track is definitely narrow and likely represents the film’s soundtrack more accurately, but I found the stereo track to be the happy medium between the two. Your mileage may vary here, and it’s just nice to have so many options to choose from. House II’s soundtrack options are slightly more limited, but they include English 2.0 mono and 5.1 LPCM tracks. Both are solid, but sonically, the 5.1 track has more of a push, especially when it comes to LFE activity. Dialogue is clean and clear, and both sound effects and score have decent room to breathe. Both films also come with optional subtitles in English SDH.
HOUSE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/B+/B+
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D+/A-/A-
As for the supplemental materials, this boxed set comes load for bare. The extras for House on Disc One include an audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt, and screenwriter Ethan Wiley; the feature-length Ding Dong, You’re Dead!: The Making of House documentary; a vintage The Making of House featurette; an animated still gallery; 2 theatrical trailers and a teaser; 3 TV spots; and a paper insert covering the restoration details of all four movies. House II’s extras on Disc Two include an audio commentary with writer/director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham; the hour-long It’s Getting Weirder!: The Making of House II documentary; a vintage EPK featurette; an animated still gallery; the theatrical trailer; and a TV spot. Also included is “The House Companion”, a 148-page hardcover booklet with an introduction and notes about each film in the series by Simon Barber, as well as press materials, artwork, behind the scene photos, and multiple posters from each film’s release.
Arrow Video’s attempt at a boxed set containing House and House II mostly succeeds, especially when it comes to the beautiful packaging and documentary material. All of it is well worth a watch. Some will ultimately find flaws in the transfers, causing them to stave off from purchasing this set, but the sticking point for me is the fact that all of the discs in the U.K. set all play on U.S. players, not to mention the fact that it’s almost the same price as the U.S. set. So whether or not you own a Region Free player doesn’t matter. If you want all of the films in the series plus more great extras, buy that set. However, if you’re someone who is only interested in the first two movies, you can’t go wrong with this purchase either.
- Tim Salmons