Saturday, June 6, 2015

House II: The Second Story (1987)

... aka: House 2

Directed by:
Ethan Wiley

We've all heard the saying "Never change a winning team." This follow-up to the financially successful first film more-or-less abides by that adage, keeping the same producer (Sean S. Cunningham), scriptwriter, cinematographer (Mac Ahlberg), fx artists and composer (Harry Manfredini). However, director Steve Miner has been replaced here by first-timer Ethan Wiley, who had previously scripted the original film and also wrote this one. Instead of going for the same horror / comedy (with serious undertones) formula of the first or even doing a traditional sequel, this has nothing at all to do with HOUSE and is more like a children's fantasy movie than a horror film. Hell, take away a few instances of mild profanity and a bit of cartoon-like violence and this pretty much is a kid's movie, which, I guess, shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering the director had previously worked on the cutesy special effects for such films as Return of the Jedi (1983) and Gremlins (1984). Wiley himself didn't seem all that pleased with the finished product and has noted in several interviews that he only had a few weeks to work on the script before the film was rushed into production.

A couple hand their baby off to safety before being gunned down in their own home. Twenty-some years later, Jesse McLaughlin (Arye Gross), the now-grown baby, shows up to take ownership of the house. Why it took so long is anyone's guess. He and his music scout girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln) move in, Jesse's goofy friend Charlie Coryell (Jonathan Stark) and his Madonna-wannabe singer girlfriend Lana (Amy Yasbeck) swing by for a few days to help them get settled in and then lots of strange things, hastened by Jesse trying to discover more about his family, begin happening. Reading some books he finds there about his lineage, Jesse decides to dig up the grave of his great-great grandpa (I guess that's what people did prior to Ancestry.com) in order to find a mythical crystal skull rumored to have magical powers. What he doesn't expect is to find his ornery, 170-year-old mummified "Gramps" (played by Royal Dano in corpse makeup) alive in his tomb.

After Gramps moves in and the skull is placed on the fireplace mantle, portals to other dimensions open, creatures turn up and all kinds of other silly events transpire. During a Halloween party, one room turns into a jungle and a musclebound caveman turns up to steal the skull, prompting our heroes to venture into the portal where they encounter stop-motion dinosaurs and other creatures (several of whom sneak their way back into the 'real world'). They then have to do battle with some Aztec warriors whose temple is located inside the fireplace, as well as zombie gunslinger Slim Reeser (Dean Cleverdon); Gramps' rivals and the guy who killed Jesse's parents. A scene with Jesse, Charlie, the zombie grandpa, a rescued Aztec virgin (played by Playboy model Devin Devazquez), a hyper puppet pterodactyl baby and a cute "caterpuppy" (caterpillar + puppy hybrid) all sitting around a dinner table preparing to eat pretty much sums up this films tone.

The fantasy elements and the powers of the crystal skull aren't well-established at all. Supposedly, having the skull in one's possession not only grants immortality but also gives one control over both space and time. None of that is really exploited here in an interesting way. It's all pretty much just a silly excuse to show off some special effects that, while admittedly fun, do not a good film make all by themselves. Aside from that, the best things about this one are Dano (who's wonderful here and even calls Ronald Reagan a "pansy" at one point!) and a small role for John Ratzenberger as an inept electrician who shows up out of nowhere to help battle the Aztecs before exiting stage left. The cast also includes a hilariously baby-faced Bill Maher as a slimy music executive for "Heretic Records," Plan 9 from Outer Space star Gregory Walcott as a sheriff, Mitzi Kapture (from the TV series Silk Stalkings) as a cowgirl and Kane Hodder (also the stunt coordinator) as a party guest dressed as a gorilla. Ronn Carroll and Dwier Brown from the first movie also have small roles.

As far as further "House" titles are concerned, they're all pretty much unrelated to one another. House III (about an executed psycho coming back for revenge) is actually The Horror Show (1989) re-titled for overseas distribution. House IV: Home Deadly Home (1992) has original star William Katt returning to the series playing a character with the same name as the guy he played in the first film, though otherwise the films are not related.


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