Hear House writer Ethan Wiley on the podcast to this episode
By: Bo from Last Blog on the Left
Film: House (1986)
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Fred Dekker and Ethan Wiley
Starring: William Katt as Roger Cobb
George Wendt as
Richard Moll as Big Ben
Kay Lenz as Sandy Sinclair
Tagline: Horror has found a new home.
Pre-Screening Memories: To be fair, I loved the movie House as a kid. Really loved it. Despite the R rating it carried, it was a movie that was harmless enough to keep the parents from fretting, and it contained enough gore and strangeness to keep a newly crowned teenager coming back for more. My memories of the film were faint, but not too obscured by time to feel as distant as, say, Explorers. I still think trauma may have had something to do with that one.
So, House is the story of Roger Cobb, a horror novelist who moves into his aunt’s home after her death. The house is filed with memories, both of Roger’s youth with his aunt and the disappearance of Roger’s son. Roger recalls seeing the young tyke in the pool, but, after jumping in after the kid, finds himself alone in the pool. Much like a werewolf bar mitzvah, that is both spooky and scary.
Roger finds himself alone in the house, separated from soap opera actress/wife Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), devoted to the idea that he is finally going to write his Vietnam memoirs. Unfortunately, Roger is beset by odd neighbors, including Harold (George Wendt from Cheers), and some poltergeists, one of which is quite scratchy and lives in the closet. Metaphor, anyone? Seriously, though, the house comes at Roger from some odd angles. The missing kid showing up in the window’s reflection, a troll-like version of his wife, and the phantom of his dead aunt, warning him about the house’s attempts to trick Roger.
Ultimately, the movie marries the threads of Roger’s Vietnam memories and his missing son, culminating in a showdown between a zombified war buddy and Roger. I remember reading a review of this movie in a rag called The Horror Show from my youth which ended with the line (and I’m certainly paraphrasing from memory), “The film ends, perhaps not in as satisfying a manner as one would like, but, like all nightmares, it does end.” I think that’s about right. The problem I’ve found with almost all ‘haunted house’ movies is that, once you establish the creepiness of the haunting, how do you end it? Do you personify the house in a single entity like in House or do you go all psychological like The Haunting? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s an appropriate question.
New Memories: Upon viewing this movie as an adult, I couldn’t bring myself to dislike it. There are some goofy effects, some jokes that fall flat, some moments when the tone doesn’t quite jive, but I couldn’t hate it. House is the cinematic equivalent of a puppy for a horror fan. It just wants to please you soooo much, and it often succeeds, but it’s the effort that counts. The story, by and large, makes sense, and I really like television’s The Greatest American Hero, William Katt, in this one. I think he gives a pretty fun performance, if not always a consistent one. It was an important film for me as a burgeoning horror fan, understanding the delicate balance between horror and comedy. I have now seen House twice since my reintroduction to the movie, and it has been a wholly satisfying experience. It does my heart good to hear that a new generation has discovered this movie, this strange movie. Much like Big Ben, it won’t lay down and die, and I, for one, am happy to hear it.
Ethan Wiley makes a return to the House with Bo and Rob and recalls some fascinating tales from his years in the business, from sweeping floors at Industrial Light and Magic, to his puppeteering prowess in Gremlins and the mad skills of John Ratzenberger. Check out Ethan’s site as well, Wiseacre Films, for news on his current projects.
A big ‘thanks’ to Ethan for his contribution to this episode! You can hear it all here, or scroll down just a little bit: