Episode XXXV: House (with its writer Ethan Wiley!)

house

Hear House writer Ethan Wiley on the podcast to this episode

By: Bo from Last Blog on the Left

Film: House (1986)
Rated: R
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.

 

wiseacrefilmsEthan 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:

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‘Night of the Demons’

Title: Night of the Demons (1988)
Rated: R
Directed by: Kevin Tenney
Starring: Linnea Quigley as Suzanne
                Amelia Kinkaid as Angela
                Billy Gallo as Sal
Tagline: “Angela is having a party…Freddy and Jason are too scared to come. But you’ll have a hell of a time.”           

By Shelley Stillo

Pre-screening memories: When people ask me to recommend a legitimately scary movie, I’ll usually say Nightmare on Elm Street or Night of the Demons.  Trouble is, I don’t remember the first thing about Night of the Demons. Sitting down to write these pre-screening memories has revealed to me that I can honestly only conjure up one scene from the entire movie.  And what I remember isn’t really scary.  So why has this film stuck with me all of these years? 

It may be because I also remember it as one of the naughtiest films I’ve ever seen.  I don’t remember why, but I do know that my prudish 12-year-old self was shocked by this film.  And if there is any stage when fear and sex combined are going to make their strongest impression, it would be the preteen years. I’m not sure, given the fact that I’ve oft thought about this film, why I haven’t taken the opportunity to revisit it before.  One reason might be that, as I got older and started enjoying my horror with company, I was afraid the film would be even naughtier than I remembered, and lead to an embarrassing group viewing experience.  (This has really happened to me–more than once–with the odd anime screening).

The one scene I do remember from the film does nothing to underscore either the films’ scariness nor its naughtiness.  It is a “Twilight Zone”-style morality moment that occurs at the end of the film.  At some point in the movie, we are introduced to an elderly man who plans to put razor blades in his apples on Halloween night.  In the final moments of the film, his wife decides to bake him an apple pie.  He realizes, with shock, horror, and dismay, that the pie has been made of left over apples just as several razor blades cut through his throat.  How he managed to chew and swallow the razor blades without noticing them, and while leaving them intact enough to cut through his flesh, is anyone’s guess.  When his wife smiles at the end of the film, we realize that she has killed him on purpose, likely as revenge for his feeding razor blades to the kids in the first place.  I’m sure, as an avid watcher of weekly television horror and sci-fi programs, I didn’t find this moment in the least scary, but I was satisfied with the joke.

New memories:  Immediately after I re-viewed this film, I was fairly stunned that I’d remembered it at all.  It was still plenty naughty, maybe a little more than other ’80s horrors (though certainly no more naughty than Revenge of the Nerds), but it wasn’t scary, or even that interesting.  It has a very standard plot:  a group of teens, featuring all the typical players — the good girl, the ‘greaser,’ the token black guy, the goth girl, the slut, the party couple, etc. — break into an abandoned funeral parlor to throw a Halloween party.  They decide to hold a seance and unknowingly unleash a demonic force that commences to possess the party guests one by one. Who will survive to party another day?

I kept thinking about the movie though.  It would have been easy to say “well, what a 12 year old found appealing in 1988 just isn’t appealing anymore.”  But I couldn’t just leave it at that because this movie continues to have a very solid reputation among horror fans; yes, even those who have seen it recently as adults.  I kept trying to think what could make this movie “hold up” for so many people.  One reason is certainly the appearance of horror goddess Linnea Quigley in the film, who teases here certainly capitalize on her tombstone striptease from Return of the Living Dead.  But I think the real appeal of this film is how it simply embraces the genre, its heights and its foibles.  It never moves into the realm of horror comedy, but it doesn’t take itself seriously.  Without pretension, it uses the tools — self consciously, I’m beginning to suspect — the genre provides and runs riot with them.  So, unless you’re trying to recapture an experience that is 15 years gone, and mostly forgotten, it is easy to get into the spirit of the film and go revel in the fun.  It’s not a film that exceeds genre expectations, but its not a soulless regurgitation of them either.

Would Shelley still accept the invitation to the party? Find out here, or listen below:

‘Hellraiser’

Hellraiser (1987)
Rated: R
Written and Directed by: Clive Barker
Starring: Andrew Robinson as Larry Cotton
                Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton
                Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton
                Doug Bradley as Lead Cenebite (aka Pinhead)

Tagline: It will tear your soul apart!

By: Shelley Stillo

Pre-screening memories: The thing I remember most about viewing Hellraiser as a pre-teen is precisely how much it didn’t effect me. I got started as a horror fan young. I was raised by a group of pop culture mavens who compared family members to characters from Poltergeist and Children of the Damned, who let me stay up late and watch Tales From the Darkside on overnight visits to their houses. By the time I was 10, I’d had the good sense to become best friends with the video-store lady’s daughter.

In those pre-blockbuster days, the horror shelf in the video store was a special place—a vast undiscovered country of illicit sights. Today, as most people order their dvds from Amazon based on movies they’ve already seen or heard of, or worse yet, they `flix everything they watch, DVD cover art is a pretty sanitized business. Actors you recognize, a scene from the film, the promo poster you’ve seen a thousand times. Mid-80s VHS cover art was different, especially in the horror aisle. Intense color and extreme graphics were the only ways to give your film a chance to be seen, especially in an era when many horror films were independently produced or released direct to video. VHS covers could be downright terrifying. A trip down the horror aisle at the video store could often be an act of bravery for my 10-year-old self, and, unfortunately, most often a much richer artistic experience than viewing the films inside those Technicolor cases.

But it was also an act of pure pleasure, as I anticipated my weekly visits to the horror aisle with an insane glee other children reserved for Disneyland. In the three or four years during which my best friend’s mother worked at the video store, my friend and I burned through every horror film on the shelf, each of our family’s taking weekly turns at playing host to our all-night bloodbath versions of the pre-teen girl sleepover.

Back then, Hellraiser was just another movie to add to the list of horror films I’d seen. Even though “Pinhead” was already an iconic figure in the genre by the time I’d encountered him, he left little to no impression on me. I liked that he was a cool-looking villain, but I didn’t know why he got so much attention in all of those horror documentaries I watched. And while this lack of effect was in part a consequence of my attraction to more kid-friendly horror—the comical Freddy films that spewed forth from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and PG-13 Stephen King adaptions chief among them—it wasn’t like I had no appreciation for more mature horror. I also counted Nosferatu and The Haunting among my favorite films. But Pinhead and his “magic box” never meant anything to me, besides the occasional ability to quicken my heart—and my step—when I saw their images on a VHS box.

New memories: I was recently able to view Hellraiser on the big screen, and my immediate reaction was “I’ve never really seen this movie before.” Even though Hellraiser has most likely made numerous appearances on my horror viewing lists (which haven’t stopped growing), I never really saw the movie until I watched it this year. This is obviously due to the fact that as a pre-teen horror fan, I had no capacity whatsoever to understand the erotic dynamics of a horror film that explicitly delves into the world of sado-masochistic pleasure (“Demons to some, angels to others” indeed). But because I’ve heard countless talking heads ruminate about Barker’s use of this subject matter over the years, I really thought I had a sense of this film—what it was about and how it worked—even though I hadn’t seen it for at least ten years. But I really had no idea, which can be a bit of a surreal experience, to realize that something you honestly believed to be familiar is actually an absolute unknown.

Obviously, as someone enthusiastic about rebel art (an enthusiasm that was only stoked by Barker’s own live introduction to the screening I saw, which included blow-job jokes and a raspy “Art should never be made for the man. Art should be made to take down the man.”), I was impressed by the frankness with which this film approached the topic of pain as pleasure. But the film seemed to go even further than that by criticizing, or at least portraying as equally horrific, the “normal” sexual couple. Kirstie’s father’s and boyfriend’s obliviousness to possibilities that don’t conform to their narrow view of the world seems as problematic as Uncle Frank and Stepmother Julia’s (if you can’t tell, there’s also a bit of an incest plot here, which only adds intensity to the atmosphere of the film) violent fantasies.

The other thing that keeps this film resonant and current is how well the special effects have held up. As a frequent attendee of midnight movies, I can definitely say that special effects rarely hold up. But despite the outrageouness of some of the imagery Barker tries to capture—the aforementioned skinless Frank and the “meat board” are two notable examples—you never laugh or flinch at an outdated technique watching this film. Perhaps it is actually because of Barker’s outrageousness that these visual moments hold up. The depths of imagination it takes to conjure such images guarantees that they’ll shock and disturb, even at more than 20 years old.

I can’t end this review without a word about the cenobites. They’re inventive villains, even to a 10-year-old who has no grasp of their meaning. In context (or, more accurately, when the context is understood), they’re the kind of characters that attach themselves to your psyche, and may never be completely shaken loose. The rich dialogue they’re given helps (quotes), but their visual characteristics truly are the stuff of nightmares. And as much as Pinhead is still a cool looking villain, it’s the sound of those chattering teeth that keeps me up at night today.

Is Shelly still interested in raising ‘Hell’ after all these years? Listen to the podcast, or dowload it here.

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