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House Series – Review: Part 1

20 Nov

Horror and comedy go together better than most genre combinations. It’s fun to be scared at the movies and it’s also fun to laugh at yourself being scared, so why not mix both into one movie? In 1980, Sean S. Cunningham created one of the most iconic horror franchises ever with his movie Friday the 13th, and Steven Miner continued his franchise with two sequels. What some people may not know is that they collaborated again in 1986 with a horror comedy called House. It wasn’t as big of a success as their previous works, but it did spawn a series that I’ve never really heard anyone talk about. Could there be a reason for that? Let’s find out.

Roger Cobb (William Katt) is an author who is struggling to find inspiration for his new book about his experiences in the Vietnam War. After his estranged aunt (Susan French) commits suicide in her home, Roger decides to move in and take care of the place while also hoping to be inspired in the house he used to live in before a tragedy forced him and his wife, Sandy (Kay Lenz), to separate. What Roger wasn’t expecting was that this house would be a portal for all sorts of creatures and ghouls to come through and torment him during the night and threaten his very existence. Now, it’s up to Roger and his especially nosy neighbor, Harold (George Wendt), to stop the specters from threatening the rest of the neighborhood and completely destroying Roger.

There are plenty of reasons that make House an appealing movie to see. For one thing seeing the Greatest American Hero and Norm from Cheers teaming up to fight creatures in a haunted house is hilarious. Both William Katt and George Wendt bring their comedic chops to the table while also functioning well in the film’s more serious scenes. There’s also some clever special effects and creature design that don’t use any kind of computer effects, of course. I’m a sucker for things like that so any movie that utilizes these kind of costumes already has a leg up in my book. While House is definitely more of a comedy, it does also touch on the PTSD that many soldiers go through after a war, with this one being Vietnam. It adds a layer of drama that was a little unexpected, but certainly welcome.

While there’s plenty to enjoy with House, it really isn’t all that special. A lot of the comedy is very childish despite the movie being rated R, and I don’t feel like it really embraced the off the walls insanity it may have been going for. I just felt like something big was missing from this movie. There’s no scene that’s exactly memorable and it’s a movie I feel like I may not remember too much about as time goes on. It also takes quite a while for things to really start happening, which is kind of strange because this is a pretty short movie at just an hour and a half. There’s also a character who exists solely so that there can be a funny scene with a kid in the middle of the movie. It was a really entertaining bit, but this character was just useless and didn’t make any kind of impact on the story.

One of the first words I used to describe House after I just finished watching it was “cute.” It’s a serviceable horror comedy that can be easily watched and disposed of. I really wanted a lot more from the movie, however. For an R rated horror comedy, it’s really quite tame, and that’s surprising since it’s coming from the creative forces behind Friday the 13th and a few of its sequels. This is a movie that seems to have sort of faded into obscurity despite the fact that it has William Katt and George Wendt fighting demons. That in and of itself was enough for me to watch it. House isn’t a bad film, but don’t go in expecting too much.

Final Grade: C

While House wasn’t that much of a success, there was still a sequel released one year later, and I have to say I love the title: House II: The Second Story. Get it? Like the second floor? Story? Moving on.

Jesse (Arye Gross) and his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln) are a well off couple who move into a mansion that has been part of Jesse’s family for generations. While they’re there, Jesse does some investigating into his past and finds that his great great grandfather found a crystal skull in an Aztec temple and it may or may not be buried with him in the graveyard on the hill next to the house. This prompts Jesse and his friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) to head over and dig up the grave. What they don’t know is that the corpse isn’t a corpse, but is very much alive and insists on Jess and Charlie calling him Gramps (Royal Dano) after being dug up, crystal skull in hand. Now, Jesse, Charlie, and Gramps have to keep their secret from Kate and her nosy boss, John (Bill Maher), while also defending the skull and the house from extra dimensional beings and time travelers who want the skull for themselves, especially Gramps’ old foe, Slim Reeser.

Remember how I used the word “cute” to describe the original film? Well House II is even more so, and I may have to go so far as saying it isn’t even a horror movie. This film is heavy on the comedy and fantasy but very light on the scares. This works both for and against the movie. Let’s start with the negatives so I can focus a bit on the fun stuff later. House II is a follow up to a horror comedy, so I went in expecting a horror comedy. Since I didn’t get that I feel like the movie comes off as both a little unnecessary and kind of disappointing. For most of the movie the comedy also comes off as excruciatingly obvious and not delivered all that well. Arye Gross isn’t much of a heroic presence and his line delivery often times comes out very awkward. The same can be said for Jonathan Stark, which is a problem since he’s supposed to be the main source of the comedy for most of the movie.

If I’m going to be completely honest, this is kind of a hard movie to be overly critical with because it is such a light hearted film. In fact, in terms of it’s tone, it was more in line than the first House. Royal Dano as Gramps is hilarious and Bill Maher works great as the slimy boss with eyes for Kate. John Ratzenberger also has a small part towards the end and he is easily the best part of the movie. If I can be honest again, I have to say that this movie was very entertaining. There was some cool make up effects for Gramps and Slim Reeser and there’s also some fun puppet work when dinosaurs get involved. Yeah, I said it. Dinosaurs. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is and has fun with it, and it never gets bogged down with drama. Drama’s absolutely great, but House II was determined to be a comedy so it stuck with that.

I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this, and I may be in the minority here, but I enjoyed House II: The Second Story more than the first movie. Both have their positives and negatives, but my biggest complaint with the first one was that it didn’t go far enough. The second movie dives head first into weird and doesn’t stop to take a breath. It is a tame outing, but it’s fun and so light hearted it’s hard not to enjoy it just a little bit. If you’re going in expecting a horror comedy like the last film, you may be disappointed. This one is more of a fantasy adventure mixed with comedy. If that’s still your cup of tea, I recommend this one with a smile on my face.

Final Grade: C+

Well there’s the first two House movies for you. Both aren’t masterpieces, but they certainly aren’t bad. They’re both light comedies that blend horror, fantasy, and some adventure. They aren’t movies you have to watch right this second, but they’re completely serviceable entertainment. Check back soon for the second part of this review where I’ll be talking about House III: The Horror Show and House IV.

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Doctor Strange – Review

6 Nov

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown and expanded so much more than I ever expected since the days of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. After showcasing those more mainstream heroes, including Captain America and Thor, it was time for Marvel and Disney to add something new to the mix and bring in some lesser known heroes. Ant Man was the first to really go somewhere strange, and the inclusion of Black Panther in Civil War was just awesome. Now, with Doctor Strange, we’re going down a wormhole that I never expected to see in an MCU movie. This is probably the most unique film in the entire franchise, and is most definitely one of my new favorites. Who woulda thunk it?

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Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an accomplished, world renowned neurosurgeon who may operate on other people, but it only working for himself and his own inflated ego. After a devastating car accident leaves him with permanent nerve damage in his hands, Strange tries every medical technique he can find until he hears about this mystical clan in Kathmandu that helped a paraplegic walk again. Upon arriving at the secret training ground, Kamar-Taj, Strange is shown the secrets of multidimensional existence by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and is appointed a teacher, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Though reluctant at first, Strange becomes a star pupil and soon has to put everything he’s learned to the test when the treacherous magician Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) returns to unleash dark lord Dormammu and the Dark Dimension onto the earth.

I knew next to nothing about this character before going into this movie, so my expectations were a little weird. I was expecting something entertaining and disposable like Ant Man, but I got something so much more. This is more than just a comic book action film. While it works as an adaptation of a Marvel comic that builds on a universe that keeps on growing, it’s also a really impressive and mid bending fantasy. Listening to the characters talk about muliverses and mirror dimensions along with the lingering presence of the Dark Dimension and Dormammu just sounded so cool. It made even the extended scenes of dialogue feel just as exciting as the scenes with magic. The world that the screenwriters crafted with Doctor Strange is so fantastical, it’s impossible to complain at all about the lack of imagination put into superhero movies.

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So while the dialogue is all really cool, it wouldn’t be worth it if all the magic and special effects on display couldn’t match what they are all talking about. This is where Doctor Strange shines the brightest. This film has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. There was one point in the movie where Strange, Mordo, and Kaecilius are fighting and running through a city that is completely folding in on itself and coming apart like a kaleidoscope. Some of that scene was shown in the trailers, but it’s so much crazier than the trailers ever made it out to be. It was like Inception on steroids and LSD. The climax of the movie also plays out much differently than in most movies like this. It fits in very well with the rest of the movie and will certainly not disappoint.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as a Bostonian in Black Mass was a little awkward to say the least, so I was a bit concerned with how he’d handle the accent for Stephen Strange. My concerns were unwarranted since it’s clear he is the best choice for this character. He’s funny, arrogant, and sympathetic at the same time which makes this a fully realized character that is brought to life by a great performance by Cumberbatch. Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor also give very good performances, but I have to give an extra special shout out to Mads Mikkelson as Kaecilius. While his character didn’t have nearly as much screen time as I may have wanted, he stole every scene he was in and is one of the more memorable villains in the recent MCU.

 

Doctor Strange has so much imagination, action, fantasy, and humor crammed into it that it sometimes feel like it might burst from the awesomeness. The actors all do a splendid job with the roles and the special effects are going to make you feel like a kid on Christmas. This is definitely one of the better movies in the MCU, and while it may not be the best, it’s definitely one of my new favorites in the franchise.

Final Grade: A