House II: The Second Story

The horror comedy is a tough bugger to pull off, make no mistake. Nailing the tone is essential and unless you know exactly what ratio of scares to smiles you’re aiming for you are all but guaranteed to leave an unmoved audience neither amused or alarmed. Get it right and you’ll reach the dizzying heights of the smart snark of Scream, the revisionist sniggers of An American Werewolf In London or the prat-falling belly laughs of Evil Dead 2; get it wrong and the best case scenario you’ll get is the quaint, shapeless mass that is House II: The Second Story – a film whose greatest joke is in it’s very subtitle…
The first House – an inventive, above average flick from Steve Miner – shoved a war traumatised horror author into a struggle with the rubbery ghouls that lurked within his aunt’s home in order to retrieve his abducted son and paired a semi-serious story with actual stakes with outlandish set pieces and Norm from Cheers, but the sequel decided to go it’s own route by introducing a new house and new characters while neglecting to add any actual horror while it went about it…

Jesse and his music producer girlfriend move into his gigantic ancestral home that he’s never actually seen ever since his parents were murdered when he was a baby and they are soon gate crashed by Jesse’s douche bag best buddy Charlie who is trying to get a record deal for his latest floozy. Being the thoughtful type, Jesse looks into the history of his unique abode and discovers it was build by his great great grandfather Jesse (who he was named after) and that old photos of him and his nefarious partner Slim Razor show him holding a mysterious crystal skull. Before you can say “Indiana Jones 4”, Jesse and Charlie are digging up “gramp’s” grave looking for the sparkly item only to find a resurrected zombie Gramps who was expecting to be rejuvenated when revived with the skull.
Getting over the fact that he now has to spend the rest of his existence as a leathery member of the undead remarkably quickly, Gramps relays stories of the old west with his enraptured great great grandson but also takes time out to also drop some exposition about the magical powers the crystal skull contains. Once placed in it’s correct place in the house, the skull has the ability to turn the place into a nexus of time and space where doorways to exotic pasts could open up at any time and allow in evil doers who are naturally drawn to the skull like a magnet.
After having run-ins with muscle bound cavemen and a gang of unruly Aztecs, Jesse, Charlie and Gramps pick up more weird a wonderful strays to add to their already oddball family that include a comely virgin sacrifice, a fluffy pterodactyl baby and (for some reason) an offensively cute puppy/caterpillar hybrid; but sooner or later Gramp’s nemesis, the equally zombiefied Slim is bound to show up looking for that blinged up cranium and Jesse (the younger one) better be ready for the showdown of his life.

Feeling less a sequel to a cool 80’s cult horror/comedy and more like a weirdly pointless live action pilot to an animated kids show that never got made; House II is a strange beast indeed. Producer Sean S. Cunningham obviously was hoping that House could become the leading light in anthology franchise filmmaking (yeah, because Halloween III was so warmly received) but the swing from jaunty haunting to full of comedy fantasy simply falls flat on it’s face possibly because they’ve chosen to advertise a family film by putting a massive, rotting, worm ridden, severed hand on the poster…
Writer/director Ethan Wiley (who also wrote the first film so you’d think he’d have a better handle on this) softens every single jagged edge he can find by cramming his admittedly ambitious script with the usual kind of stock characters these kind of movies always seem to have. Jesse is the textbook nebbish straight arrow who’s more vanilla than a pot of Haagen Daz while Charlie is the typical, loud mouth asshole that 80’s cinema was utterly convinced we’d all instantly fall in love with. Thankfully, character actor and owner of the most “Western” type of voice this side of Slim Pickens, Royal Dano is on hand to weave his dependable magic on proceedings but fails to answer the question that if Gramps is technically an explorer then why does the film have him look and sound like a zombified, rotting prospecter (an actual Stinky Pete, you might say).
As sequels go, there’s enough original people from the first film working behind the scenes to at least make things feel like a spiritual sequel; Harry Manfredini puts in a memorable score, the effects are pretty good and continuing the baffling continuity of cameoing Cheers actors, John Ratzenberger appears as “electrician and adventurer” Bill Towner even though his character raises more questions than laughs…
Absolutely loaded with gargantuan plot holes
(Maybe don’t display the skull in the middle of your fucking hallway if you don’t want it stolen), nonsensical details (I don’t care how cute the “dogapillar” is, it’s fucking stupid and that’s that) and an appearance of the walking pile of sentient smarm that is Bill Maher, House II almost seems to be daring you to hate it – and why shouldn’t we? The first movie gave us a gaggle of cool creatures for our hero to ward off, all this movie gives us is a single, swole caveman and a bunch of Aztecs for our boring leads to tangle with but horror aficionados will no doubt be pleased to spot future Jason actor Kane Hodder as a dude in a gorilla suit who gets punched off a balcony during a halloween party – and if nothing else, even I have to admit that the skeletal faced Slim and his rotting steed is without a doubt the coolest zombie cowboy that ever stalked the movies.

With the first House, it was clear that the lions share of people behind the Friday The 13th movies wanted to branch out beyond hockey masks and machetes but with House II they’ve obviously gone way too far by giving us a loosely scripted romp that exchanges special effects and lame jokes with anything approaching a shred of substance.
Silly, trite and nowhere as fun as it thinks it is, this Second Story simply fails to stick the… landing. You see, movie title? I can make stupid house puns too…


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