Subgenre: Haunted House
Summary: A troubled writer moves into his late aunt’s home, only to discover it’s deeply haunted.
Review: The setup of House is a tale as old as time: world-weary writer settles into a beautiful – if just a bit creepy – abode, and starts seeing things out of the ordinary. But despite its familiar premise, House sets itself apart through its kooky, unpredictable execution.
Our bedeviled hero is Roger Cobb (William Katt), popular horror novelist and Vietnam veteran. Having dealt with numerous personal tragedies – from his son’s disappearance to his subsequent divorce – Roger decides to retreat to his new house, bequeathed to him by his recently-deceased aunt. There he hopes to find the solitude that will help him finish his latest book, but he encounters quite the opposite.
The movie gets all this plot out of the way during the first twenty minutes, after which House becomes decidedly light on story. In spite of this, it’s almost never boring, thanks to the fact that nearly every scene in its lean ninety-three minutes has something going on. The movie’s content ranges from spooky-comic set-pieces to Vietnam flashbacks to (occasionally) story-advancing beats. But because House’s criteria for each scene’s inclusion seems to be how fun, ridiculous, or otherwise entertaining it is; it’s hard to find fault with the movie’s hodgepodge style. This potpourri approach applies to the titular haunt as well, which is plagued by everything from flying garden tools to abominable monsters to interdimensional gateways; all of which are charmingly – if not quite convincingly – rendered through practical effects. Tonally, House samples everything from slapstick to war-is-hell melodrama, yet somehow it achieves a kind of balance. For the most part, it’s content to be a resolutely silly B-horror movie, but during a few select moments it’s capable of genuine morbidness, if never true terror.
William Katt ends up being the perfect anchor for all the chaos unfolding around him, remaining straight-faced except for the occasional well-placed bit of mugging. Also noteworthy is the scene-stealing performance of George Wendt, who gets most of the movie’s best lines as Roger’s amiably oblivious neighbor Harold. The inclusion of his character, perhaps more than anything else, lets us know that House is completely in on the joke. It knows its effects are schlocky, its story is flimsy, and its internal logic makes no sense whatsoever. But it carries off these kinks with such brazen self-awareness and good humor that it becomes nigh-impossible to dislike.
The Verdict: House isn’t especially scary, but it’s a rollicking good time. I give it six-and-a-half goofy ghouls out of ten.