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  House Surreal Estate
Year: 1985
Director: Steve Miner
Stars: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz, Mary Stavin, Michael Ensign, Erik Silver, Mark Silver, Susan French, Alan Autry, Steven Williams, Jamie Calvert, Mindy Sterling, Jayson Kane, Billy Beck, Bill McLean, Steve Susskind, John William Young
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Roger Cobb (William Katt) is one of America's most successful horror writers, and he has just suffered a bereavement now the aunt who brought him up (Susan French) has died, though she passed away in mysterious circumstances, an apparent suicide by hanging no matter that nobody has any idea why she would have killed herself. Roger has other things to worry about as well, such as the break-up of his marriage to television actress Sandy (Kay Lenz) after their son disappeared, presumed dead, and now his flashbacks to his time in the Vietnam War are bothering him increasingly, so much so that he believes only a book about his experiences will exorcise those demons. The lure of his aunt's house proves impossible to resist...

Back in the nineteen-eighties, House was rated an R in the United States, which was sufficient to make it a hit with the teens who thought they were going to get a full throttle horror flick, yet teens in the United Kingdom thought otherwise. This was thanks to it being rated a 15 there, rather than an 18 which any budding horror fan was well aware was a sign of the good stuff; even if they were not old enough to watch the 15 rated efforts, there was a stigma attached when they thought a degree of short changing was going on in the frights and spectacle department. But House had another tool in its arsenal, which would, it was hoped, make it that bit more worthwhile for its potential audience.

Star William Katt is absolutely correct when he points out that this was the ideal horror to introduce to kids to get them interested in the genre, for while there were monsters and a spot of gore (though not that much) there was also that sense of humour, and one of the film's strengths was that you were never sure when the story was going to aim for the laugh or the "boo!" scares. For that reason it was a decent watch since if you were finding the shocks somewhat unimpressive, it allowed you to chuckle at the gags, though in truth it was not exactly an total kneeslapper when it came down to it, despite the presence of seasoned comic actor George Wendt as Roger's next door neighbour Harold.

The fact that Harold has a fairly big role to play in the chuckles but spends the last act asleep on a sofa, never referred to again (so he may still be dozing come the end credits, for all we know) spoke to the rather confused tone, though you could argue that once Richard Moll as the wisecracking zombie Vietnam soldier took over he wasn't really necessary for the grand finale. The script had been drawn from an outline by Fred Dekker, who became a hope for American genre cinema until RoboCop 3 happened and it all got a bit disappointing, but he never got to write the thing up because he was busy with other projects including an American Godzilla which never appeared but was to be directed by Steve Miner - who was at the helm here, himself making a name for himself in horror with producer Sean S. Cunningham.

Cunningham produced here too, indeed the whole House series was his responsibility, a friendlier chiller franchise than his Friday the 13th one, at least until the third which was and was not an official entry. With Katt playing that most eighties of occupations, a horror author, there was some pandering to the audience going on, not to mention in giving him Nam flashbacks which were very fashionable in American cinema of the decade, but essentially this was a quest for Roger to gain his self-respect and his son back, as the boy has been captured by the titular house which has supernatural properties. There was the odd ghost for him to witness, but more fun could be gained from the rubbery monsters - yes, this could not be more typical of its era if it tried, all it needed was hair metal on the soundtrack and it would be most eighties horror ever, albeit one with minimal teen character involvement, though there was a former Miss World Mary Stavin who played the neighbour across the street if she floated your boat. Not terrifying, then, but as a diversion, and now a nostalgic one at that, House did the trick. Music by Harry Manfredini.

[The entire House series is available from Arrow as a Blu-ray box set. It features:

Brand new 2K restorations of all four films
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
The House Companion limited edition 60-page book featuring new writing on the entire House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material

And on the first disc for House:

Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley
Ding Dong, You're Dead! The Making of House brand new documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
Stills Gallery
Theatrical Trailers.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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