Horror Movie Review: House (1986)


If you’ve read my other reviews then it’s been well established that I viewed a huge amount horror movies from a very young age. Although this hasn’t had any long term effects on me I can’t deny that at the time certain movies and scenes within those movies caused me to have nightmares. House was definitely one of those movies which is interesting because of how differently I perceive it now but come on I was 6 years old when I first saw it so give me a break.

The film opens with a young boy arriving to deliver groceries at a large house, he knocks on the door but enters when he realises that it’s already open. He calls out to the owner who we later learn is named Elizabeth Hooper but there is no answer. He slowly makes his way upstairs when he hears some noises and then eventually into the main bedroom where to he finds that Mrs Hooper has hung herself so he runs out of the house screaming in horror at what he’d just seen.

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This would be something that I would remember very vividly for years to come; that scene of her swinging back and forth with the noose around her neck still gives me chills today. The movie starts quite innocently so when I first saw this I had no idea that it was coming and it really took me by surprise; this was also one of the first times that I remember a movie dealing with suicide. Just the thought that somebody could do that to themselves because they were so scared of something used to scare the shit out of me.

After that we get introduced to Roger Cobb (William Katt) an author of horror novels and a troubled man. He recently separated from his wife, their only son disappeared without a trace, and his aunt Elizabeth just hung herself; it’s safe to say that it’s been a bad year for Roger. On top of everything else it has been more than a year since the release of his latest book and he is being pressured by his publisher to write another.

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After the funeral, Roger decides to take up residence in his aunt’s large house so as to write in complete isolation. He soon meets Harold Gorton (George Wendt), the slightly-awkward but friendly next door neighbour who recognizes Cobb as one of his favourite authors. Roger’s latest novel is to be a retelling of his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam; much to the displeasure of his fans. As he continues to add chapters to his book, frequent flashbacks of the war intertwine with painful memories of his son Jimmy, who’d been kidnapped and was never found.

In one flashback Roger is gardening while his son plays nearby, he looks away for a moment only to have Jimmy completely disappear. After alerting his wife and frantically searching the grounds Roger sees his son struggling in the pool and dives in to save him but he’s nowhere to be seen. Afterwards while giving a statement to the police Aunt Elizabeth enters the room and attempts to convince Roger that it was the house that had taken his son.

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Afterwards Roger hears some noises coming from upstairs and makes his way up to the same bedroom in which his aunt had been found dead. Much to his surprise he is confronted by his Aunt and she warns him that the house was evil and would do whatever it could to trick him as it had her. You would think that this would make Roger leave or something but instead he happily goes to bed with a smile on his face, it’s seriously hilarious. I guess you could say that he thought he’d simply imagined the encounter but it’s still really silly, this is a horror/comedy after all.

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One of the things that I really love about House is its ability to go from being very eerie and creepy to seriously light hearted and amusing; I personally think it does this perfectly though some may disagree. This is shown best in the next scenes in which Roger opens a closet at exactly midnight and is attacked by a hideous monster who slashes him across the chest before he forces it back inside. We then see that Roger has bought and set up a huge amount of cameras in front of the closet and attached a rope to the door knob, he then practices his routine for when the clock strikes twelve and it’s highly amusing.

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Harold tries to buddy-up to Roger by continually inviting himself over. Roger decides to use this to his advantage when he recruits Harold to help him photograph the otherworldly monster by telling him it’s a large raccoon. As it turns out, the house is nothing more than a gateway for evil, an open door through which numerous ghosts and monsters can access the concrete world. Roger, at the centre, is like a magnet for these entities, which include a disgusting-looking witch with purplish skin and strange troll-like midgets in the chimney. The main catalyst, however, is Big Ben (Richard Moll), a soldier that had been in Roger’s platoon during the war. In flashbacks, we learn that Ben had been injured by an explosion and was near death. To avoid the slow agony of dying, he’d asked Roger to cut his throat and kill him. Roger, as his friend, couldn’t bring himself to do it and Ben was subsequently found and tortured for weeks by enemy soldiers.

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Just when it seems that all hope is lost Roger notices a particular painting that shows his son somehow stuck behind the bathroom cabinet. He smashes the medicine cabinet mirror and sees that the hole leads to some kind of alternative universe; figuring that this will lead to Jimmy he makes his way inside and begins to lower himself down. After being attacked by a flying, skeletal monster Roger’s rope is cut and he falls and finds himself in a jungle reminiscent of the one in his Vietnam flashbacks. Eventually he finds Jimmy stuck in a cage and brings him back through a portal in the house’s swimming pool; which is where Jimmy went missing originally.

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Just before they can leave the house they’re confronted by Big Ben who took Jimmy as revenge for Roger leaving him to be tortured. The final confrontation is highly entertaining but I always found it disappointing because of the whole ‘face your fears’ conclusion but I guess it made sense.

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So that’s House and honestly, I absolutely love it. It’s cheesy, some of the effects have aged poorly and it can be downright silly at times but it’s seriously entertaining and leaves a lasting impression. I adore the cinematography in this movie and its ability to have the viewer see what the characters are seeing simultaneously, it’s seriously effective especially in some of the creepy moments. There’s just something unique about the atmosphere that House creates and it’s helped along a great deal by the movie’s tremendous soundtrack which is definitely one of favourites of all time just because of how much it brings to the film in terms of tension. House doesn’t have the ability to scare me as it once did that’s for sure but much like Evil Dead, a movie for which it shares many similarities with I appreciate what the director was trying to achieve and in my mind he succeeded.

House has a really interesting concept and plays off the fears of anyone that has ever been alone in the house and thought they’d heard something upstairs. I really love the idea of the house being a gateway for all sorts of monsters to pass through and although the effects do look dated they still hold up well enough and convey what they’re meant to.

While some people think of Hugh Laurie’s “House M.D.” when they think of House, for me I will forever remember Roger Cobb burying his ex-wife to ‘baby you’re no good’.

In my opinion House is a classic 80s horror/comedy on par with Evil Dead. It’s atmospheric, creepy, funny and highly entertaining. It doesn’t deliver on the scare factor as much as it probably once did and especially for me but it still works.


House
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