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House: Two Stories Limited Edition (Blu-Ray Review)

Step inside – we’ve been expecting you!  At long-last, Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group is proud to present the first two installments of hit horror franchise House on Blu-ray for the first time!  In the original House, William Katt (Carrie, TV’s The Greatest American Hero) stars as Roger Cobb, a horror novelist struggling to pen his next bestseller.  When he inherits his aunt’s creaky old mansion, Roger decides that he’s found the ideal place in which to get some writing done.  Unfortunately, the house’s monstrous supernatural residents have other ideas…  Meanwhile, House II: The Second Story sees young Jesse (Arye Gross of Soul Man) moving into an old family mansion where his parents were mysteriously murdered years before.  Plans for turning the place into a party pad are soon thwarted by the appearance of Jesse’s mummified great-great-grandfather, his mystical crystal skull and the zombie cowboy who’ll stop at nothing to lay his hands on it!  From the team that brought you Friday the 13th, House and House II are era-defining horror classics – now newly restored and loaded with brand new extras including two commentary tracks and two full-length making of docs for both films and more.  Horror has found a new home – let’s see if the House: Two Stories Limited Edition Blu-ray worthy of your movie geek collection!

House 

Infusing a film with a mix of both comedy and horror is a tall order – especially back in the 80’s.  A film time ripe with genre fare that stuck to its category (comedy, horror, drama, sci-fi) crossing themes was considered a risky gamble.  Which is why the highly underrated House was such a breath of fresh air at the time – a film that dared to be both scary and funny and not at the expense of an engrossing story.

Roger Cobb is a popular horror novelist who is itching to tell a more substantial story.  His fans and publisher all want another scary story, but Roger is steadfast on documenting his experiences in Vietnam as a way of cleansing the past and putting the real life horror behind him.  So when his Aunt hangs herself and leaves him her very ominous house, he takes up residence in hopes of a little solace.  But with everything from an obtrusive neighbor to leg grabbing monsters to even the constant reminder that the house is the location where his young son disappeared without a trace, Roger begins to find quiet life in the house not so peaceful.

Again there are a lot of dark themes running throughout House (divorce, child disappearance, war), but thankfully Director Steven Miner never lets it bog down the film.  Walking a tightrope between a morose moments and laugh-out-loud bits all in the name of a thoughtful but fun story is Miner’s speciality and he wields it with a skill that only grew with consequent films that followed. Roger’s tall tale is a complex one and as such it’s filled with quirky spots (he concocts quite a set up to catch a creepy closet monster!), dark past deeds (Roger leaves a fellow army buddy alive and right into the hands of the enemy!) and even savory sight gags (he almost takes a harpoon to the head via a careless realtor!) for amusement.

Bringing home both the laughs and the pathos is The Greatest American Hero alum William Katt who more than knows how to wield both themes with acting ease.  His Roger Cobb is relatable, funny, a tad nutty and guilt ridden – in other words a very likable lead.  Plus Miner fills the rest of the colorful cast with everyone from Cheers’s George Wendt to Night Court’s Richard Moll (they know funny!), adds in some very creative make-ups and monsters (the rotting Big Ben is one damn ugly dude!) and even musters up some clever song selections (the sassy song You’re No Good fits in here like a glove!) to make House one memorable movie indeed.

Some may say that House is a tad dated, but its effectiveness is still intact.  Incorporating all of the above, throwing in every theme and the kitchen sink and coming at its subjects with a unique flavor is hardly an 80’s notion – it’s timeless.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: I know there have been rumblings about framing issues (purists!), but as far as the 2K restoration goes the VHS homed House has never looked more stunning and clear.

Depth: The spacing here is pretty basic, though gets better as Roger goes into odd and interesting places.

Black Levels: The film jumps from day to night often, but both show decent levels during the darker bits. (For an 80’s flick!)

Color Reproduction: Great colors with minimal washed out bits – viva la 4K!

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones stand out this time around – especially with Kay Lenz!

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio 

Audio Formats(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English LPCM 2.0, English LPCM Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Great highs and lows – stops the former VHS hiss dead in its tracks.

Low Frequency Extension: The low moody bits pop for sure!

Surround Sound Presentation: Mostly a front center speaker show – again the 80’s!

Dialogue Reproduction: Can hear everyone crystal clear!

House II: The Second Story 

Sometimes lightning in a movie bottle strikes twice, but in the case of the all over the place House II: The Second Story it’s not the case.  Feeling seemingly rushed, in full genre overkill and without a cohesive story through line, the film never quite catches the layered genius of what made the first film such a standout and falls flat.

Jesse and his girlfriend Kate have moved into a mansion that has been in his family for generations.  It’s old, odd and with a colorful history, but they decide to make the most of it.  Jesse’s best friend Charlie and his girlfriend Lana join them and things begin to get a tad weird.  Dead great-great grandfathers coming back to life, pissed old gunslingers, jungles, dinosaurs and even an ominous crystal skull make Jesse and his friends stay an unconventional one.

The above is a cohesive description of one non-cohesive flick – and that’s being generous.  There’s way too much unfunny weirdness going on inside the second helping of House and it’s all bad.  The terrible casting choices (Arye Gross as the straight man to Jonathan Stark’s comedic buffoon – they should have switched places!), the horrible monsters (that damn puppet caterpuppy is definitely in the wrong movie!), the frequent changes in tone (it’s a light horror flick, wait a western, no…a medieval flick!), the lame acting (what the frig is Bill Maher doing in this thing – and why does his acting suck so bad?!) and even the stunt casting (the inclusion of Wendt’s Cheers buddy John Ratzenberger is uninspired!) can’t save Ethan Wiley’s subpar sequel from being anything but a mere distraction.  (And that damn crystal skull didn’t help Indy either!)

I remember thinking House II: The Second Story was merely okay when it first came out, but as a past picture flick it has most assuredly not aged well.  Like a wine that has been corked, a toilet that was never flushed and a sequel that simply sucks, this high-rise house was better being one level.  (And yes, that goes for the two following sequels too!)

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: For those who are fans this one takes the 4K scan like a champ – good or bad depending on your stance.

Depth: Surprisingly good with a ton of spacing that makes for good visual quality – again why?

Black Levels: Film is pretty light for a horror film (use that loosely!) so blacks are good but few and far between!

Color Reproduction: Good colors – is seeing everything here a good thing?

Flesh Tones: Muted flesh tones, but some of the folks here have dead rotting skin so go figure!

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio 

Audio Formats(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Dual Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Highs are decent – get ready for a hoedown!

Low Frequency Extension: Everything is pretty loud – lows bits are scarce.

Surround Sound Presentation: Again a front of the line affair!

Dialogue Reproduction: You can hear it just fine – yipes!

Extras 

Both House and House II: The Second Story in the House Two Stories Limited Edition Blu-ray feature brand new 2K restorations plus comes with “The House Companion” a limited edition 60-page book featuring new writing on the entire House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material.

Disc 1 – House

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Steve Miner, Producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley (a fun listen with Miner talk most – a good thing!)

Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House (SD, 106:39) – This massive and uber-comprehensive doc is worth the price alone covering everything from script (it was Fred Dekker’s idea originally!) to cast (even George Wendt shows up to chat!) to production design, creature effects (the amount of time spent on that closet creature vs. on screen time is INSANE!) and even music and stunts.  (Kane Hodder early work alert!)  Holy cow – it’s amazing and HUGE!!!

Vintage Making Of (SD, 24:07) – Super cheesy but still cool doc made back in the day – oh, how far we have come!

Stills Gallery (SD, 0:54), Teaser Trailer (SD, 1:27), Theatrical Trailers 1 (SD, 0:59) and 2 (SD, 1:28) and three TV Spots (SD, 1:31)

Disc 2 – House II: The Second Story

Audio Commentary

  • With Writer/Director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham (expect lots of pauses – and that’s the good stuff!)

It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story (SD, 57:38) – Even though the flick is dismal, this full-length doc makes up for the upchuck factor with awesome and honest revelations from all involved.  (Hell, even creature effects artist Chris Walas claims the film “doesn’t make a lot of sense!”) Covers script (there was one?!), effects (yes, even that damn caterpuppy!), cast (Transformers alum Frank Welker did all the creature voices!), make-ups and more.

Vintage EPK (SD, 14:38) – Old school doc with a little extra Ratzenberger for those who demand it!

Stills Gallery (SD, 6:14), Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:24) and a TV Spot (SD, 0:33)

 

Summary 

Okay, so House II: The Second Story is a real cinematic stinker, but this lush set (which excludes the fourth and fifth film – thank goodness!) is still well worth the investment.  A great first film, lush looking transfers (even on the second!) and features that would make the most hardened fan jump for joy (two full length docs, y’all!) make this a cool set nevertheless.  (Lose the caterpuppy Ethan!)

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I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include Starpulse.com, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend and partner James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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