House (1986)

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There are certain things that only really happen in the movies, and although we’ve been fooled by their regular appearance into thinking they’re just normal, thinking about certain things for more than a few seconds will have you scratching your head. House’s entry into that category is the thing where a guy thinks a woman is talking about going on a date with him, but actually wants him to babysit her kid, and keeps interrupting him when he says “I really don’t want to”; the man being a virtual stranger to the woman is just the icing on the cake.

 

But that’s a small scene in what is one of the 80s great horror comedies. Fronted by people better known for TV comedy (William Katt from “Greatest American Hero”, and George Wendt from “Cheers”, with a supporting turn by Richard Moll from “Night Court”), this is the story of Roger Cobb (Katt). He’s a Stephen King-like author who moves back into his Aunt’s house after she apparently commits suicide, so he can have some peace and quiet to get his head straight and finish his latest book, a personal memoir about Vietnam. But, he’s plagued by memories of the disappearance of his son, and of the war, plus the house appears to be really haunted.

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The film this reminded me of the most was “Evil Dead 2”, which came out the year after this. I’m not saying there’s any borrowing, it’s more a compliment about the quality of “House”. As he appears to slowly lose his mind, Harold (Wendt), his neighbour gets drawn in and it’s the both of them seeing the same things which helps him realise he’s not crazy, and he tries to keep an air of calmness as he’s plagued with visions of his son and the death of his best friend in the jungle (which adds a very strange air to certain sections). Portals to “somewhere” open, and while huge Cthulhu-esque monsters try and force their way through, Roger realises he can go the other way, and a faint childlike scream spurs him on…

 

The comedy in this film doesn’t really come from the things people say, it’s all from action. Katt is dragged and thrown by all manner of evil entities, and has to cover for what he realises looks a lot like mental illness when the police, his estranged wife and the neighbours come to visit. Like an evil Calvin & Hobbes, we’re never quite sure if what we’re seeing is real or a figment of Roger’s grief, and his reaction to things like a dog digging up a demon’s hand that he buried in his back garden is pretty damn funny. When animated tools pursue him through the house, and respond to him closing a door on them by politely knocking, I was in stitches.

 

Also worth mentioning  (apart from the amazing deep v-neck that Roger sports at the beginning of the film) is the definitive ending. No messing about, no “did the monster survive?”, none of it. Well done, “House”! Also of interest is the way this film series is designed like “Halloween 3” was, to be deliberately unquels, so we’ve got three different stories to come. Well done again, “House”!

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Director Steve Miner is already a friend of the ISCFC, directing the best of the Halloween sequels (H20) and we’ll be meeting him again soon when we go through the Friday the 13th movies (he did parts 2 and 3). He did a great job with “House”, filling it with memorable characters, really decent special effects and the sort of horror-comedy that very few people seem to be able to manage.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

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I wonder why the dog is called ‘Grandpa’: Thoughts on Evil Dead

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By the end of the movie the sole survivor of a horror film has bloodshot watery eyes, juddery hands, and usually is slumped in a sorry state of frailty. Throughout ninety minutes of nightmarish pursuit they end up going through an accelerated mental disintegration that ordinarily someone wouldn’t face in a whole lifetime of toil.

The afternoon before I watched ‘Evil Dead’ I had two terrifying encounters with men who had entered their twilight period, men who had lived a lifetime of toil. I was told to wander down to the food hall of the department store that I work in and escort from the premises a gentleman who was banned from entering the store because previously he had shoplifted a punnet of strawberries. This guy must’ve been nearly eighty, wiry with bottle thick glasses and a walking stick. I tried the soft approach and politely informed him that he would need to leave because of what happened last time. He told me he only wanted to buy a lettuce. I told him there were other shops nearby that sold fresh vegetables such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco. “Fuck Tesco” he replied. I put out my hands in exasperation, and gestured for him to calm down. Mainly because I was afraid that he might keel over as his cheeks had reddened instantly. The man became increasingly irate and yelled “Don’t touch me; if you touch me then I’m going straight to the police”. I didn’t want to touch him because he smelt of urinated beetroot juice.

Twenty minutes after this perplexing incident fizzled out I was wandering about, lost in daydream. I ran into one of the ‘regulars’, an old guy who I bump into every Wednesday. We usually have one of those, are you well? Ok good, now let’s talk about the weather conversations. I asked this man, with his messy silver hair and crooked yellow teeth, how he was. The man told me that things had been difficult for him recently; his wife had suffered a brain haemorrhage and was in a bad way. The most important person in his life was about to be taken away. He welled up, and sobbed. There is something horribly uncomfortable about an old man crying. Particularly when he was doing so in a busy department store next to the main escalator, dozens of people stared at the curiosity. A Security Guard stood next to a blubbering mess. The awkwardness conquered my noble display of empathy.

Work was finally finished, the fifth day over. I meandered down to the cinema, emotionally exhausted. Had I been going to see a drama then I would have dozed. Thankfully I was there to see the rebooted / remade / revisited / rebirthed version of ‘The Evil Dead’, minus the ‘The’. There was likely to be bloodcurdling screams and scares aplenty.

Jumping to the end of this little anecdote, as I left the cinema with belly full of Haribo Starmix and waited for the bus home I wondered why the dog in ‘Evil Dead’ was called ‘Grandpa’. None of the characters exclaimed “Grandpa, that’s a weird name for a dog. Why’s he called that?”. I wondered if I had misheard the dog’s name, but yes, a Google search reassured me that I was correct. The dog is called ‘Grandpa’. Was this because the dog was old? That wouldn’t make sense, because the dog would have had to have not been named until much later into its life, or maybe he was renamed, his original name might have been Pops. Perhaps ‘Grandpa’ was not the dog’s real name, but a nickname. This was not unusual. I refer to my dog as ‘Pipkin’, even though it isn’t his name. I was left flummoxed by this little irrelevant detail of the film.

2013’s ‘Evil Dead’ is a different beast to the 1981 cult classic. Everything is amped up a notch to reflect the sadistic gore trend we’ve come to expect after several noughties remakes of horror classics from the past such as Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’, various output from Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes and Alexandre Aja’s crossover into Hollywood and the overiding influence of the New French Extremity movement. In fact, probably since the phenomenal success of the Saw franchise there has been consistent mainstream appetite for the macabre, which reflects some kind of insatiable cinematic desire for no holds barred animalistic violence.

It’s weird, I know we like to be scared, to jump out of seats and spill the popcorn, and how seeing a horror movie can be a fun experience, but there reaches a point where you begin to question the enjoyment levels of what you are watching, particularly when all you get is a series of gore set pieces. A woman cuts off her own arm, gets shot, beaten, and bashed up. Another woman gets her skull caved in, in that cold brutal fashion reminiscent of Gaspar Noé’s ‘Irréversible’. A bloke gets stabbed repeatedly, hit with a crowbar and shot with a nail gun. It’s best not to think too hard about this. It’s just gore. Fun gunge. This isn’t real life.

The share nastiness of ‘Evil Dead’ actually helps the film, and differentiates itself completely from Sam Raimi’s original cult classic. In 2013 four lifelong friends help Mia, their junkie pal, kick the habit by taking her to a cold turkey cabin in the middle of the wilderness. When the friends discover a trapdoor in the cabin, the menfolk in the group go down into a dank den of depravity where they find a book locked by barbed wire alongside several dead cats that hang from the ceiling. The curious bespectacled man of the group uses some tin snips to open up the book. Evil is unleashed and a demonic spirit possesses Mia.

Jane Levy’s performance as Mia grants her iconic scream queen status, and a likely sequel will put her up there with the Neve Campbell’s of this world. She endures pretty much everything that could possibly be thrown at her.

Before I head off, I’d like to waffle on a bit more about ‘Grandpa’ the dog. I think my fascination with a dog’s name explains why I didn’t really care much for ‘Evil Dead’. If after watching the film I’m spending time contemplating the name of a dog, then I think that really the film’s gore washed over me, coating me in crimson contemplation. I was desensitised by the visceral bombardment of unrelenting violence to the point that I can’t quite conjure enough words to sum up the relative merits of ‘Evil Dead’. The dog is named ‘Grandpa’ for people like me who attempt to criticize a film that is strictly for the gore gobblers.

– RJW

Evil Dead on IMDB
Buy Evil Dead [DVD] [2013]