Basement of Horrors: House 2: The Second Story Retrospective

You know that part in Vampire’s Kiss where Nicolas Cage, perhaps high on cocaine, runs around the streets of New York screaming at bewildered pedestrians, ‘I’m a Vampire! I’m a vampire!’ Well, that’s kind of the plot of House II: The Second Story  – it has a semblance of direction, but it’s layered with so much asinine ‘what the hell did I just watch’ moments that you don’t know whether you should step away slowly, chuckling nervously as you near the exit or just feel sorry for the person that created the abomination unfolding before you. As mentioned in my review of House last week, the franchise somehow passed me by when I was young and so after visiting the first instalment in the Arrow Video Complete Collection, it’s time to watch the sequel – House II: The Second Story.

Written and directed by Ethan Wiley, the Second Story has nothing to do with the original House. So get those memories of inappropriate V-neck sweaters out of your head, because this is a totally new, bonkers story. The only semblance that the sequel shares with the first is that there’s some kind of parallel dimension in a house. It’s unapologetically ridiculous right from the get-go, involving an opening sequence that involves a baby who is given away by his parents, after which they are promptly murdered by a ghost that sounds like Lemmy from Motörhead – if Lemmy had ingested a jar full of rusty nails and then sandpapered his throat with hydrochloric acid. The only relevance of this scene is to cut away to a title card (25 years later) and the whisked away baba has grown up to be Jesse McLaughlin (Arye Gross, who manages to maintain a perpetual derpy-derp face throughout the entirety of the movie.) He arrives at the house with his girlfriend and we assume that he’s there to live in the house. There’s never a conversation to say whether they’re just visiting, or if they’ve inherited the property – and why it’s taken 25 years for this occur is a mystery which is never solved.

Jesse’s idiotic friend shows up (he’s a manager for a singer, but that’s not really relevant) and the goofiness factor skyrockets out of the stratosphere when Jesse digs up the grave of his great-great grandfather in the hope of obtaining a crystal skull (yes, just like the fourth Indiana Jones abomination) but ends up resurrecting an old prospector. Turns out the darn tootin’ zombie is an ancestor of Jesse’s (It may be strange to note, but although the great-great grandad has the wizened skin of zombie leather, his hair is perfectly lush) and being buried for over 100 years has created a sense of ennui within the old fella, so he wants to party. Meanwhile, Jesse finds an amazon forest in an upstairs room (because, why not?) climbs a massive tree (a-la Jack and the Beanstalk) and inadvertently brings home a baby pterodactyl as a pet. Some friends from the music business arrive in search of a recording contract (among them Bill Maher, as a record business executive). A Halloween party is held and every now and then a few villains emerge from…somewhere. These include some tribesmen, a prehistoric wrestling man and some Wild West zombies. Apparently the crystal skull is a source of power for the undead, so everyone wants it. Naturally.

If the ghouls in the first House spawned from the hero’s fears, it seems the ‘wacky’ chaos of the second story could be inspired by Jesse’s childhood fantasies as he gets to battle dinosaurs and tribesmen, saves virgins from sacrificial rituals and duelling at sundown all in an effort to retrieve the crystal skull McGuffin. Once again, the stop motion effects are 80’s-tastic, but the humour is far more ‘zanier’ than the original and suffers because of it. The whole film seems like a disjointed series of short fantasy adventures, and if I’d have seen this as a kid then I’m sure it would have resonated some type of nostalgic flair – unfortunately watching it now just bored me.

This is not a horror film in any sense of the word. It’s a Sunday afternoon, treating the hangover with pizza and stodge kind of film. House II: The Second Story  attempts to be funny, in the same way that the irritating kid from school was from primary school – running around with a ruler, trying to slap the back of your knee and then laughing hysterically at their own ‘joke’, but it’s not. Standing out from all of this is an amazing cameo from John Ratzenberger (the second Cheers cast member to appear in a House film) as Bill whose card calls him an electrician and adventurer. In one of the film’s few amusing sequences, he arrives to solve the house’s many problems. ”Looks like you’ve got some kinda alternate universe in there or something,” he remarks, peering through a huge hole in the wall.

HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, Jonathan Stark, Arye Gross, Lar Park-Lincoln, John Ratzenberger, 1987

But when a cameo character steals the show, you know things are bad. House II: The Second Story would be a great introduction for small children into the genre, but if you’re a horror fan, this won’t give you any scares at all.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at House 3

Review by Anthony Self

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